Industrial Information Technology

Sustainability in Product Development

What will the world look like in 20 years? How can we achieve our sustainability goals and ensure the protection of our earth?

Climate change, resource scarcity, and an increasingly volatile environment are just a few of the factors shaping today’s society. Constant change requires consistently agile and proactive action to meet current demands and exploit the potential of new technologies. This particularly requires companies to drive a new way of thinking and transformation and ensure a future for the next generation. Economic as well as social and ecological considerations are relevant in this context.

Continuous research and development are therefore of utmost importance to counteract external negative effects. This affects both companies and society as a whole, as all the products we use contribute to the status quo,

Our work on sustainability addresses these challenges: Approaches to optimizing products are identified and possible solutions for more effective and efficient practices are developed to contribute to a better future. The focus of this research area is on sustainable product development, co-creation, and sustainable production, which are explained in more detail below.

In sustainable product development, methods, tools, systems, and digital platforms are developed to design products more sustainably. This involves, among other things, promoting a circular economy, which aims to transition from a linear to cyclical use of resources. An analysis of the value chain as well as a detailed consideration of all product components makes it possible to identify adaptation potential for more sustainable development. The aim is to equip engineers with effective methods which support their product decisions and contribute to achieving the UN’s sustainability development goals (SDG).

The process may look like this:

  1. Consider a specific sustainability target, such as the reduction of CO2 emissions
  2. Develop a generic design strategy to achieve this goal
  3. Recommend concrete measures to implement the design strategy through product modularization
  4. Determine a suitable evaluation standard

Additionally, co-creation and Open PLM approaches to strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration will be investigated to make effective use of synergies.

Overall, the research area is also concerned with the systematic integration of sustainability with the aim of developing networked, intelligent systems and evaluating their effectiveness and sustainability. Our research here includes, for example, the applicability and evaluation of sustainable artificial intelligence.

Resource efficiency is another methodology used in this context. Based on an analysis of the value chain modules (VCM) and value chain network (VCN), implications for improving sustainability can be determined. These can result from the reusability of materials, recovery of resources, and recycling of by-products, ultimately helping to increase resource efficiency.

Sustainable production explores, among other things, maker approaches, with so-called "maker spaces" supporting collaborative and innovative research in keeping with the philosophy "If it can be imagined, it can be made" (William Ward). In this field of research, eco-design approaches are considered with the help of digital technologies and tools. Industrial applicability is tested and both production and process planning are evaluated under sustainability criteria as part of "feedback-to-design" for continuous improvement. Findings are then passed on and implemented accordingly.

Many years of experience in this field in particular have already resulted in the first successfully completed research projects and publications. This knowledge is also actively shared with others, as educational work for engineers, teachers and students is a further pillar of this research area.

In summary, all of these areas target sustainable, resource-conserving product development and production. These are promoted through increased integration of the value chain, network approaches and corresponding technologies in order to extend the product life cycle. Overall, this should help to reconcile current consumer behavior with the available resources so that quality of life can be maintained in the future through responsible use.