How AI is Helping Engineers Fix The Planet

Environmental sustainability is top of mind for manufacturers, and AI could prove crucial in the effort to decarbonize. But it can’t do it alone.

Engineers and manufacturers are using artificial intelligence (AI) to increase productivity, creativity and profitability. But that’s not all. AI can also help engineering companies pursue environmental sustainability goals, such as reducing energy use in design and manufacturing and making products out of greener materials.

Here’s a look at how engineers are putting the AI in sustainability.

Using AI to monitor materials and supply chains

Scarcities in raw materials and increasingly strict environmental regulations, like the European Commission’s 2030 Climate Target Plan, are motivating manufacturers to put more emphasis on reducing carbon emissions. Using AI to assess the environmental costs of materials and energy use can help companies remain compliant, reduce dependence on certain suppliers, and eliminate risks.

German-based software developer Makersite is addressing this need with its cloud-based software that pairs AI algorithms with over 140 material and supply chain databases. The databases auto-populate information regarding factors like cost, health and regulation. Engineers can make more environmentally friendly decisions when they know what material, technology and regulatory changes occur day to day.

“AI allows an engineer to consider all of the factors for a product at once and rank them in order of importance,” said Neil D’Souza, CEO of Makersite, in an interview with

With a growing emphasis on sustainability, the number of factors engineers must consider is growing as well.

“Now environmental concerns and regulation force engineers to design with these parameters as well as cost in mind. One of the most common approaches to solving this challenge is dematerialization—using less material to fulfill the same purpose,” says D’Souza.

The Makersite plug-in in Autodesk Fusion 360 evaluates the environmental impact of a bicycle pedal designed by Pembree, a UK-based bicycle parts manufacturer. (Source: Makersite.)

The Makersite plug-in in Autodesk Fusion 360 evaluates the environmental impact of a bicycle pedal designed by Pembree, a UK-based bicycle parts manufacturer. (Source: Makersite.)

In 2022, Makersite partnered with Autodesk to incorporate a plug-in of its software in Fusion 360. Zoe Bezpalko, senior sustainability strategy manager for Autodesk, explained to why it’s important to give engineers sustainability insight early in the design process. She used post-consumer recycled materials as an example of where this insight is currently lacking.

“The material quality of [recycled materials] varies depending on where the material comes from. Knowing the material characteristics might lead to design change needs because [some materials] are not so strong. We’d love to develop a ratio or sliding bar of what would happen if you used 10, 30, 50 or 90 percent recycled plastic. This is a great example of how AI could enable insights about different versions of a final product,” says Bezpalko.

AI and topology optimization

Using greener materials is one way to be more sustainable; using less of them is another. To that end, engineers are hunting for ways to lightweight their designs. Established algorithms like topology optimization, which are not AI-driven, are helping—and pairing them with AI can help even more.

Take TOffeeAM, a UK-based cloud software developer that combines AI and topology optimization to allow engineers to lower their carbon footprints by over 90 percent, according to the company. The software specializes in components for innovative engines and gas turbines, including heat exchangers, catalyzers, and battery and coolant plates. The developer’s clients range from aerospace and automotive manufacturers to energy companies and appliance makers.

A passive heat exchanger developed by TOffeeAM. (Source: ToffeeAM.)

A passive heat exchanger developed by TOffeeAM. (Source: ToffeeAM.)

Marco Pietropaoli, CEO and co-founder of TOffeeAM, says the AI algorithms in the software help it achieve better outcomes while drastically shortening design time.

ToffeeAM says its software can produce a design in as little as 15 minutes, compared to weeks or months for standard human iterations.

“The solutions we provide offer numerous benefits, including weight reduction, increased life, and improved thermal management,” Pietropaoli told

Design and manufacturing companies are pursuing sustainability with AI

In the engineering world, there’s a growing appetite for environmental sustainability. Autodesk’s 2023 State of Design & Make Report, based on a global survey of engineers, manufacturers, architects, and other industry professionals, makes this clear.

The data, collected between October and December 2022, showed that in the next three years, design and manufacturing professionals, more so than those from other industries, planned to increase efforts to design products while considering environmental impacts. In the past three years, these same respondents were more likely to have made efforts to decrease waste from production or use recycled materials.

In addition, the report analyzed anonymized data from Autodesk customers to show that they’re using AI to improve efficiency, reduce errors and increase flexibility in manufacturing.

The report further provided that digitally mature companies appeared more likely to apply technology solutions to their sustainability challenges. Thirty-three percent of respondents at these companies said their organizations were using AI solutions to become more sustainable, compared with 21 percent of those at less digitally mature companies. Twenty-six percent of companies who identified sustainability as a top challenge for their business said using AI tools to be more sustainable were among the top three challenges that their company currently faces.