The Autodesk Sustainability Workshop is a free and vast online resource that aims to teach sustainability strategies, from micro to macro. The simple, easily-digestible series of strategy videos, tutorials and case studies can help students, educators, designers, engineers and architects not only learn about sustainability, but how to directly apply it.
Core77 asked 5 students to take it for a test spin, investigating the workshop and using Autodesk software to incorporate what they'd learned in a re-design of a commonplace object. In the fourth installment of our series we look at San-Francisco-based Marc Levinson (California College of the Arts, B.F.A. in Industrial Design) and his Lili Tea Infuser.
Marc, tell us about yourself.
I'm 23 years old, I was born in West Palm Beach, Florida and I currently live in San Francisco, California.
What made you decide to study industrial design?
Since I was little I've had two seemingly opposing interests in art and business. I really enjoy drawing, inventing and working on entrepreneurial ventures. When I was 16 years old a friend of mine introduced me to Industrial Design and I decided it was the only career for me to pursue.
Where did you decide to study, and why?
I decided to go to California College of the Arts in San Francisco. I was very excited by San Francisco's renowned design community and its proximity to Silicon Valley. I went to CCA during high school for a summer program and was impressed by the faculty, facilities and student work.
What areas of industrial design are you interested in focusing on?
One of my favorite things about Industrial Design is having the opportunity to learn about and design all types of products. I am however particularly interested in the materials and manufacturing processes involved in each project.
Tell us about your project, the Lili Tea Infuser.
It began as a student project. Brewing loose-leaf tea is an age-old custom, but its popularity in the United States has been growing quickly over the past few years. My objective was to design a simple, elegant household object so this seemed like a good choice; the tea infuser, although relatively simple, is unique and leaves room for very elegant, detail-oriented refinement. I also saw this as a good opportunity to learn about tea and the rituals involved in preparing it.
What background do you have with Autodesk products, and how were you first introduced to them?
My dad is an Electrical Engineer and taught me how to use AutoCAD when I was a little kid, so I have known about Autodesk for as long as I can remember. Now I use SketchBook Pro often for product ideations. I've also played with Alias, 3DS Max, Mudbox, Maya and Photofly.
Please describe which Autodesk products you use or used for this project, and what you like or dislike about them.
I used Autodesk Inventor Fusion in order to alter my original design. I then rendered and animated it in Inventor Publisher. Fusion was very easy to transition to from Solidworks. Relative to other rendering software, Publisher made it very easy to make animations and communicate my ideas. On the other hand, I did think the interface in Publisher was a little fussy and hard to control with much accuracy.
What things did you learn from the Sustainability Workshop that you didn't know before?
I was not aware of how big the impact of certain manufacturing processes can be—one little change can make a big difference even if the materials stay the same. I also learned how to better balance cost and sustainability.
Please describe your design process.
At first I was planning on starting back at the end of the concept phase, redesigning the form of my tea infuser from scratch with sustainability as the focus from the beginning. The workshop rightfully explains that this method is ideal, but in the end I decided it would be better to refine my existing form, which had already taken some product lifetime elements into consideration, as well as a significant amount of research and form finding. This being said, there was still lots of room for improvement.
Which of the "Improving Product Lifetime" elements from the Sustainability Workshop did you use?
Longevity was already considered in the choice of stainless steel over plastics and lower grade metals. As a result the overall lifetime energy use is much lower. It was decreased even further by removing the air pocket and making it less likely for the product to fail over time.
From the workshop I learned to reduce excess materials and consider alternative manufacturing processes in order to cut down on the overall embodied energy of the product.
Please describe any significant technical details of your project that the Sustainability Workshop helped you to resolve.
The workshop helped me to make decisions that seemed fuzzy before. It gave me tools to know when to prioritize cost over energy or choose disassembly and recycling over upgradability and longevity.
More specifically: I looked back at my original design and tried to figure out ways to cut down any superfluous materials. The first version had a top and bottom layer of steel to encapsulate air and keep the infuser afloat in larger mugs. I removed this feature, which eliminated 30-40% of the steel needed and the energy required to laser weld the parts together.
I also realized that the process of deep-drawing sheet metal by stamping it with a series of progressively longer dies, then machining perforated holes, requires far more energy than a simpler process of radially forming stamped blanks.
Finally, I reduced the amount of surface area on the infuser that was covered with the color changing, thermochromic paint; this further cuts down the amount of material used. By dipping the lip of the infuser in the enamel, rather than masking the outside and powder coating the inside, the product is less expensive and requires less resources to manufacture.
End result: I found that the new design has about an 80% material reduction in thermochromic enamel and a 30-40% reduction in stainless steel.
Below are two images from Sustainable Minds. The first illustrates the difference between the originally intended manufacturing method of deep drawing and the revised method of roll forming. This essentially tells us that the latter method reduces the infuser's embodied energy by 28%.
The second image shows the combined results of my material calculations and the consideration of alternative manufacturing methods to yield a 60% overall improvement in the sustainability of the Lili.
What's next for this project? Is it complete, and was it undertaken for a client or for learning purposes?
A lot needs to happen between now and then, but my next step will be to make a finished prototype. I think it would be a good project to try to go to market with.