In the Product Design & Development Brainstorm we talk with industry leaders to get their perspective on issues critical to the design engineering marketplace. In this issue, we ask:

What role has the “going green” movement played in new product designs?


Scott Frankel, Director, Cooling Technologies Group, NMB Technologies

Scott_FrankelAt NMB, the green movement has given us an opportunity to dedicate a significant amount of our R&D resources into improving the overall efficiencies of our products.

For example, on any given cooling fan, the two main sources of power loss are the aerodynamics and the motor. Efficient designs, like our new RL Series of DC cooling fans, represent new products that are doing more work (superior airflow) while consuming less power.

The RL series of axial fans are designed for applications that require low noise, high pressure, and high airflow, such as telecomm cabinets, switch networks, routers, and test equipment.

Customers are increasingly more sensitive to green issues, such as the cost of operations and power draw in their equipment designs. We are addressing these concerns by developing high-efficiency motors, lighting, and energy conversion devices as well as new magnetic materials that will improve not only our products, but will be the key to energy management and conservation for our customers. 

NMB’s environmental philosophy includes the development and design of products that contain no hazardous substances for the environment or that may affect the health and safety of humans, consume little energy and satisfy the "3R" (reduced, reused, or recycled) criteria.   

In order to minimize the environmental impact over the entire lifecycle of new products, NMB delivers products to customers only after thorough advance testing to ensure that they are safe, reliable, and free of toxic substances. As far as we are concerned, design with green in mind.

Marcus Hays, CEO, Pi Mobility 

Marcus_HaysIn the broadest terms, the benefit of the “going green movement” in product design has spurred demand for, and subsequently resulted in, material science options that vastly improve any product designer’s chance of realizing an end-product that achieves a very high-functioning intersection between ecology and cost of goods.

Future materials, such as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM) introduced recently by EADS, invite radical improvements in the green quality of everyday products that will bring an end to the notion of “green” being a detachable element of product design no matter how cost conscious the manufacturer. 

While the fight for “green” in some places certainly isn’t over, PiMobility embraced a holistic design approach at its 2000 founding. Over the last decade it has evolved from an obscure concept to a consumer priority.

As a consequence, PiMobility is always examining material sciences and exploring options for improving our green credentials. We looked seriously, for a time, at bamboo and even conceived of a strategy wherein we would “grow” our frames in the shape of the arch. While the concept gave rise to an even more intriguing possibility — namely taking up residence on a bamboo plantation on a South Pacific island — bamboo in its natural state was not up to the lifecycle equation. As intriguing as bamboo is and was, PiCycle’s down-cycled aluminum frame offered our customers a 20-year minimum lifespan, in turn significantly minimizing a PiCycle’s environmental consequences.

For anyone who knows me, it wouldn't come as a surprise that I strongly advocate for lifecycle extension and delayed obsolescence as the first cornerstone of “green” design. What may be surprising, however, is the equal emphasis I place on how the object is made and, more specifically, the manufacturing environment.

Accordingly, PiCycle frame design was driven as much by concerns for social justice as it was ecological ones. In fact, PiCycle’s single aluminum tube is largely explained by a complete rethink of traditional bicycle manufacturing methods. Between shedding the traditional “double diamond” and distilling PiCycle’s function to its absolute essence, we lowered our cost of goods, in turn, yielding significantly higher gross margins in total, eliminating the need to offshore PiCycle manufacturing.

Local manufacturing, in turn, subtracts highly problematic bunker and diesel-truck fuel from our end product equation that is otherwise wasted in the movement of our raw materials and components. Most importantly, higher margins allow us to pay higher wages leading to more productive and enthusiastic workers (and suppliers). Lastly, higher gross margins permit a higher percentage of our revenue to flow back into the R&D department (which no doubt still yearns to relocate to an island somewhere in the South Pacific).

It bears noting that opportunities within the “going green movement” are being recognized and supported by companies as substantive as Autodesk. Becoming an “Autodesk Clean Tech Partner” in 2009 made it possible for PiMobility to integrate Autodesk Inventor into our engineering workflow. Today, we can directly attribute a $360,000 net savings in our 2011 PiCycle manufacturing ramp-up to our use of Autodesk Inventor.

All of which, in my view, unequivocally makes a case for how every new product design can benefit by the going green movement.

Yuheng_WangYuheng Wang, Supply Chain Manager, BII Group  

A typical case that we see is the smart building. As you can see from the photo, we start with one building and we modify and reform the old system. We place sensors and actuators in different places to collect the data on light, humidity, temperature, movement, air quality, water quality, and energy consumption. Based on the data, we can control the lights (on/off), shutters (open/close), security cameras, and HVAC (active/inactive).

The building saves a lot of energy and power. Once we make one building smart, many buildings will follow suit and create a green community. Furthermore, the green community will lead to a green society and, finally, an ECO city. This is all the result of going green.

Cees Links, Founder & CEO, GreenPeak Technologies 

Cees_LinksIn general, new product designs have not suffered from going green.Frankly, product developers have had a much more challenging time.

They have worked very hard to avoid the development of new green products that were not as good as the previous generation.

The rule in product development is that new products should be remarkably better than existing ones. But then marketers added simple requirements like, "the new product should be lead-free; it should be RoHS-compliant." This could cause a real engineering headache, as it was sometimes difficult to achieve and often required the development of a completely new and more expensive series of components. 

Despite the increased cost and development challenges, the move to green has also opened up new opportunities for design and innovation.

For example, at GreenPeak, we make radio communication chips for sense and control networks, remote controls, thermostats, and lighting controls. We have always focused on ultra-low power consumption to combat the continuing growth of batteries usage. Interestingly, this has created a positive side effect. Fewer and/or smaller batteries means less maintenance (less/no changing of batteries), nicer products (no clunky battery compartments and/or or lost lids), and lower cost.

This need for "going green” has created a rapidly growing market that can help people to implement smart energy, smart lighting, and building smarter homes.

At GreenPeak, we are very committed to further accelerate this positive feedback cycle of greener and better products.