PLM Tools to Design for Sustainability

This month we are pleased to feature a guest blog submitted by PLM Green Global Alliance follower Roger L. Franz. who shares a few things he has learned as a Principal in Engineering Information Technology when beginning to explore the state of PLM tools to Design for Sustainability.

Design for Sustainability is now a mainstream requirement from governments, regulators, and customers. In this brief we summarize some current trends in the area of PLM tools to support rapid engineering assessment of environmental footprint among the many engineering choices. Engineering and science-based tools to quickly guide hardware engineers toward material selection and product configuration choices with reduced environmental footprint are critical to our future.

A full Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) according to the ISO 14000 series of standards and others with a focus on carbon footprint like the Green House Gas Protocol requires a dedicated LCA tool and Life Cycle Inventory (LCI) database.  These tools, of which several have been available for years, require considerable subject matter expertise not generally provided in mechanical or electrical engineering schools.

Here we report on an end user’s perspective of some of the tools now available for product designers who may not have significant environmental engineering expertise.  The data is based on publicly available information from the software providers’ on-line literature, which reveals quite a diversity of approaches.  No further testing or validation has been conducted. Mention of the companies shall not be considered to be an endorsement by the author who is not employed by or otherwise compensated by any of them. More information may be found in the links provided.


Autodesk has announced the availability of a plug-in to Makersite. Their approach is not unlike other large software companies who align with one or more third parties offering complimentary services.

“Sustainability begins at the heart of the product: its design phase. With the new Autodesk Fusion 360 plugin powered by Makersite, Designers will now have the power to combine Makersite’s environmental impact and cost data with Autodesk Fusion 360’s product design data.”

“The new Autodesk Fusion 360 add-on powered by Makersite features:

  • The ability to allow designers to have Makersite instantly calculate the environmental and cost impacts of their design by sending a simple BOM at the push of a button
  • Gives Fusion 360 users access to over 300 materials, cost, sustainability insights, based on the used structure, materials, and weight
  • Provides enhanced data sets on over 50 decision criteria such as compliance, risk, health, and safety in real-time.”

In this implementation we see the use of two other trends: Artificial Intelligence and Digital Twins.

“Makersite uses artificial intelligence and graph technology to build Digital Twins of manufactured products. This approach enables teams to measure impacts and collaboratively identify optimal mitigation strategies and new sourcing opportunities in real-time and make better products, faster. Engineers and product teams can develop more compliant, safer, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly products faster, and get results up to 50x faster than traditional methods.”

In addition to ecoinvent, which is a widely used Life Cycle Inventory database, the Makersite approach is to use multiple databases.

“Makersite’s Data Foundation is the solution to the challenges manufacturers face when sourcing components and complying with sustainability and regulatory commitments. Our product knowledge graph, the largest in the world, brings together data from over 140 sources, providing access to the largest product and supply chain database. Our databases cover a wide range of materials and substances, allowing you to model products from various sectors, including automotive, electronics, packaging, and food. We monitor 40+ regulations and include major LCA databases, including Ecoinvent and IDEA. With information on 36,000+ industrial processes, 600,000+ environmental impacts, and 100,000+ materials and properties in one system.”

Dassault Systèmes

Another approach is to create a direct pipeline from design tools, specifically the 3DEXPERIENCE platform, to the ecoinvent Life Cycle Inventory database.

From their announcement dated February 24, 2022: “Dassault Systèmes today announced the launch of Sustainable Innovation Intelligence, its life cycle assessment solution that enables companies to minimize the environmental impacts of the products, materials and processes they create and help drive the circular economy. Fully embedded in Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE platform and covering the entire value chain, the cloud-based solution uniquely integrates the ecoinvent database on the impacts of more than 18,000 industrial and agricultural processes, into virtual design, product development, manufacturing engineering, operations and logistics.”

In the above announcement, the Sustainable Innovation Intelligence link further explains the leverage of the digital or Virtual Twin approach.

“Embedding LCA within the virtual twin — as Dassault Systèmes’ Sustainable Innovation Intelligence solution does – introduces a host of new possibilities for a net-zero economy. To consistently deliver accurate insights, Dassault Systèmes has partnered with ecoinvent, an environmental database provider with a diverse repository of high-quality lifecycle information.”

“Equipped with complete LCA data and a unique virtual twin offering on the 3DEXPERIENCE® platform, companies are better poised to innovate towards circular product lifecycles, gain a competitive edge and win the climate fight.”

A recorded Dassault Systèmes webinar that goes into much more detail about the system operations and its screens may be accessed HERE.

Additional information from ecoinvent includes the following: “The ecoinvent Database enables users to gain a deeper understanding of the environmental impacts of their products and services. It is a repository covering a diverse range of sectors on global and regional level. It currently contains more than 18,000 activities, otherwise referred to as ‘datasets’, modelling human activities or processes. ecoinvent datasets contain information on the industrial or agricultural process they model, measuring the natural resources withdrawn from the environment, the emissions released to the water, soil and air, the products demanded from other processes (electricity), and of course, the products, co-products and wastes produced.”

