Moving toward sustainable product development with model-based design

  • 26-Mar-2012 04:09 EDT
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Sameer Prabhu, Industry Marketing Director, MathWorks

Sustainability provides an opportunity to affect a fundamental shift in the market—seizing this opportunity can give businesses a significant competitive advantage. To do this, the off-highway industry will need to adopt a systematic product design and development approach that will allow engineers to design efficient products using a development process that integrates sustainability assessment into the innovation processes.

The off-highway industry has dealt with increasingly stringent emissions regulations to reduce impact on the environment. This experience offers a blueprint for addressing future sustainability challenges. MathWorks has worked with off-highway leaders as they used model-based design to develop embedded control systems to meet the emissions challenges. These control systems later enabled many improvements in machine productivity.

Model-based design capabilities such as automatic code generation replaced some or all manual hand-coding to increase development process efficiency, e.g., one off-highway manufacturer saw a reduction of approximately 70% in the dollars per line of code ($/LOC). This approach of using modeling and simulation techniques can extend to address sustainability challenges as well.

The next level in driving machine productivity improvement, machines that operate autonomously, can be achieved by starting system integration at the design stage. Model-based design allows integration of different engineering disciplines early in the development process to evaluate many innovative machine concepts. The concept showing most productivity and efficiency improvements is selected for physical implementation.

Meanwhile, model reuse throughout the development process facilitates collaboration and communication across geographic locations and the supply chain to help find and fix problems earlier. This integration at the design stage and across the development process improves machine productivity while reducing product development cost.

Autonomous machines are integrated into a site-based “system of systems” to realize real-time optimization of work site productivity and efficiency, reducing the energy and resource utilization. This system-of-systems approach can be expanded as the scale and scope of the systems evolves.

For example, as machine electrification grows in the off-highway industry, the system-of-systems approach extends beyond autonomous sites to encompass smart grid technology. Here, machines can be seen as a load on the grid, and the integrated management of generation, load, and protection systems maximizes the overall grid efficiency and lowers operational costs. This is only possible if the system of systems is evaluated and optimized right at the design stage using modeling and simulation techniques.

Systems thinking in product development is key to deriving sustainability benefits. Thoroughly exploring the design space before physical hardware is built ensures that the design will be optimally efficient. Closely examining each step of the development process ensures that successive steps build on and reuse the output from earlier ones. Model-based design enables this systems thinking and helps drive innovation and sustainability upfront in the design process.

This approach also creates a demand for system thinkers straight out of college. Experience from other industries shows that project-based-learning approaches provide the necessary training and experience for students to be system thinkers. At MathWorks, we have worked with the automotive industry on the “EcoCAR2: Plugging In to the Future” student competition, where student teams are tasked with reducing the environmental impact of a Chevrolet Malibu without compromising performance, safety, and consumer acceptability. This partnership of academia, the industry, and suppliers to drive systems thinking into the educational experience helps to create a sustainability-ready future workforce.

Thus, sustainability for MathWorks means collaborating with our customers to ensure that their products and processes are energy- and cost-efficient and that we are preparing the next generation of engineers to tackle sustainability challenges. We look forward to continuing to work with the off-highway industry as they design products that make sustainable living a reality.

Sameer Prabhu, Industry Marketing Director, MathWorks, wrote this article for SAE Off-Highway Engineering.

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