10,000 Year Clock Serves As A Crash Course In Materials Science

Choosing the optimal materials mix has long been a vexing challenge for engineers, particularly when trying to zero in on a composition that can withstand the wear and tear of a product’s full lifecycle. But what about when the plans for that product call for it to be housed inside a mountainous cavern with a lifespan of 10,000 years? →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Getting Eco Advice from Autodesk Inventor 2012

Roughly six months after Autodesk and Granta Design shook hands to co-develop a CAD-integrated sustainability solution, the partnership yielded Eco Materials Adviser, a new function in Autodesk Inventor to help you understand the impact of your design decisions.

You can launch Eco Materials Adviser pane from Inventor’s Environments tab. Once you’ve identified the part you wish to analyze, you can verify the designated material and manufacturing process. Annotations available on the materials give you greater insight into their impact on the environment. If there’s no manufacturing process specified, Eco Materials Adviser will offer a list of logical choices associated with the chosen material (for example, Metal powder forming, Forging, and Vaporization for Stainless Steel).

Based on the geometry of your design, material choice, and manufacturing process, the application deduces manufacturing cost, water usage, energy usage, and CO2 footprint. Where applicable, you may also verify if the materials you’ve chosen are RoHS-compliant or not.

The results of your initial eco analysis will be used as baseline, the standard used to measure other scenarios. Once you’ve obtained your baseline, you may switch to alternate material, alternate process, then update the dashboard to see if the changes have made your design’s environmental impact higher or lower. (You’ll discover, for instance, if the new material and process you’ve chosen reduce the amount of energy and water used.)

You may continue to experiment with different design scenarios till you feel you have struck the right balance among cost, energy use, water use, and carbon footprint. If you’re at a loss on how to identify an alternate material, you may use Eco Materials Adviser’s search robust function to search for a new type by tensile strength, carbon footprint, unit cost, and a host of other factors.

Eco Materials Adviser is similar to Sustainability Xpress, a function in Dassault Systemes’ SolidWorks, a rival product to Autodesk Inventor. There is, however, a few distinct differences. Sustainability Xpress gives you a way to compare the environmental impact of designs with slightly different geometry (for example, two versions of the same shelled part, designed with different wall thicknesses). Eco Materials Adviser, at least for the time being, only gives you a way to compare the impact of using different materials to produce the same geometry. So if you need to compare the outcome of two different geometric designs in Eco Materials Adviser, you’ll have to run two separate analysis sessions, obtain reports for both, and compare them on your own.

Autodesk’s Eco Materials Adviser, its forerunner Sustainability Xpress in SolidWorks, and similar modules from other CAD software makers point to a new eco-consciousness among engineers and designers. In the near future, environmental impact (how green is your design?), performance (how well does your product work?), and cost (how much does it cost to make your design?) may emerge as the three pillars of product design.

For more watch the video clip below:

Autodesk’s Sarah Krasley: Aggressively Developing a Sustainability Software

Sarah Krasley, Autodesk‘s industry manager for sustainability, said, “I couldn’t agree more with the skeptics.”

She was responding to my question about the environmental impact of material choices, an area Autodesk is delving into. The impact of material selection is just one aspect of sustainability, some would argue. To assess a product’s impact on the environment, one needs to consider the entire lifecycle, from raw material acquisition and transportation to retirement. Krasley is in agreement with that outlook.

The company already has a fair amount of material data in its Moldflow database (a result of its acquisition of Moldflow in 2008). Its recent partnership with Granta Design, which specializes in material intelligence, is expected to spawn a sustainability solution. It’s too early to get details about product features and pricing, but Autodesk has revealed that it’ll be web-based and it’ll first appear in its manufacturing division.

“With [our partnership with Granta Design], we’re planning to make the rich data available at the points of the workflow where it can enable better decision making,” said Krasley.

At the present, SolidWorks remains one of the few 3D modelers in the market with a CAD-integrated sustainability solution. SolidWorks Sustainability Xpress, which ships with every copy of the software, and SolidWorks Sustainability, an add-on that requires fee, let SolidWorks users determine several categories of environmental impacts (air pollution, water contamination, energy consumption, and carbon emission) based on their material choices and other input. The product is a result of a partnership between SolidWorks and PE-International, a sustainability expert and consultancy.

