Put down the oil can you’re dumping into the river and rev your electric motor Mr. Clean, we’re gettin’ sustainable and Xpress-ive up in this design. Yes, you could single-handed prevent further disintegration of the atmosphere and taxpayer burden by properly analyzing your design and applying a material that reduces those nasty carbon molecules causing the sun to cook everyone’s brainpan.

SolidWorks has released the beta version of SustainabilityXpress on the SolidWorks Labs site. We’ve got the eco-friendly, low calorie review.

So, prepare yourself to become the sustainable designer or engineer you’ve always dreamed of becoming. And since this post is generating a carbon footprint larger than a 7MPG truck without a muffler in a developing country, you’ll have to work that much harder on optimizing your design… just sayin’.

Brief Review
SolidWorks has partnered with, PE International to use their Life Cycle Assessment data which analyzes the ecological impact of different materials along the life of the material as it is used in manufactured products.

SustainabilityXpress is easy to get started with – just make sure you have it selected to start-up in the add-ins (tools, add-ins.) A tab will appear in the Taskbar on the right-hand side of your screen. If you have a material set using the SolidWorks material database it, unfortunately won’t recognize those yet. You’ll need to select the material from the pull-down and select set material. This is actually quicker than setting the material through the database and allows you to quickly select different materials to see the havoc they will reek on the environment. In addition, you can set which country you want to toss into unbridled environmental panic by selecting them in the location area below the material selection. Currently, only North America, Europe and Asia are represented. (The other countries may follow if they get their act together and start recycling a bit more.)

From there, you’ll see SustanabilityXpress start doing it’s thing in the pie/bar charts at the bottom. You’ll see current impact and previous impact in the four relevant sections. (Sorry, happiness and burn rate are not in this version.) Now, these charts are fairly obscure, except for being able to tell if the material is better (green) or worse (red) than a previously selected material or manufacturing/use location. You can get a more detailed bar chart view of each section by clicking on one or using the arrow at the very bottom to cycle through. Again, a lot of obscure numbers. I attempted to find a better explanation for what they meant or how they were calculated, but failed. With all your data set, you can now auto-generate a report (.doc format) to totally impress the people that wrote the Kyoto Protocol or get confused phone calls from manufacturing when you tell them to switch materials.

What’s very useful, even from a non-impact scenario, is the ability to find similar materials using the ‘Find Similar’ Tool in the Materials section.

Find Similar allows you to quickly find similar materials based on material properties.
Find Similar allows you to quickly find similar materials based on material properties.

It brings in the properties of the material you have selected. Then, you can very quickly select different materials or change properties of the existing material to find other options. After hitting the Find Similarbutton a list of materials appear according to what you have selected. When double-clicking on any of them, the environmental impact section will update instantly.

Pretty much, this tool allows you to create a nice graphical representation of what materials or manufacturing locations would be better or worse. While it doesn’t explain the numbers, you do get a better idea on what materials are going to ruin or improve everyone’s life if you use them. I’d use it more often to look for other materials that manufacturing could use when the lead times and options are not feasible on a current project. If it keeps the atmosphere from collapsing, all the better.

A final note, if this program in any way makes you feel guilty because you can’t use Balsa wood instead of Cast Iron, run immediately to a sink and throw cold water on your face, we’ll probably make it.

Some other things to note

  • SustainabilityXpress currently only supports parts, not assembly
  • If you have the add-in loaded, it may not appear on the Taskbar at first (go to Tools, SustainabilityXpress)
  • It doesn’t currently recognize materials you’ve set using SolidWorks Material database
  • The report needs some tweaking. The template is located in C:Program FilesDassault SolidWorks CorporationSustainabilityXpresslangEnglish

Here’s Director of Product Innovation Rick Chin giving you some more insight to the product.


Josh is founder and editor at SolidSmack.com, founder at Aimsift Inc., and co-founder of EvD Media. He is involved in engineering, design, visualization, the technology making it happen, and the content developed around it. He is a SolidWorks Certified Professional and excels at falling awkwardly.