Integration of eco-design strategies into aircraft manufacturing processes
Commercial aviation accounts for approximately 2-3 % of global carbon emissions. Aerospace manufacturers are setting targets to reduce emissions – such as Rolls-Royce’s commitment to reach net zero by 2030 for their own operations – enabling the sector players to reach net zero by 2050.
The challenge – environmental impact assessment during design
Determining environmental performance early in product development could help produce more efficient aircraft products, accelerate decision making and reduce time-to-market. “The issue that engineers currently face in material and process selection is that the curation of environmental data does not typically sit alongside the product design process because it is difficult to gather such data until after a part is manufactured. Material and manufacturing process selection is based on their properties (safety) and cost although the former is most critical for the aerospace industry,” notes Donna Dykeman, coordinator of the EU-funded PLEIADES project. The reason environmental performance is pushed aside is that life cycle assessments (LCAs) are time consuming. “An LCA for just one material could take six weeks. Aerospace manufacturers probably have several thousands of bills of materials for their aircraft products. Putting an energy metre on the equipment that forms and assembles aircraft parts produces a wealth of primary data, but generating this data for different products would require extremely long time scales,” adds Dykeman.
The solution – leverage reference data, and reduce the uncertainty only for highly relevant data points
PLEIADES exploited readily available reference data – data that had already been collected through primary sources over years, or used estimations/equations to extrapolate values. “Project partners estimate a 10 to 100 times reduction in the time required to assign reference environmental data to a bill of materials compared to the time required to perform a full LCA for each product. Sifting through reference data enables engineers to obtain both technical performance and environmental impact during the early phases of product development,” explains Dykeman. PLEIADES’ main achievement was the demonstration of eco-design workflows that integrate environmental and sustainability aspects in the concept design phase. The decisions made during the concept design phase determine over 80 % of product manufacturing costs and environmental impacts.
Project partners unveiled software that captures eco-design aspects in engineering processes. Rolls-Royce provided in-house specifications, material and process data that were stored in the Ansys Granta MI Enterprise materials information management software suite. Granta MI Enterprise enables bills of materials to be screened against regulations for restricted substances, critical materials and social responsibility aspects of such conflict materials, and the assignment of environmental reference data stemming from MaterialUniverse, a dataset containing over 4 000 commercially available materials and processes. The University of Surrey assessed the uncertainties in the environmental reference data. “A material’s carbon footprint sometimes varies +/-100 % depending on the rules applied to the LCA model, location of measurement, etc. We conducted a sensitivity analysis to assess how easily an environmental impact is affected by such variables and focused on those materials with the highest environmental impact for further refinement by LCA,” notes Dykeman. The University of Surrey applied the sensitivity analysis in cooperation with an uncertainty management tool based on the concept of a ‘pedigree matrix’. Ultimately, project partners University of Stuttgart and Sphera applied the GaBi software to offer improved estimates of a material’s and/or manufacturing process’ environmental performance.
PLEIADES, LCA, environmental performance, reference data, environmental data, concept design