According to a new report on sustainability in product development, sustainability is a factor of increasing importance. Nearly 90 percent of respondents reported notable corporate changes that have led to incorporating sustainability into product design and development over the past two years.
The report, commissioned by digital manufacturing molder Proto Labs, contains the outcome of a survey of some 200 engineers, product designers, sustainability leaders and corporate executives in the field of product development.
Respondents made clear that sustainability directly influences product development, but that focused direction and measurable goals are essential to accelerate progress.
Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed said sustainability had a defined role in their company as either part of the product development process or integrated into everyday programs and activities.
But the push and pull between competing goals for sustainable product development is evident.
“We have to come up with innovative designs, but they also have to meet specific sustainability government regulations. And still meet certain costs for our business to operate accordingly,” responded one medical device/industrial engineer in the survey.
While the focus on sustainability is not new — nearly 70 percent of respondents have been involved with sustainability for more than six years — their overall attitude towards sustainability remains lukewarm. Most agreed that the sustainability initiatives at their company were often driven by regulations and trumped by fiscal concerns. Product designers and engineers are only moderately confident in their understanding of how sustainability aligns with overall company strategy.
About 68 percent of respondents said the top three design practices implemented to advance sustainability objectives were artificial intelligence, design for sustainability (DfS) and integration of electronics — all three of which are digital capabilities. In terms of physical actions, half of respondents identified materials engineering and sourcing/procurement as areas that would benefit most from executing sustainability initiatives.
Sustainability practices under consideration for future implementation include corporate social responsibility (54 percent), closed-loop product development (47 percent) and additive manufacturing (40 percent).
Digital manufacturing will continue to play a part in sustainable product development. “Sustainability is influencing every stage of product development today, and we have a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other to further our environmental initiatives,” said Protolabs’ President and CEO, Rob Bodor. “We are excited to shine a light on the progress made to date.”