Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, July 15, 2024

NCMS Roundtable Will Highlight Advanced Tools for Sustainable Design and Manufacturing 

<img style="float: left;" src="" alt="" width="95" height="83" />The June 12 gathering at NCMS headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., will review online tools, databases and guides that provide a sustainability assessment toolkit for manufacturing

On June 12 the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) will host a roundtable at its headquarters in Ann Arbor, Mich., highlighting the successful completion of a long term project that will have a significant impact on the manufacturing industry.

The roundtable marks the culmination of a six-year, $3.3 million collaborative program with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) known as the Sustainable Project Initiative (SPI). Funding has been provided by the EPA and the Department of Energy (DoE).

NCMS and its industry partners have developed a sustainability assessment toolkit for manufacturers based on leading-edge life cycle methodologies. These tools will help organizations understand the environmental impact of their products throughout the entire manufacturing life cycle, including material sourcing, and the entire manufacturing process, as well as use, and end of life or reuse.  Armed with this information, designers and engineers can conduct informed tradeoffs by better understanding the ramifications of engineering and industrial business decisions.

SPI has developed a set of new online tools, databases and guides for enhanced supply chain collaborations.  The toolkits allow manufacturers to greatly improve the sustainability of their products by standardizing environmental impact analysis across supply chains, limiting the consumption of finite resources, lowering carbon intensity, and allowing manufacturers to take a proactive, positive role toward preserving and improving the planet’s ecosystems.

In addition, NCMS currently manages and/or hosts 11 EPA Compliance Assistance Centers (CACs).  The role of the CACs is to provide easy-to-read and understand pollution and environmental regulatory compliance information.  Also included are online tools for several industry sectors ranging from heavy manufacturing to healthcare, and transportation.

Automotive Example

For example, a typical outcome of the SPI initiative is the development of a Sustainable Automotive Materials Selection Guide.  The guide was first proposed under the SPI program in 2005. The idea was to give designers of auto components assistance in the choice of alternative materials for both performance and sustainability. The guide, an evolving document, was posted in 2010 – you can access it here

It provides:

  • Extensive materials information, including physical and chemical properties, regulatory status, and environment impact data.
  • A functional model of vehicle subsystems, alternative materials available for any given function, and environmental impact data specific to each subsystem
  • Data on actual usage of alternative materials for each subsystem, including tradeoffs and limitations associated with each alternative

This is a bare bones, highly functional web site: no fancy graphics here.  But the site allows you to search for alternatives by either selecting a part or the material – the metals, plastics and composites, or other resources – that you intend to use in your product.

As the brief introduction to the Guide states, “Choosing the right material for an auto part can involve a long and costly technical evaluation.  The philosophy behind this Selection Guide is simple:  it makes no sense to go through a complete technical evaluation of a candidate material, only to have to reject it in the end because of regulatory or liability concerns.  You can save significant design time and money if you screen materials for sustainability at the same time as you evaluate materials for performance.”

The site includes a quick tour of the Guide, which really functions as a how-to FAQ.

Many Collaborators

The NCMS sustainability toolkit was developed collaboratively, involving a large number of corporations, trade groups, and academic and governmental organizations.  Their efforts have resulted in the development and evaluation of next best practices, sustainability metrics, and quantitative tools including several novel design aids and advanced tools aimed at driving new engineering and manufacturing competencies for American manufacturers.

The data-driven development of the NCMS Sustainability Toolkit paves the way for standardized methods to evaluate tradeoffs and predict outcomes for select manufacturing sectors including:

  • Automotive
  • Aerospace
  • Building materials
  • Paints and coatings
  • Furniture
  • LED lighting
  • General manufacturing and remanufacturing

Building on Success

A year ago, NCMS launched the Digital Manufacturing Strategic Interest Group (DM SIG), another highly collaborative effort.  As Jon Riley, NCMS vice president, Digital Manufacturing reported in DMR recently, “…the DM SIG continues to grow. Today, the DM SIG is comprised of representatives from 25 organizations including non-profits, universities, federal agencies, technology providers, and manufacturers of all sizes. Together we are focused on the singular topic of bringing modeling and simulation capabilities to our nation’s small and medium sized manufacturers.”

The success of the DM SIG was, in part, a motivator for the creation of the Design and Manufacturing Roundtable to be held on June 12. 

NCMS will present an overview of the cloud-friendly tools developed under the SPI program and conduct panel discussions regarding sustainability challenges facing the industry. The meeting will include keynotes by Dr. David Cole, Chairman Emeritus, Center for Automotive Research and co-founder of Auto Harvest, and John Viera, Executive Director of Sustainability for Ford Motor Company. 

Panels will discuss topics such as Building Sustainability into Product Designs, Challenges in Materials & Coatings Sustainability, Knowing Your Customer’s Sustainability Needs and How Collaboration Can Help Companies Overcome their Sustainability Challenges. A full agenda, registration and more information on this event and NCMS’ sustainability initiatives can be found at

 An expected outcome of the Roundtable discussions will be support for the creation of a Sustainable Design and Manufacturing SIG.  The new SIG would drive standardization of sustainability tools and methodologies across many manufacturing sectors and focus on risk-reduction in industrial product design through the use of sustainable materials and manufacturing.  Also, the SIG could offer an industry forum to validate data currently included in the NCMS databases and provide guidance to cover additional materials and product features.