More than Human Centred Design


Introducing the Sustainable Prototyping Life Cycle for Digital Fabrication to Designers

DIS 2020 Best Demo Honorable Mention

Prototyping with digital fabrication not only creates material waste, but also requires energy consumption to run the machines, which at the same time generate CO2 emissions. It’s our concern of how sustainable and environmentally friendly the practice of digital fabrication is as well as the materials used for prototyping. Our paper explores how to introduce sustainable prototyping with digital fabrication to designers, makers, and researchers. We introduced the Sustainable Prototyping Life Cycle for Digital Fabrication, an adaptation from the Life Cycle Assessment method, to support designers’ decision making for sustainable prototyping. This cycle reveals the environmental impact of digital fabrication in every phase of prototyping and it has four phases: raw materials acquisition, manufacturing and distribution, use, and end of life. We presented the manufacturing process of several digital fabrication prototypes with bio-based materials following the cycle. Bio-based materials for prototyping is a good start point moving towards an environmentally sustainable making. However, other good practices must be involved in every phase of the cycle such as reducing transportation distances, energy consumption in machines, or making sure we are using energy-efficient machines in our lab.

Who is the target audience and why design for them? The target audience of our demo is digital fabrication practitioners (designers, makers, and researchers). We designed for them because it is our concern to know how sustainable and environmentally friendly the practice of digital fabrication is as well as the materials used for prototyping. For that reason, we designed a Sustainable Prototyping Life Cycle that reveals the environmental impact of digital fabrication in every phase of prototyping. We aim to increase environmental awareness in prototyping and highlight the importance of designers’ decision-making within each phase of the prototyping cycle. We think that introducing topics such as sustainable prototyping in a classroom setup to novice designers could potentially influence their decision-making of materials in the long term, which goes beyond a classroom but future professional practice.

What were the challenges or limitations encountered in this project? We discussed the fact that even though we came up with low impact materials for prototyping in this study, we’re still using the same machines for rapid prototyping regardless the material, so we will be partially reducing our environmental impact. This fact becomes a limitation for designers who want to design sustainably within each phase of the cycle because the energy-efficiency of the machines are not totally up to them. The main challenge in our project is the transition to a zero waste prototyping practice. In our study, novice designers found bio-based materials waste positive, however that only happens when the waste is disposed in the right conditions. However, we have identified that waste management and recycling practices are issues that characterize the lack of sustainable practices in laboratories. In consequence, improving our disposal behavior becomes a first step to make the end of life phase optimal.

What are the opportunities and next steps for this project? We envision the implementation of the Sustainable Prototyping Life Cycle with common prototyping materials, and other bio-based materials (not only mycelium-composite). Those materials should be able to adapt and be used for digital fabrication. We also would like to provide a comparison of different prototyping materials' environmental impacts, and to develop a tool that quantitatively calculates the environmental impact within each phase of the prototyping cycle.

To the Demo Visitors: After looking at our product designs and interactive objects prototypes using mycelium-composite sheets as material, and laser cutting as digital fabrication technique, we're interested in your reflexion about using bio-based materials for digital fabrication and how would you envision the material being used for digital fabrication? Please reach out to at eslazaro@ucdavis.edu if you have any questions or concerns. To have a more environmentally sustainable lab, we should be aware of the materials life cycle that we are using for prototyping. Acknowledge that all parts of the prototyping life cycle consume energy and generate CO2 emissions. There is a breakdown of energy associated with each life phase of the material, and to minimize the environmental impact of prototyping, we should make the right decisions about materials and digital fabrication techniques.