The picture shows a component made of metal. The component lies on a design plan with details of the shape and geometry. © Fotolia / Jennewein

Product Development

Decisions made during product development have a significant and direct influence on the resource consumption of a product throughout its life cycle. This applies, for example, to decisions on material selection, design and the manufacturing process. In this context, it is true that every use of natural resources results in costs and causes environmental impacts. Resource-conscious and forward-looking product development can limit the use of resources and the subsequent environmental impact as well as the level of manufacturing and product costs.

Initial Situation and Challenge


Product Development as a Problem Solving Process

The General Process of Product Development

Product development follows a general, industry-independent procedure and systematic process that can be divided into four overarching main work phases:

  • Clarification of the task,
  • Concept phase,
  • Design phase,
  • Elaboration phase.

The figure breaks down the general product development process with main phases (clarifying the task, concept phase, design phase and elaboration phase) and the associated individual activities.© VDI ZRE

The Difference between Product Development & Product Design

Product development and product design are two terms that are often used in the same context and are therefore frequently thought of as synonymous. However, the terms differ considerably in their respective meanings.


Product design is an activity in the course of construction and determines the essential geometric and material properties of the product or its components. It is the actual creative activity of designing and takes place within the design and elaboration phase as part of product development.


Product development, on the other hand, describes the entire process of development and design and comprises the sub-areas of design, calculation, simulation, testing, prototype construction (sample construction), project planning if necessary, as well as standardisation, CAD support, patenting and value analysis.* Ehrlenspiel, K. und Meerkamm, H. (2017): Integrierte Produktentwicklung - Denkabläufe, Methodeneinsatz, Zusammenarbeit. 6th completely revised and expanded edition, Hanser: München, p. 12, 308.


Integrated Product Development


Interdisciplinarity and Holistic Approach to Product Development

During development, decisions and compromises are continuously made to create solutions. Taking into account the various requirements and needs of different stakeholders along the entire value chain, as well as those of the developing company itself, is a fundamental precondition for the market success and sustainability of a product, especially in the case of complex technical products, and requires expertise from different disciplines.

Possible requirements of internal and external stakeholders for a product can be:

The table shows - sorted by "internal" and "external" - the interests and requirements of different stakeholders for integrated product development.© VDI ZRE

Development of Resource-Efficient Products

Resource-efficient product development means designing products in such a way that the use of natural resources is kept to a minimum throughout the entire product life cycle, but without compromising functionality or utility.


Classification of Product Development in the Product Life Cycle

The Digital Product Passport

The planned introduction of the digital product passport in Germany and the EU - initially for particularly resource-intensive and energy-intensive products - offers a method of reducing the use and consumption of resources along the product life cycle, which, however, starts with the already developed product. The digital product passport is intended to provide those involved in the value chain with environmentally relevant product information for the targeted avoidance of negative environmental impacts, for material consumption and for effective recycling.

Resource-Efficient Decisions in the Process of Product Development

Life Cycle Based Evaluation Methods of Resource Efficiency

To evaluate the ecological and economic consequences of decisions made during product development and to allow any adjustments to be made to subresults, it is necessary to assess resource efficiency throughout the entire life cycle. Depending on the method selected, an evaluation can qualitatively or quantitatively record the expected resource consumption, resulting waste or potential environmental impacts.

Ecodesign as an Enabler of Resource Efficiency

Ecodesign is an approach to sustainable and lifecycle-oriented product development that aims to improve the environmental performance of an existing or newly developed product over its entire lifecycle or to minimise the sum of negative environmental impacts.* McAloone, T. C.; Pigosso, D.C.A. (2021): Ökodesign. Entwicklung von Produkten mit verbesserter Ökobilanz. In: Bender, B. und Gericke, K. (Hg.): Pahl/Beitz Konstruktionslehre. Methoden und Anwendung erfolgreicher Produktentwicklung. 9th ed. 2021. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer (Springer eBook Collection), pp. 975–1021, p. 985f. By using well thought-out environmentally compatible product design, the following are achieved:

  • A low use of natural resources,
  • Avoidance of the generation of non-recyclable waste,
  • The avoidance of pollutants and processes that are dangerous to the environment and health,
  • Recycling of products and materials, and
  • The avoidance of emissions into the environment

Consideration of Environmental Impacts

Ecodesign Principles

The German Ecodesign Award

The German Ecodesign Award is the highest governmental award for ecological design in Germany. It is directed to companies of all industries and sizes, but also to students from Germany and Europe. Every year, the award is given to environmentally friendly products, services and concepts that have a high level of design quality and environmental compatibility throughout their entire life cycle and demonstrate a high degree of innovation. The criteria matrix on which the evaluation is based can also be used as a tool in product development.* Internationales Design Zentrum Berlin e. V.: Bundespreis Ecodesign. Ausschreibung (accessed on: 07/19/2022).

Tools provided by the VDI Center for Resource Efficiency

  • Resource Checks
    • Base Module

      Find out how you can reduce material losses caused by rework in production, for example, and lower your overall energy consumption. Once you have answered all the questions, the evaluation will show you possible efficiency potential in your company. In addition, you will be presented with measures, methods and tools that you can use to reduce resource consumption.

      Continue to Resource Check
  • Base Module

    Find out how you can reduce material losses caused by rework in production, for example, and lower your overall energy consumption. Once you have answered all the questions, the evaluation will show you possible efficiency potential in your company. In addition, you will be presented with measures, methods and tools that you can use to reduce resource consumption.

    Continue to Resource Check

Publications on the topic "Product Development"


Ecological and economic Assessment of Resource Use: Additive Manufacturing Processes in industrial Production

Additive processes as a key technology of digitisation are considered to be faster and more cost-effective. Among other things, because less scrap is produced and less waste is generated during manufacturing. Using a specific case study, the study compares the resource consumption of an additive manufacturing process with a conventional manufacturing process.

  • Studies
The picture shows a part of an industrial production machine.© PantherMedia / moreno.soppelsa

Ecological and economic Assessment of Resource Use: Water-miscible cooling Lubricants

Cooling lubricants (coolants) are of great importance in metal cutting and forming. They increase the productivity and cost-effectiveness of the processes. In companies in the metalworking industry, water-miscible cooling lubricants are used in around 90 % of machining processes. They consist of a mostly mineral oil-based base oil and an additive package.

  • Studies
Das Bild zeigt die Anwendung eines Kühlschmierstoffs an einer Produktionsmaschine.© Kadmy/

Resource Efficiency through Industry 4.0 – Potential for SMEs in the Manufacturing Sector

The digital transformation in industrial production offers considerable potential for increasing material and energy efficiency in companies. At the same time, the digitisation technologies used also require resources themselves: materials, including critical raw material, are used in the production of ICT components. Furthermore, the digital transformation can lead to higher energy consumption. The study "Resource efficiency through industry 4.0 - Potentials for SMEs in the manufacturing sector" focuses on this conflict between opportunities and challenges.

  • Studies
Das Bild zeigt eine Mindmap, in deren Mitte 4.0 zu lesen ist. An den Enden der Arme sind verschiedene Icons zu sehen, die für industrielle Produktion stehen.© VDI ZRE


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