Global Sources
EE Times-India
EE Times-India > EDA/IP

Addressing concerns with design-for-environment

Posted: 17 Jun 2014     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:supply chain  design-for-environment  OEM 

Further, designers need to think about the environmental impact of a product through its entire life and use. Kyle Wiens, CEO at iFixit, a crowdsourcing community that encourages users to fix products themselves, outlines the basics:

"There are three aspects of sustainability:

What's the environmental impact of manufacturing?

How long can you make the product last?

How effectively can the product be recycled?

The last two are pretty closely tied together, since things that are easy to recycle are also easy to repair."

How to maximise sustainability

In addition, the designer must work to balance the concerns and competing interests of other departments within the organisation, from manufacturing to marketing. For example, a designer can minimise the amount of materials used in a product, and the marketing department may complain that the product doesn't feel substantial enough to satisfy the customer. Or a design may use screws rather than glue in order to maximise recyclability and repair, but the user demand for thinner and lighter products may swing the pendulum toward a design that streamlines through the use of adhesives.

Sometimes, maximising one aspect of a product, such as its robustness, can interfere with another, such as recyclability. "It's always a challenge to balance between longevity and ability to disassemble something at end of life," said Mars.

OEMS can and should work to balance between these differing needs by making trade-offs. The ease of replacing subsystems is one major component of how readily a product can be repaired or recycled. "The fundamental thing we look at in judging an electronics [device] is how many subassemblies it has," said Wiens. "It has to be readily disassembled."

Clear communication is a critical starting place to achieve truly successful design for environment. Designers, for example, need to understand clearly the processes and needs of recyclers and refurbishers.

"If a designer really wants to design for environment, he has to understand the fate of the product and talk to the people who are handling the products then," said Mars. "By talking to refurbishers and recyclers, they can find out the problems at the end that can be addressed during design."

Further, all of the organisations within the supply chain, from electronic component manufacturer to end-user, need to make design for environment a priority. "Industry acceptance is worth devoting resources to this initiative," said Mars. "I don't think there's resistance to the idea, but it hasn't been promoted as much as it should be."

By creating clear communication between design and recycling, OEMs can understand better the limitations of recycling various elements and the recyclers can better understand the new elements being designed into products. "In products today, steel, aluminum, lithium and other elements are being brought into the recycling stream, and there's a question of how those elements can be retrieved," said Rifer. "We have good technology for copper, gold, silver, aluminum, precious metals and ferrous metals. More and more, though, companies will use harder-to-recycle materials."

Perhaps the most effective solution would be to create a national recycling program, but, at least in the United States, there's a long way to go. "The EU is a leader, and if the US wants to do something the right way, they need to model it on that program," said Mark Schaffer, owner/consultant of consultancy Schaffer Environmental LLC. "What the EU has implemented is far from perfect, but it's a good starting point." Some large OEMs have made great strides in product recycling programs, he added, pointing to Dell and HP as prime examples.

Consumer education will be another big piece of the puzzle. End-users need to understand how to measure and judge the products they buy to ensure they are championing products and brands that work to make products both repairable and recyclable. That can be a hard sell, especially when a product is popular for its look and feel. The same decisions that maximise consumer appeal make it prohibitively expensive for the recyclers to process. Institutional buyers, who wield the clout of buying a large amount of products, have the greatest potential for encouraging OEMs to design for environment. "Institutional buyers buy by specifying all the specifications that they want and then, to get the business, the manufacturer has to meet those specs," said Rifer.

By creating a loop that starts with the designer and ends with the recycler, OEMs can create products that will win from a sales standpoint and still be winners when measured for sustainability.

- Hailey Lynne McKeefry

 First Page Previous Page 1 • 2

Comment on "Addressing concerns with design-for-..."
*  You can enter [0] more charecters.
*Verify code:


Visit Asia Webinars to learn about the latest in technology and get practical design tips.


Go to top             Connect on Facebook      Follow us on Twitter      Follow us on Orkut

Back to Top