Quantifying Sustainability through Reverse Engineering: A Multi-Disciplinary Senior Capstone Experience

Jeff Morris and Mark Steiner
School of Engineering, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 110 8th Street, New York, 12180
E-mail: morrij5@rpi.edu

Abstract:
Many senior engineering capstone projects focus on an open-ended design experience, often ignoring the concept of design sustainability. In contrast, the work reported on in this paper describes a multi-disciplinary engineering team that was given the opportunity to research detailed design factors that contribute to sustainable designs. This paper focuses on the reverse engineering and comparison of design sustainability of four consumer inkjet printers using given design metrics that influence sustainability. Some metrics were open to modification, using these case studies and prior research as an empirical benchmark. The capstone team established a teardown and assessment procedure to standardize the reverse engineering process, the apparent antithesis of their pre-conceived notions for the course (students generally think ‘to design’ is ‘to construct’). In a clear effort to convey the current opportunities in designing for sustainability, the students were able to draw insight from the design comparison of a discontinued printer model (manufactured in 2001) with those currently on the market. While one would intuitively expect the older model to rank lower on a sustainability scale, students also theorized opportunities pertaining to both form and functional improvements in sustainability for all printers involved. Using specific design attributes that have proven implications on design complexity, and therefore design, the capstone team has developed a database tool to classify and score consumer products.

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