René Raaijmakers
21 September 2022

Dragos Dascalu of Dassault Systèmes is passionate about sustainability. He’s convinced that tooling is instrumental in making sustainability issues more transparent and in streamlining the decision-making process.

Born Romanian, Dragos Dascalu (27) went to high school in the US and Romania and then studied automotive engineering and design in Arnhem, the Netherlands. There he got used to working with Solidworks, Dassault’s tooling for mechanical design and simulation. “It became my default place to go when I had an idea or if I wanted to sketch something quickly.”

Later, Dascalu started as an intern at Dassault Systèmes in Cambridge (UK). “I guess part of me wanted to meet the people behind the tooling. The original designers still are part of the core R&D team. They developed these amazing things in the nineties with knowledge from the automotive industry. It was fun to hang out and work with them because they had all the knowledge from before the CAD era.”


Bits&Chips Sustainability Conference

Verkadefabriek, ’s-Hertogenbosch

On 12 October, the Bits&Chips Sustainability Conference will take place at the Verkadefabriek ’s-Hertogenbosch. Dragos Dascalu (Dassault Systèmes) will be one of the presenters. Other talks by AAE, ASML, Baillie Gifford, Blue Engineering, Bronkhorst High-Tech, Festo, NCAB and Prodrive Technologies. Check out the program and sign up now!

When he moved back to the Netherlands, mostly because of friends, Dascalu was offered a job as a solution consultant at Dassault in ’s-Hertogenbosch. “There I got out of my little niche CAD design box and I learned more about what it means to prepare stuff for manufacturing, lifecycle management, revisions and all of the things you need to keep your product on track.”

Dascalu sees beauty in the common language that tooling offers to developers, engineers and scientists. “Having this co-development environment with common visuals is crucial for collaboration. It enables you to communicate between departments that don’t have that much in common when it comes to prior knowledge or their research.”

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The same goes for working on sustainability, Dascalu argues. “We can’t take decisions without consulting, getting proper consent and seeing what communities outside of our Western world need. There’s a real need for collaboration.”

The problems that have accumulated in recent years in terms of climate, availability of materials and energy are being passed on to your generation. How do you feel about that?

“I believe every generation has some responsibility. Even though we have all the facts and know what science tells us, and we know what we must do, we sometimes reject those facts or leave the problems for my generation to solve. If we manage to overcome this split, we can have a positive view and not look at it as a doomsday scenario we have to combat.”

How do you look at the current problems?

“There’s no simple binary solution, in the sense that we can’t fix environmental problems and live on like before. We’ll still have to define a new relationship with raw materials, our consumption patterns, our energy sources, and so on. We’ll constantly have to adapt to what’s available. We’ll have to collaborate with people that weren’t included in our bubble before.”

“We created an artificial world in which we built all kinds of things to compensate for our shortcomings: roofs over our heads, transportation, medicine, and so on. We now have to build more harmony between nature and products. I guess you can say that Dassault Systèmes is trying to provide the right tools that simplify the complexity of this goal.”

“If we start by trying to understand nature, which is already a complex goal, we’re taking an important first step toward sustainability. Many cultures won’t agree with each other when it comes to what nature means to them. The scope that I see for the tooling is to simplify this complexity yet allow these differences to exist. Our task is to make the solutions more inclusive and digestible to more and more people. This leads me back to collaboration. I don’t believe decisions for the future can be made by a small elitist group, like us engineers. We can only present our own industrial needs and perspectives, and therefore reveal a limited view of various problems. Our privileged geolocation and lifestyles come with blind spots.”

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What and who should be involved?

“If we include the right people, we can gather information about nature and resources that’s more accurate and representative. And if we make this information more accessible and connect it to specific product development cases, we can make better decisions.”

“Many cases of environmental abuse can be fixed by recognizing the rights of nature, just like we’ve done with human rights. These are internationally agreed upon and legally binding. This legal status can also apply to nature, whether it’s a river, a mountain or a peatland. The river Maas here in the Netherlands has been given legal rights – maybe you’ve heard of the Maas Cleanup, a collective that mobilizes companies, citizens, activists, volunteers and policymakers to clean up the river. When land is represented in legislation, it can also be defended, giving lawyers and judges power over exploitation initiatives that would harm the ecosystem. In the Netherlands, a lot of nature has already been taken over by our species, which is maybe why this country is also at the front of developing initiatives to protect what’s left, taking inspiration from other countries.”

“The function of the tooling will be to simplify the complexity and make it viewable on a screen or a dashboard. To make better decisions. This often also means digging up data that companies have stored in the last ten or twenty years. It will also involve cleaning some data and making it available today for the assessments we’re trying to do.”

What’s the low-hanging fruit?

“Companies must first start to understand why they need to intervene. Training employees to understand why certain forest fires are happening right now, or why entire communities are displaced from the land where they’ve lived for thousands of years, just because we want to mine something from underneath them. In the grand scheme of things, such an event is just a point in time. But it’s harmful. Not only for the future of that company itself but also for future generations.”

Why are you passionate about sustainability?

“Just wanting to be responsible is part of it. On the other hand, I’d like to see with my own eyes that future generations, great-grandkids of mine and other people, are able to do the things we enjoy now, such as cycling, dancing, looking their loved ones in the eyes, and so on. Right now, it’s not clear that they’ll have these privileges or whether they’ll live through unstable periods and have to deal with much more discomfort than we’ve ever imagined.”

