Potential of Open Design for Eco-Efficient Product Development

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* Master Thesis The Potential of Open Design for eco-efficient product development. Submitted by Mahdi Gheshlaghi, 2013.


A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the Degree of Master of Science in Global Production Engineering at the Technische Universität Berlin, Mat No.: 329191 . Main supervisor: Prof. Dr. Günter Seliger, TechnischeUniversität Berlin.


Due to limited amount of natural resources on our planet, it is important to design environmentally friendly products. In this thesis, I will evaluate the potential of Open Design for eco-friendly product design and manufacturing.

The goal of this research is to evaluate the potential of Open Design for eco-efficient products development (incl. design and manufacturing). With a broader view, this thesis will tend to answer the question “why could Open Design be a good paradigm for the environment”?"


Conclusion of the Research

"In this thesis, it is shown that promoting local production by users and easy assembly are the main potential of OD for the environment. Moreover, it is argued that these trends could be used in different phases of product lifecycle; by involving user in maintenance, repair, upgrade and reuse. In order to promote user involvement, information regarding all these phases has to be created and shared with the society."


"Due to globalization, manufacturing activities has moved towards low cost labour countries which have increased the transportation of raw material, unfinished parts and finished products. Today, with depletion of natural resources and unstable energy prices, designers and manufacturers have been using different approaches to save energy in product lifecycle management. With a close look to the products we use in our daily lives, it is clear that a wide range of products have the potential to be redesigned for more eco-friendly production and consumption.

In line with open source movement and peer-to-peer production, Open Design (OD) is a new designing method that could be well exploited for social development and environmental goals. Through OD platforms on the Internet, innovation is shared and happens on a continuous basis. Globally available innovations could be used by local communities and be adapted according to local demands and resources. On one hand, single individuals or manufacturing networks could be able to produce locally with less transportation. On the other hand, direct user involvement in design process could help in designing products that better fit their own demand, i.e. that are functionally more efficient. This makes Open Design a potentially good model for eco-efficient products development, i.e. locally sourced and socially relevant."


"Products have environmental impacts throughout their lives, from raw material to disposal. Considering current environmental issues e.g. limited amount of natural resources, it is important to develop eco-efficient products. As a result of industrial revolution, products have been developed by design and engineering teams within firms. Due to globalization, most of manufacturing activities have moved towards countries with lower labor cost. Therefore, all these products and their components have to be transported around the world which leads to huge amounts of energy consumption and damages to the environment.

The emergence of Internet has helped in formation of new trends in product development outside of firms’ traditional R&D departments. For example, volunteer programmers collaborate on Internet in order to develop Open Source Software (OSS). In line with OSS, Open Design (OD) communities focus on developing tangible products by providing open access to design blueprints and manufacturing information. Consequently, user would be able to modify the product and manufacture it locally causing less harm to the environment. This makes OD potentially a good model for development of eco-efficient products. "

Therefore, in this thesis it will be analyzed:

  • Why could OD be a good paradigm for the environment?

For answering this question, concept of OD and the focus area of this research are defined using a systematic literature review (SLR) methodology. Moreover, according to the focus area, a sample of example products is selected for further steps. In order to understand the potentials of OD for the environment, the sample products are evaluated in an analysis grid taken from eco-design literature. The grid covers environmental aspects of a product throughout its lifecycle (pre-use, use, after-use). Therefore, the results of this evaluation show environmental aspects of the sample products.

The results are then interpreted and according to the interpretation, potentials of OD for the environment are identified and discussed. Conclusions of this thesis include a brief summary of results and potential for future research."

Sustainability Assessment

Environmental potential of Open Design:

According to the interpretation of results, there is no direct link between OD and the following environmental criteria:

  • Recycled and reused raw material and components; It is not clear to which degree OD products are made of recycled and reused raw material and components.
  • Use of non-toxic material; It seems that OD products are not necessarily toxic-free.
  • Lightweighting; OD products are not necessarily designed for lightweighting.
  • Minimize energy and resources in use phase: OD products are not designed to reduce energy and resource consumption during use phase. In the case of LifeTrac, user can produce fuel for the tractor from e.g. pelletized biomass crop such as hay (OSE, 2013). This trend could be used in other OD products by adding the option of renewable energies like solar and biomass.
  • Repair and upgrade; There is no major link between OD and design for repair. However, it seems that modular design of some OD products leads to easy upgrade.
  • Durability; OD products are not necessarily durable.
  • Easy maintenance; OD products are not generally designed for easy maintenance. However, in the case of RepRap, maintenance documentation is provided online. This is an interesting aspect of RepRap which has the potential to be followed in other OD products.
  • Recycling and reuse; In general, OD products do not have recycling and reusing plans. On the other hand, it seems that OD products have some characteristics which reduce their environmental impacts throughout their life cycle. In this section, these characteristics are explained in detail.
  • Promoting local production by user; OD products are supposed to be made by users; therefore, it is more likely to produce locally. According to the evaluated sample products, some characteristics of the products promote local production e.g. using simple design with generally purposed parts, design for DIY, reducing manufacturing activities.
  • Simple design; It is easier for user to build products with simple designs. OD developers tend to use standard, generally purposed parts and components when designing the product.
  • Design for DIY; OD products are mostly designed for DIY. Actually, user is in charge of sourcing the material and components, machining processes and assembly. For OD products, information required for all these steps are shared on Internet which helps local production by users.
  • Design for local sourcing; In OD products, simplicity of design and standard material and components is beneficial for easy, local sourcing of material and components.
  • Reduced manufacturing processes; Manufacturing processes require machine tools, technical knowledge, transportation of parts and energy. In OD products, complicated, expensive manufacturing activities are avoided (e.g. injection molding). Therefore, their conventional manufacturing processes allow them to be locally produced. One good example is WikiHouse where the only manufacturing process is CNC milling.
  • Easy disassembly; Another aspect of OD products is that they are mostly designed for disassembly. This is mainly due to the fact that user is supposed to be in full charge of product for different reasons; e.g. make, maintenance, repair, upgrade. Reversible joining elements (screws, bolt and nuts, etc.) are preferred to irreversible ones (welding) because they are simpler and require fewer amounts of training and capital. Another reason is modular design, in (some) OD products, which helps in promoting easy customization, maintenance and upgrade."


The following open design / open hardware / open manufacturing projects are examined for their ecological / sustainability aspects:

  1. Fair Phone‎
  2. RepRap‎
  3. WikiHouse
  4. Multimachine‎
  5. LifeTrac‎