This is the same database that may also be used when performing a full LCA using dedicated LCA tools.

Dassault had early versions of the same concept more than ten years ago in the SolidWorks system, where CAD and the PLM database were linked through a user interface to LCA software and database, using a Mass-Material-Process association.
(by Morbidoni, Alessandro & Favi, Claudio & Germani, Michele). 


The approach to sustainability here is to address material use reduction head-on through the use of Creo’s advanced CAD tools. Using Generative Design, the mechanical engineer can remove material and weight while keeping the mechanical properties needed for performance and reliability.

From this PTC blog post we read “Improve engineering productivity and time-to-market with AI-driven Generative Design. Experienced and junior engineers alike can benefit from the rapid exploration of innovative, manufacturable solutions. Challenge your own assumptions and automatically deliver high-quality, lower-cost solutions with Creo Generative Design, all within the Creo environment.”

This approach has been confirmed in practices, notably by their customer Cummins.

“With sustainable products and practices among the highest business priorities, Creo is providing significant gains within Cummins’ design program. Cummins has realized that applying generative design to any conventionally designed part typically reduces the material used by 10 to 15 percent. This approach reduces the environmental footprint and the cost and weight for any given component.”

“Cummins knows that in the world of power solutions, getting to market faster while optimizing for environmental sustainability across operations, manufacturing, and service often traces back to sound design practices. After design engineers describe the engineering and operations requirements for the task, Creo offers up a suite of design and simulation tools to aid the development of the design concept. This process enables their design engineers to develop and iterate on design concepts more efficiently, avoiding the typical back and forth work that occurs between the designer and analyst and allowing for a much more effective use of these critical resources. Furthermore, this allows them to explore possibilities they previously would have never been able to explore because of time restraints.”

“Leveraging Creo Generative Topology Optimization, Creo Simulate, and Creo Simulation Live (CSL), Cummins is designing and testing digital prototypes to understand how they will perform in a real-world engine system. Creo Simulation Live provides real-time feedback on design decisions so designers can iterate more quickly and generate more options, which saves designers an incredible amount of time. Each time a change is made, it’s analyzed in seconds as part of the typical workflow—all without leaving the CAD environment for greater efficiency.”

The case study can be find here.

Siemens Digital Industries Software

Here we see a somewhat different strategy to pair up carbon footprint with cost estimation.

“With our Teamcenter Product Cost Management solution, you can assess product costs and carbon footprint at the same time. You also can get a holistic idea of how you can model, design, and produce without compromising emission goals.” writes Emilia Maier in a blog on Siemens website.

Within the PLM system, CO2-equivalents attributes are displayed in a product BOM page for easy viewing of raw materials, purchased components, and a roll up to the BOM parent.

“An integrated approach for calculating product CO2e footprint and cost along the entire value chain enables companies to make trade-off decisions between driving down CO2e emissions, reducing product costs, and addressing customer value demands.”

“By creating a visible link between product cost and product carbon footprint, companies can identify the most important levers that will yield the greatest savings and implement those first. They can analyze the impact as a trade-off between the product carbon footprint, profit margin, and customer value.”

“Companies can do all sorts of product carbon footprint calculations and what-if simulations in the product development phase, looking at the different levers to evaluate trade-offs and take the right decisions.”

In addition to managing carbon footprint, reducing the use of substances of concern is another key to reducing environmental footprint. This aspect is also claimed to be integrated in the Siemens approach.

“A sustainability framework that is built into the lifecycle of your products will support the highly sought-after environmental compliance objectives. In addition, the framework allows you to phase-out non-sustainable or restricted substances from products and design new and innovative “green” ones.”

“Environmental compliance and product sustainability solutions help you control and trace the material makeup of your products down to the substance level. You can limit the use of hazardous substances in your products and reduce the risk of non-compliance with regulatory directives such as REACH, RoHS, and Conflict Minerals.” (Siemens)

In summary, one sees here the merging of engineering tools to manage carbon footprint and other sustainable goals like materials management with product cost.


It is probably fair to say that the best approach, much less the optimum approach for your particular products, markets, and customers, has yet to fully play out.  At least we already see some very good choices developing, including strategies as diverse as:

    • linking cost and carbon footprint together
    • use of advanced design and simulation tools to reduce mechanical part weight and material use
    • making calls from the engineer’s workbench to one or more life cycle databases and even other data sources
    • use of AI and Virtual (or Digital) Twin to present choices between multiple options and multiple stages of a product’s lifecycle

We hope that whatever approach your own investigation leads you to will help us all to reach our common goal of a sustainable world.

Thank you, Roger, and we will be examining other PLM trends and tools in sustainability in future posts. Until then, check out our past interviews with PLM solution providers and join our PLM Green LinkedIn discussion group for announcements and discussions.

Have a Green PLM topic that you think is under covered or appreciated by our profession and are passionate to write about? Send us an email to with your ideas.

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