“People should be informed before they can frame the definition of their intervention. Where do they start? That’s part of what an assessment can do. Regardless of the tool you’re using for the assessment, it provides you with an end-to-end journey, from your R&D, engineering, manufacturing, the use of the product to the final step where the product magically has to disappear. This is the part we need to fix now and either recycle or reuse it, strip out all the materials that are becoming scarce and see what we do with them. We need to extend the whole lifecycle.”

“This exercise reveals a lot of complexity. But it helps if you can simplify it, not just use a histogram, but visualize it on multiple levels in a way that you can comprehend. A chart of colors can do wonders in a decision-making moment.”

What do you see happening at customers in the tech industry?

“For their studies and environmental reporting, companies used to hire consultants. Now suddenly, the persons who were responsible for the communication with these consultants must build a team and map the internal organization on all environmental issues and processes. Who’s taking care of their waste? What sort of energy are they using? What’s happening with logistics? All of this is now happening internally because companies must become more transparent about sustainability. Not only to society but also to regulatory bodies.”

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Not everything is mandatory yet?

“A lot of companies do already publish their bill of materials, their entire end-to-end process and their environmental impact on their website. Especially if you have a reputation or a public image to maintain, this is a must. I already see websites that cover all these topics. When I start a conversation with those companies about lifecycle assessment, I already have a good idea of where they are.”

“But sometimes you see a sustainability webpage of a company that only features a picture of a tree and a small statement. No data, no end-to-end assessment, nothing. Then I realize that maybe these companies don’t have a reputation to maintain, or they operate a bit more in the shadows. They might have some extra time to fill this in, but I don’t see how new regulations will spare them just because they don’t serve customers directly and are in someone’s supply chain.”

Do companies realize that in the end, they have to comply with the regulations?

“The hard truth is that if they see no financial incentive to change, they’ll probably wait for the regulations to force them to change. But they must figure out a way to justify it internally and externally and define new business roles, provide training to their employees, all of which will lead to a change in their activities. It shouldn’t only be an extra responsibility for the engineers; it should be a dedicated subject.”

Some experts see some companies panicking.

“I also have seen that rush. This is maybe helped by the media and the representation that these topics got in the past, let’s say, two years ago. Before, I was often quite disappointed with how these subjects were treated. Now, suddenly, business models need to change.”

“After a quick assessment, companies realize how little information they can offer if overnight the EU or their government would ask them to provide more homework on sustainability. They wouldn’t have the audit, the assessment of their waste. But people are also realizing by looking at the competition or talking to that friend who works for an NGO that they’re not in a good light. They may have to find a different business case for their products or need to invest in change or reform. Some companies rely on materials that are only becoming more and more scarce. Their business model needs to change towards repairing, refurbishing or extending the lifecycle of products in the field. Imagine a manufacturing company that suddenly has to become this crazy repair and service center. They didn’t plan it, but it might be the only way to keep the bottom line if they want to grow and prosper.”

Why should companies pay attention to the PEP Ecopassport program?

“This European initiative is an international reference program for environmental declarations of products from electric, electronic and heating and cooling industries. It makes the environmental footprint of products visible. It’s not specific to an industry; registrants simply state the bill of materials: the kind of weight they use for each material, zinc, copper, zerodur, fluorocarbons, whatever. You also run calculations according to what sort of energy was used to produce the materials, what logistics are involved. Then you just publish the scores.”

“First of all, you provide transparency in the supply chain and to customers, reassuring that everything is in line. Secondly, you have a baseline that enables you to compare with future product generations. No one is blaming anybody for not having this baseline in 2005. But if you didn’t have one in 2019, then there’s an issue. It means you’re not looking at your data and are continuing business as usual.”

“It’s about collecting the right numbers. You don’t have to use a specific tool, you can use a spreadsheet. But you need to collect this for future use, visualize it and adapt it for future versions and product generations.”

“We expect this passport to become mandatory. This will cause some panic because those who don’t have it will face sanctions. So, if you’re operating on a very small margin, it’s scary because of the possible fines. The reason I find it interesting is that it forces companies from outside the EU who want to sell here to revise their supply chain as well. Which is unfair because we still have the privilege to ship a lot of our waste to, for instance, African countries. But it does provide a baseline of what needs to be done. Regardless of where a company is, the damage to the environment is done to all of us.”

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What discussions do you have about this within Dassault?

“We talk a lot about the delivery process of this green, gloomy subject. About how to influence emotions and how to make delivering new targets attractive. How can you give the right rewards to people? How to incentivize, not just through sanctions? Fear for the government is the worst incentive for implementing this. We often discuss how to make it more attractive so that people feel motivated to do this voluntarily.”

“We see that simple things can give a positive emotion. Specific visual elements like color schemes, when it comes to making assessments or when we try to implement solutions. Once you’ve done your evaluation, set your targets and defined all of the activities related to a specific engineering item or assembly of items of an entire product, you get a good view of how far you are from your target. There will be chunks, slices that you can attack first to bring it below your target and even reduce it further and get to this state we’re all aiming for, towards 2030 or so.”

Will we get there in 2050?

“If you look at how advanced we are today, we should be able to have more radical changes, much quicker. During the pandemic, we all stopped flying and we all quickly changed everything. There are many other examples in history where entire societies changed in a week. It just seems like some keep finding a lot of reasons to change at a slow pace. Yet, I believe in our potential to cooperate.”

On 12 October, Dragos Dascalu is giving a talk at the Bits&Chips Sustainability Conference. This article was written in close collaboration with Dassault Systèmes.