What Is Sustainable Product Design?

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One reoccurring topic in the news is climate change and its impact on the environment. Since 1880, the global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees. The sea level is rising by 3.41 millimeters per year. Each year, 287 billion metric tons of land ice melts.

To develop yourself as a well-rounded engineer, it’s necessary to become familiar with sustainable product design. Now more than ever, engineers are mindful of how their design and the development of various products can impact the environment. How much waste comes from these products? Are numerous greenhouse gases emitted into the environment during its process? As the product slowly breaks down, is it recyclable or does it harm the environment it surrounds?

Sustainable product designers find solutions to help keep the environment safe. Consider the polymer chains (plastic rings) found around soda cans, while the design is simple and durable, it isn’t recyclable after use and never breaks down. Instead, the polymer chains end up in waterways and trapped in ecosystems.

How is sustainable product design applied?

Sustainable products fall within the mechanical engineering industry. Product designers work to understand the basics of how products work and how they are assembled. They understand the processes of product design and development. These processes include:
● Concept development
● System-level design
● Detail design
● Testing and refinement
● Production ramp-up.

Within these processes, engineers focus on product implementation and how a product performs not only initially, but also over time.

When considering sustainability, any product can fall within this category. For instance, a car running on gas and electric forms of fuel reduces emissions to the environment. A car is considered to be more sustainable if it doesn’t use a lot of fuel to run, or if can it run for long periods of time without needing to refuel. While gas use is one of the most harmful causes of climate change, using electricity can also contribute to greenhouse gases, when produced with burning coal.

What are the subjects covered in a sustainable product design class?

There is various subject matter areas students cover in a sustainable product design course. They learn about the life cycle of a product. Where does it start? How is it made? What happens after it can’t be used anymore: does it break down into the environment safely? This subject teaches mechanical engineering students how to look at the big picture and consider how their product impacts the environment. Students also learn how to make their product reliable and long lasting. Whenever anyone uses a product, they want to make sure it functions consistently over time. It shouldn’t have various outcomes after each use. If it does, it’s not a reliable product.

Students learn about the importance of creating a product that can be reused and recycled after initial use. Utilizing recyclable products can help to ensure sustainable product design. For instance, plastic water bottles can be broken down and recycled to create fleece. While these bottles hold water to keep people hydrated, fleece can be made into coats, gloves and blankets to keep people warm. Students are taught to look out for “green materials” or resources that are affordable, abundant, have solid physical properties, meet design regulations, are non-toxic and age well.

Lastly, students learn about the difference in manufacturing sustainable vs. unsustainable products. They will learn how certain sustainable materials cost more than others, so it’s important to use less material to lower overall manufacturing costs. Students will also be taught the regulations behind sustainable designs.

In some cases, master’s in mechanical engineering students choose an unsustainable product in the environment as a project to gain hands-on experience. Once a product is selected, students work to solve the issues that make the product harmful to customers or the environment. This exercise gives students a real world glimpse into the life and work of a product designer.

What can a master’s in mechanical engineering degree do for your career?

Mechanical engineering is a lucrative industry. There are a wide variety of fields to choose from as a mechanical engineer ranging from the automotive industry to aerospace. According to the BLS, the average starting salary for a graduate student is $71,000. If you aren’t familiar with all your options, consider these avenues.

● Aerospace engineer
● Mechanical engineer
● Automotive engineer
● Control and instrumentation engineer
● Contracting civil engineer
● Maintenance engineer

Other job titles outside the engineering field which may apply to someone with a master’s in mechanical engineering include:

● Corporate investment banker
● Patent attorney
● Mining engineer
● Production manager
● Technical sales engineer
● Water engineer

According to data from 2012, the industries that tended to hire the most mechanical engineers were in architectural engineering and the services related to that industry. Conversely, fabricated metal product manufacturing tended to hire the lowest number of mechanical engineers because it is a niche industry that mainly deals with creating types of metal products made out of various fabrics.

If students have a natural interest to pursue sustainability, they may choose to work for an environmental engineering firm. These companies offer a wide variety of roles that promote a more sustainable world. Conversely, students can pursue a company that creates sustainable or environmentally friendly products. For instance, a mechanical engineering student can work at Toyota in the Prius department and work on the latest designs for new models, or they can work in the manufacturing department and actually assemble the vehicle. These unlimited options give students a range to choose from for their career path.

What qualities are needed to be a successful mechanical engineer?

If you’re thinking about entering a mechanical engineering program, consider these skills:

• Math skills: You are well versed in trigonometry, calculus, and other advanced math topics for analysis, design, and troubleshooting.
● Creative skills: You are imaginative and able to build complex machinery and equipment with ease.
● Listening skills: You are an attentive listener and capable of taking feedback from others.
● Problem-solving skills: You are a problem-solver who understands how to identify and resolve issues.
● Mechanical skills: You are a natural when it comes to figuring out how things work or how to make pieces work together.

Start your career in mechanical engineering with a degree from University of California, Riverside.

This program offers a wide variety of courses that expose students to real-life problems and teaches them how to solve them. Their professors have years of industry experience and understand how to teach concepts that can be applied in the real world. Several professors consistently work on research projects to stay relevant in the field. In fact, they bring the college more than $400,000 in grant money per person each year. Get your career started today by enrolling in this program.