A Look at SolidWorks Sustainability

SolidWorks Sustainability lets you visualize the environmental impact of your assembly components in color, making it easier to single out the biggest contributors (image from SolidWorks Sustainability portal, http://www.solidworks.com/sustainability).

SolidWorks Sustainability lets you visualize the environmental impact of your assembly components in color, making it easier to single out the biggest contributors (image from SolidWorks Sustainability portal, http://www.solidworks.com/sustainability).

To date, SolidWorks remains one of the few CAD companies offering a sustainable design development tool, built right into the modeling environment. If you’re on the latest release of SolidWorks (2010), you can use Sustainability Xpress, the app under the Evaluation tab, to calculate your design’s environmental impact. But the free Xpress version works only on parts. To work on assemblies, you need SolidWorks Sustainability, the full license that costs roughly $3,000.

With Sustainability Xpress, you can use your material specifications, manufacturing methods (injection molding, machining, etc.), raw material locations, and deployment destinations (where the end products will be used) to tally up your parts’ environmental impact in four areas: carbon emission, energy use, air pollution, and water pollution. In the full version, in addition to the parameters listed above, you can also specify transportation mode (air, train, truck, and so on) and lifetime energy use (say, the anticipated energy used by a washing machine’s average lifespan).

The advantage of the full version is the ability to visualize how each individual part contributes to the entire assembly’s environmental impact. The color-coded visualization makes it easy to identify parts that cause the greatest harm, prompting you to switch material, production method, or something else to bring down the carbon count, energy use, and pollution levels. Furthermore, the ability to perform stress analysis and environmental assessment in the same window goes along way to ensure that you don’t inadvertently compromise your design’s structural integrity while you’re exploring ways reduce its carbon footprint.

The two quickest ways to reduce your design’s impact are (1) reducing your design’s overall mass and (2) switching to less harmful materials. For the latter, you can use SolidWorks Sustainability’s Find Similar tool to single out alternative materials with comparable tensile strength, yield strength, and heat conductivity.

The results can be exported as a PDF report, a good way to present your findings or justify your engineering change orders to those who might not have SolidWorks. If you’d like to learn more about the results, you may visit SolidWorks’ Sustainability portal, which has a free carbon footprint calculator. The browser-based app lets you compare your design’s impact (measured in kg of CO2) to the effects of driving an average U.S., European, or hybrid car for a number of miles, adding more weight to your understanding of the assessment.

Life Cycle Assessment, or LCA, is an emerging science, still in its infancy. Currently, several prominent LCA methodologies compete for legitimacy and recognition. This is reflected in SolidWorks Sustainability FAQ, which states, “The values in SolidWorks Sustainability are useful to within +/- 20% and should be used as an estimate. The more accurate way of using the product is to track the relative changes from one version of a design to the next.”

Both Sustainability and Sustainability Xpress are designed as a comparison tool — that is, to set up one scenario as your baseline, then compare it against other iterations. This method lets you pick the best materials, production methods, and acquisition regions to make your product greener.

For more on SolidWorks Sustainability Xpress, read the previous blog post “A Look at SolidWorks Sustainability Xpress (Or How Green is Homer Simpson’s Beer Can?).”

For more on SolidWorks Sustainability, watch the video demonstration below:

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