Sustainable Manufacturing: There Are Apps for That

Software that supports sustainable manufacturing and environmentally conscious products help make going green somewhat easier.

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Sustainable manufacturing? There’s software for that. It comes under several guises: software for eco-design, clean production, green supply chain, waste management and reutilization (including demanufacturing, product recovery, and recycling). Fundamentally, this software boils down to some form of database management and presentation, or computer-aided analysis (CAE) and simulation. Here are some examples.

Sustainability outside the factory
There’s a lot of compliance data to collect related to environmental and socially conscious issues, including that from REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) and RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), both European Union (EU) mandates; conflict minerals laws in the EU and the U.S. (Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Act); and other regional and industry regulations, such as IEC 62474 (Material Declaration for Products of and for the Electrotechnical Industry).

Might as well collect all that data in some central repository within an enterprise. A product lifecycle management (PLM) is a good repository. For instance, Teamcenter, the PLM system from Siemens PLM Software (siemens.com), can automate the supplier material and substance disclosure (MSD) process and manage materials and substances as components of the product definition. To do that, Teamcenter has an integration component to the International Materials Data System (IMDS), a database maintained by Hewlett-Packard. (In the automotive industry, suppliers must submit their supplier material declarations to IMDS.) The Teamcenter-IMDS integration automatically synchronizes updated material data sheets in IMDS to a company’s design/engineering systems, and vice versa. The hassle of updating MDS is further minimized by Teamcenter supporting various material disclosure standards (such as IPC-1752A, the Materials Declaration Management Standard).

To help sustainable product design, the Teamcenter-IMDS integration helps OEMs check the compliance of all their suppliers listed in a bill of materials (BOM) early in the design process. For example, Teamcenter uses pre-created specifications to whip through the design BOM and tag any material that’s not compliant with environmental and social mandates. A rules editor lets users create and manage their own custom rules, such as for compliance to internal guidelines or specific requests coming from supply chain partners. Teamcenter can also notify customers if a new element or substance has been added to REACH, thereby triggering a recheck of the design BOM. 

Teamcenter can also direct users to “green” and “approved” materials from within NX, CAD software also from Siemens PLM, before making material assignments. As needed, designers can also explicitly search for approved materials and create material assignments from within NX. NX can also generate color-coded 3D models indicating the extent of compliance. Using advanced configurations, designers can choose different revision levels, options or variations of a product structure for compliance grading (e.g., pass, fail, compliant or noncompliant), as well as to indicate exemptions to the regulations. 

Sure, there are “niche products out there to address sustainable manufacturing,” says Kerri Doyle, Siemens PLM Teamcenter product marketing manager for Siemens PLM Software, “but they are on their own little islands, their own silos. We feel they’re not as good if they’re not tied together with the BOM”—and the rest of the information needed for product development. Not so incidentally, companies can “meet the requirements of regulatory and industry compliance using the same PLM environment used to accelerate product development,” adds Doyle.

Sustainability inside the factory
When it comes to actually manufacturing products, “you have to make sure the machines and resources you’re using are energy optimized,” says Abhijit Dastidar, senior manager, automotive & transportation industry marketing, for Siemens PLM. Tecnomatix, also from Siemens PLM, uses simulation to predict the energy utilization of a factory. Points out Dastidar, “We are not creating a different 'sustainable manufacturing' domain. Sustainability is part of the product lifecycle development. The primary function of plant simulation is to optimize your throughput—and that’s what Tecnomatix simulates. But you not only want to optimize your throughput, you want to analyze the energy utilization.”

A module within Tecnomatix lets customers see various what-if scenarios to determine, for example, how long to let a conveyor belt idle before shutting it down to save on energy consumption, while balancing the tradeoffs in starting and stopping that conveyor belt, which consumes energy. CAE/FEA/CFD software and simulation software also comes into play where sustainability matters.

The “beauty of engineering software,” says Sandeep Sovani, director, global automotive industry, for Ansys, Inc. (ansys.com), is that it is “based on fundamental physics. Fundamental physics doesn’t change whether we are applying it to a car, an airplane, a rocket, a factory floor or an entire plant.” For example, the same finite element analysis (FEA) or CFD (computational fluid dynamics) software for optimizing the aerodynamics of a vehicle design is used in optimizing the power consumption of a plant, ensuring, for example, that enough cooling air is flowing through the plant and being used effectively.

The software is hardly stagnant. It has to reflect the new thinking, the new problems, and the new applications of physics that are always coming up in the automotive industry. So, while the underlying software may stay the same, “the software is changing in response to how the technology, the embedded technology, is changing,” says Sovani. For example, look at the Fluent Fuel Cell and Electrolysis module from Ansys. The underlying solver is Fluent, the CFD solver, but the module is tailored to evaluate the basic physics of the chemical transport in batteries.

Likewise, Ansys has two software packages for modeling the combustion process inside an engine and for accurately predicting the resulting emissions. Ansys Forté CFD is a specialized CFD solver for the combustion process inside a combustion engine. Embedded within Forté is ChemKin-Pro (short for chemical kinetics). ChemKin-Pro models the chemistry of combustion, which leads to studying the various chemicals that form pollutants. Forté models can analyze the combustion of multi-component fuels under various dynamic spray conditions (e.g., direct and port injection, two and four stroke, homogenous charge compression ignition, premixed and partially premixed). The representation of the physical spray and the related kinetics leads to accurate predictions of fuel effects, including soot particle formation, growth, agglomeration, oxidation and statistics on particle sizes and mass loading.

The goal, concludes Doyle, is to focus on sustainability “way up front in the design cycle versus later on,” when non-compliance is “riskier” because the costs in design changes, fines, even lost sales, are so much more significant.