Product design has traditionally meant “design for manufacturability” for manufacturers. The typical product model has always been to introduce products at their lowest possible cost and not worry about what happens at the end of the product’s lifespan. 

Designing for circularity considers the entire life of parts—from design to production to service to the end of life, with a focus on reusability that helps to achieve a “value circle” that benefits all stakeholders. 

With organizations focusing on circular economy and sustainability, PLM aligns better to reflect the needs of a globalized economy where resources are circulated and nature is regenerated. A PLM system can capture and carry information about how a component or a part can be repurposed for a second or even third life. Likewise, information on how the product can be disassembled and remanufactured, and what the recyclability options are for different materials, is valuable for the downstream economy. 

As manufacturers transition from the traditional approach of selling their products toward offering their PaaS, the need for a digital backbone like PLM is even more critical. 

Sustainable Product Designs With Dematerialization 

Many commercial artists use thumbnail sketches, a quick rendering, or series that help the artist plan and visualize their final artwork. Similar in concept, a manufacturing engineer can input their idea along with design goals such as parameters, materials, performance needs, spatial requirements, or cost constraints into the generative design computer-aided design (CAD) software. In turn, the CAD software creates hundreds of alternative and intricate designs that offer lighter or stronger part(s) variations that can be transformed into a prototype. 

Generative design offers engineers and designers multiple working variations instead of a single solution, allowing the engineer to choose a design that works best. From aerospace to consumer goods, engineers are using generative design to consolidate multipart assemblies into single-part products in addition to reducing the amount of material used. This helps reduce the number of materials and can simplify the overall manufacturing process by reducing downstream assembly. 

Likewise, the automotive industry uses generative design to help consolidate multiple part assemblies into one, which means fewer components are warehoused in inventory and helps to streamline supply chains. With generative design, manufacturers can achieve faster prototyping to reduce waste and improve time to market.

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Lightweighting Uses Fewer Materials, Lowers Costs, Saves Resources

Engineers have been searching for ways to reduce component and assembly weight for decades to produce greener and more cost-effective products, especially in the automotive and aerospace industries. Lightweighting removes weight from a component or assembly. Producing lightweight products means using fewer materials, lowering costs, and saving resources.

Designers and manufacturers lightweight products in one of three ways:

  • Substituting materials: Replace heavier materials with less dense and/or stronger materials and components. With the right design, heavy materials like metals can be replaced with plastics or ceramics.

  • Optimizing designs: Another method of reducing weight is to implement different technologies to enhance a current design.

  • Eliminating materials: Components can frequently be eliminated from assemblies while still meeting structural, flammability, and thermal criteria as production methods and materials advance.

Some key benefits of lightweighting include:

  • Material savings and reduced environmental footprint: Lighter parts often have lower material costs than their counterparts and typically require less energy to manufacture.
  • Greater fuel efficiency: While lighter components are frequently desired in engineering, they are particularly useful in the production of automobiles, where a 10% weight reduction can result in a 6-8% increase in fuel efficiency.
  • Expanded material options: In many circumstances, product teams’ options are constrained by the density and weight of a desired material. Materials that might not normally be suitable for a certain application can have their capabilities expanded by intelligent lightweighting techniques like latticing.
  • Improved performance: Using lightweighting in conjunction with strategic design decisions can enhance part performance.3
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Integrating PLM in the Product Design Process

To generate and prioritize designs that employ recyclable materials and/or less material while preserving performance, product designers can turn to CAD platforms with cutting-edge AI-driven capabilities like real-time simulation, generative design, and lightweighting. Even slight weight reductions can have a significant impact on operating performance and costs, which are the primary sustainability measures.

Making such designs reusable and connected throughout the value chain and integrated into the development process will be greatly supported by PLM. Connections between CAD and PLM solutions enable supply chain visibility early in the design process. This not only helps designers source the correct buy parts that are more sustainable and meet environmental compliance regulations, but also enables collaboration with extended product teams to accelerate new product development processes. Companies can become more efficient by creating and leveraging PLM best practices between teams through design reuse and collaboration.