Connecting dots: Sustainability - Coopetition - Requirement based engineering

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

Looking back at 20+ years in different industries but always close to engineering, I am grateful for all experiences which make up a powerful combination. 

The past decades have seen a tremendously quick development in technology and business models with an eye on sustainability in all its sub-topics especially in the past few years.

Leading new product development in a start-up environment at Dance while still being part of the aviation industry as a mentor at the Sustainable Aero Lab sparks a lot of thoughts around the topics which both roles have in common: Sustainability, Engineering, Coopetition.

Sustainability - ecological, economical and social - has become a key factor to success. Regulations as the EU Greendeal and the Supply Chain Act which put governmental regulated pressure to the industries and the social mind & behavioral change of recent generations, who influence consumer decisions, lead to intensified interest of investors in Sustainability. And there is no doubt we have to invest into sustainabililty to treat our environment and people with foresight and care.

The challenge to implement a strategy for sustainability is a uniting factor for manufacturers. Standards, as voluntary guidelines, have emerged for various industries and give good guidance. Nonetheless the implementation strategy is often developed individually and may suffer resources and know-how for various reasons.

Having seen the power of cooperation between competitors at the Independent Aircraft Modifier Alliance (IAMA), I am certain an approach of coopetition would allow manufacturers to not only get faster results but also benefit from swarm intelligence, no matter the size of the company involved. 

While IAMAs target is above all to establish and secure a level playing field (in aircraft modification), aligned effort for sustainable manufactured products makes a great case to sit at the table. To truly implement (ecological) sustainability into hardware products (and not "only" offset the carbon footprint) it requires technology and concepts to enable re-use and recycle - and this again requires volume to still be competitive especially as a smaller fish in the pond. With coopetition and united efforts it will even become a competitive advantage over large single players.

Photo by ThisisEngineering RAEng on Unsplash

This is now where Engineering comes to sight. While there is way better advocates, mentors and experts for economical and social sustainability than me - the engineering piece is certainly my playground. With being a part of the Sustainable Aero Lab and together with a great team of engineers defining new products in the bike industry, I see an enormous potential (often unused) to upfront define engineering requirements to enable future end-of-life concepts. 

While companies like DANCE pay into the sustainable field even with their business model which requires long life, high utilization and high reliability, there is always room to improve the end-of-life of a product which will come at a certain time - like it or not. As much as we have the total cost of ownership in mind for economical sustainable products in the shared economy, we have to plan & design for re-use, recycle or even circular economy concepts at the very beginning of a new product or part design. Implementing a set of requirements which get observed in the entire design process - and validated! - is a necessary step to implement sustainability into engineering teams. (Note to my team: #inlovewithrequirementbasedengineering)

The question we have to answer will be the same for every manufacturer: How can we ensure parts not only being made for assembly but disassembly? How can we ensure materials get separated for future use without chemical treatments? How can we design better to get e.g. battery parts back in the lifecycle? And how can we achieve a certain volume to change manufacturing to recycable material without limiting competitive pricing and putting the business model to danger? How can we foster local production at scale? How can we make 3D digital twins an industry-wide accepted early stage prototype method to save resources from hard prototypes?

I am all-in to learn, give-and-take and carefully exchange on the questions above - and I am more than certain it will benefit (each) industry. Happy to see you as engineering leads, engineers and CEOs reaching out to talk. 

Some credits to whom the inspiration of the article belongs to:

Annelouise van Dijke of IAMA (for the encouragement)

Friedbert Schmitt and Weber fibertech (for their great presentation)

Michelle Baker of Atkins (for her insights shared in #156 of the Engineering Matters podcast)

Jessica Eyer (for great requirements at Dance)

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