Sustainability begins with design

If you want to make sustainable products today, dabbling at the edges no longer suffices. You must start at the design phase. For example, 80% of a product’s lifetime emissions is determined by product design.

Achieving sustainability demands a transformation of thought. While 86% of companies have a sustainability strategy—with 73% of those set on a net-zero carbon emissions goal—only 35% act on that strategy. Backward-looking initiatives, like retrofitting products or alternate maintenance schedules, can make a dent in the collective footprint, but it’s forward-looking initiatives that make lasting change.

Designing for sustainability

Designing for sustainability (D4S) will never practically deliver a net-zero environmental impact, but there are five principles that can help companies make a meaningful impact on their sustainability strategies:

Reduction in material: the least complex of the five, this looks at improvements in technologies to reduce the amount of material and energy used in production.
Modular design: subdividing sophisticated systems into simple modules in order to more efficiently organize complex processes.
Design for longevity: extending the use phase of a product by integrating business knowledge, market conditions, company capabilities, technical possibilities and user needs into product concepts to make better strategic decisions.
Investing in simulation: making computer-generated models and simulated environments to model, manipulate, and test parts/assemblies before spending time and money on production.
Design for recycling: encouraging manufacturers to account for the end of a product’s useful life by considering what else it can become during the design-stage of a product’s development.

Successful development of increasingly complex products demanded today is only possible by adopting an integrated development lifecycle management approach. This approach frees up development resources from repetitive and mundane tasks to focus more of novel solutions, provides more data insight that will open new design opportunities and improves the collaboration within and between teams to explore alternative approaches.

It’s important for industries to adopt a key metric of sustainability in their design and development efforts. This metric must have the same weight as time-to-market, cost and profitability.

Aerospace: a case study

Let’s consider aerospace as a case study. We know that airplanes are heavy and inefficient, but how do we avoid, and reverse, the roughly 4% they contribute to climate change? Understanding the inherent and lifetime challenges at stake, Honeywell Aerospace designed an innovative thermal management system that is 300 times lower on the Global Warming Potential.

By adopting a sustainability mindset and leveraging IBM’s Engineering Lifecycle Management, Honeywell:

Reduced the product development cycle time from 48 months to 24 months while simultaneously reducing R&D investment by 30%
Adapted agile practices to a large, integrated system that includes parallel development of multiple sub- assemblies, including both software and hardware
Overcame the known challenges of applying agile practices to hardware development by deploying a Scaled Agile Framework to manage integrated features across teams
Utilized new and novel tools, adapted organizational constructs and challenged long held beliefs, like those about waterfall style program management

As a result, Honeywell’s innovative solution delivered 35% lighter and 20% more efficient than conventional units, leverages a less polluting refrigerant, while improving their time-to-market and lowering development costs. Honeywell Aerospace plans to adopt this comprehensive development strategy more broadly across a variety of projects.

Rethink sustainability by pre-thinking it

Organizations combining commitment to sustainability with execution capabilities—and integrating this effort with digital transformation—create win-win situations. For example, while Honeywell’s design was for aircraft sustainability, their technologies will change the way we commute for work and pleasure, enabling people to move 50-100 miles away from their places of work. The effect is collective and societal.

IBM is committed to helping clients adopt and leverage best-practices of integrated development lifecycle management. Offering an integrate portfolio for managing requirements, workflow and testing, as well as systems design modeling. This toolset offers a federated data approach which optimizes information sharing and leveraging across the entire development lifecycle, makes data and processes transparent and traceable, enables better regulatory and compliance adherence, and provides better data currency to improve critical business and development decisions.

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