Autodesk Expands Eco Materials Adviser

It looks like the engineering community is ready to make sustainable design more than just a popular talking point. That's according to Autodesk, which, in response to what it says is increased demand among its customers, is now offering an expanded version of the Eco Materials Adviser (EMA). It is currently provided free as part of Autodesk Inventor 2012.

The sustainable design package was developed in partnership with Granta, a company that markets materials information and analysis tools. The base version, folded into Inventor 2012 as one of the many feature enhancements, was aimed at giving engineers the ability to explore materials choices and evaluate the sustainability of their designs upfront in the process, instead of at the post-prototype stage (when making changes is far more complex and costly).

By making such an early stage sustainability design tool easily accessible to engineers, not specialists, Autodesk hoped to foster better decision-making, providing visibility into design choices engineers might not have otherwise explored if left to the end of the product development workflow, according to Sarah Krasley, Autodesk's industry manager of sustainability.

While the definition of sustainable design varies depending on the organization and the particular industry segment, Krasley says Autodesk research shows the practice is taking hold among engineers. In a survey conducted with the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Autodesk found more than two-thirds of respondents (all identified as engineers in professional environments) were practicing sustainable design principles, whether to optimize products for recyclability or from an energy efficiency standpoint. 71 percent of respondents were involved in designs that use less energy or reduce emissions, along with designs that comply with environmental standards and regulations.

One revealing data point was that three-quarters of working respondents said they address sustainability in the conceptual design phase, while half do so during material selection. That finding speaks to the need to provide environmental analysis capabilities at the front end of the design process, rather than leaving it as a lifecycle assessment at the end of the design workflow.

While the base version of Eco Materials Adviser delivers analytics and dashboards to evaluate materials choices in terms of energy use, CO2 footprint, water usage, and restricted substances, Autodesk's next step with the full version release is to broaden the environmental focus to secondary processing factors like transport, coatings, and electricity use.

The full version of Eco Materials Adviser, which will be available for purchase later this year, builds on the original foundation in three ways. In addition to letting users study Inventor assemblies of any size, the full release supports a more in-depth study of materials options, letting users select from more than 3,000 materials choices. The full release also expands the sustainability lens to consider the eco impact of the complete product lifecycle, building on the raw materials view to study the manufacturing process, the mode of transport, and disposal processes, in addition to finishing processes such as painting, electroplating, and powder coating.

Autodesk has structured the software so that engineers get a result, even if they don't answer all of the questions pertaining to issues they might not have visibility into. The idea is to avoid what Krasley calls "garbage in, garbage out." Asking an engineer whether a particular material was routed by ocean freight or train from a supplier to the manufacturing facility is problematic if the engineer doesn't have transparency into that information. "If they do have that information, they can add it and get a deeper analysis, but if they can't, they still get analysis on the factors they know and have control over," she says.

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