Autodesk’s upcoming sustainability solution, developed based on its partnership with Granta Design, will most likely appear as part of Autodesk Inventor, an Autodesk product that competes with SolidWorks.

For more, listen to my recorded interview with Sarah Krasley below:

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Autodesk-Granta Partnership to Spawn a New Sustainability Solution

At the moment, Dassault Systemes’ SolidWorks remains one of the few leading CAD software with a fully integrated sustainability module (Sustainability Xpress), but perhaps not for much longer. SolidWorks’ rival Autodesk has just struck up a partnership with Granta Design, which describes its specialty as “material intelligence.”

Granta currently offers a product called Granta MI (now in release 4.0), developed to “control, access, analyze, and apply data related to materials.” Those who want to integrate its reporting and analysis functions with their CAD programs may use Granta MI Gateway.

According to the announcement from Autodesk, “Granta and Autodesk are co-developing software that will add new sustainable design capabilities to the Autodesk solution. The companies are working closely to integrate Granta’s eco design methods into Autodesk software, helping designers to estimate the environmental impact of a product and make more sustainable design decisions. The new tools will access and use data from Granta’s world-class materials information database.”

Sarah Krasley, Autodesk’s industry manager for sustainability, said, “The capability the companies are co-developing will be made available to Autodesk manufacturing customers as part of the Autodesk solution for digital prototyping. We expect it will appeal especially to consumer product designers and engineers as well as building products manufacturers and student users.”

Autodesk also has a partnership with Sustainable Minds, which resulted in a function that allows Autodesk Inventor users to directly import an Inventor model’s bill of materials (BOM) into Sustainable Minds’  browser-based environmental impact analysis software. According to Krasley, “Sustainable Minds’ lifecycle assessment methodology helps give industrial designers the knowledge and tools required to understand the environmental impacts of a new product, particularly in the conceptual design phase. We are partnering with Granta because the organization offers the most extensive materials information database and technology, unique capabilities that will benefit Autodesk manufacturing customers and positively contribute to the Autodesk digital prototyping solution.”

Krasley added, “It is too early to say when customers will have access to the new, web-based software, but we are working aggressively as we know that materials analysis and selection is increasingly important for companies in assessing the environmental impact of their material choices, to respond to customer demand and comply with regulation.”

Autodesk also has a web-based applet called Project Krypton, currently hosted at Autodesk Labs. The program is designed to give a “plastic part’s manufacturability, cost efficiency, and the environmental impact of the selected material.” It works as an add on to not only Autodesk’s own product but also two rival packages: Pro/ENGINEER and SolidWorks.

Most lifecycle assessment (LCA) or environmental impact calculation programs use carbon output as the base unit to rate a product. With Autodesk’s upcoming product, Krasley said, “There will be several units upon which the environmental footprint will be calculated. The units will align with the issues our customers face in adhering to a myriad of reduction targets associated with sustainable design.”

Incorporating Tables and Equations into CAD


We know a lot more than we used to about the world around us. Knowledge once confined to experts and specialists — like the amount of power available at a certain wind speed or the tensile strength of a biodegradable, wheat-based plastic — are now just a few Google searches away. Such information can be expressed in mathematical terms, as equations and tables, to help you come up with the best curvature for a wind turbine’s blade or the most sensible wall thickness for a plastic part.

The same information can also be found among the titles made available to subscribers by technical content providers like Knovel. In the case of Knovel users, the data may be exported as editable equations and Excel worksheets, to be associated with certain critical parameters and dimensions in your CAD design.

On June 3, I’ll be cohosting a webcast titled “Materialistic Engineering: Building Stronger, Better Products Using Interactive Tables and Equation,” brought to you by Desktop Engineering and Knovel. I’m privileged to share the panel with Sandy Joung, senior director of product marketing for Pro/ENGINEER and Mathcad, PTC; and Amy Bunzel, senior director of digital engineering for Manufacturing Solutions Division, Autodesk.

In this one hour event, the panelists and I will explore the following topics:

  • How you can take advantage of time-tested engineering principles and newly discovered sustainable practices
  • How you can capture them as equations and mathematical expressions to help shape the geometry of your design
  • The pros and cons of working with equations and tables in mechanical CAD programs

Please join us!