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sustainability design plastic

Sustainability starts with the design

20 July 2020

New technologies and process improvements make it possible to produce, use and reuse materials with ever-increasing efficiency. This starts as early as the design phase and there are various design methodologies that can help.

The principles of sustainable design

By choosing a sustainable design method, you can take the product’s entire life cycle into account during the earliest phase. This means thinking at an early stage about the product’s manufacturability, use, market introduction and end-of-life phase. For example, it is possible to significantly increase the recyclability of your product through its design. You can also focus on the sustainability of your processes - to ensure as little time, money (leftover) materials and energy are used - and strive to optimise your product’s reliability to prolong its life cycle. Lastly, it is important that users are aware of the product’s recyclability or reusability to keep them from simply throwing it in the residual waste bin.

DFA - design for assembly

Design for Assembly (DFA)

DFA is a methodology for assembly-friendly design. This method was developed in the 1980s, primarily as a way to save costs. We now know that cost reduction and sustainability are not mutually exclusive. When you utilise DFA, you systematically evaluate a product design on aspects that can make the assembly process more efficient.

For example:
• Reducing the number of components
• Minimising the need for tools, machinery and energy
• Automating assembly processes
• Reducing assembly errors

Implementing these aspects into the design of a product ultimately leads to a faster (and therefore cheaper) and more sustainable assembly process. This methodology makes the assembly process a lot more efficient, which reduces the number of assembly errors that are made, so there are fewer damaged or failed products that have to be thrown out. You also use fewer different materials, which improves the product’s recyclability.

Design for Disassembly (DFD)

Design for Disassembly (DFD)

DFD is another sustainable design method that can be used in conjunction with DFA. Contrary to DFA, DFD is about making a product easier to disassemble once it has reached the end of its life cycle. To do so, you can e.g. choose to have a product consist of a few different components and materials as possible and ensure that the components - of different materials - can easily be separated once the product has been disposed of. You can realise this by designing your product in a modular manner. This makes it easier to replace a single broken component, without having to throw out the entire product.

Lastly, DFD makes it easier to respond quickly to changing market demands. You can sell individual components as an added source of revenue: instead of writing off the entire product and selling your customer a new product, you only have to fix what is broken or in need of expansion. This produces less waste and gives broken products a second lease on life.

Design for Recycling (DFR)

DFR can be seen as a sustainable combination between the DFA and DFD methods. With this method, you can design products in a fully circular manner. This means that all components that make up the product can easily be disassembled, reused and/or recycled at the end of the product’s life cycle. The choices our product designer makes during the design phase ensure the product is easier to recycle later on. Think of e.g. using recyclable materials and minimising the number of different components and types of material. When using this methodology, the designer also takes the environmental impact of a product’s entire life cycle into account.

However, it is important to note that DFR only works when the entire chain is involved. No matter how sustainable the design of your product is, it will still have a negative impact on the environment if it ends up in the wrong waste stream at the end of its life cycle. It is therefore essential to make clear agreements with all chain parties and make sure together that discarded products are actually recycled.

Design for Manufacturing (DFM)

DFM is another method with which to improve product sustainability during the design phase. This methodology focuses on the effective and efficient production of the components that make up a product. Utilising DFM is about optimising your product components in order to prevent any issues during production. Furthermore, DFM leads to a faster market introduction and a higher product quality, which ensures the product has a longer life cycle.

Afbeelding: verhoeven ontwerpburo

Sustainable designs by Verhoeven Ontwerpburo

Our subsidiary Verhoeven Ontwerpburo designs various plastic products and packaging materials with a strong focus on sustainability. How does a sustainable design process actually work? Director Peter Kuhn explains: “When we accept a project, we always start by discussing the sustainability requirements with the customer. We also explain the steps we can take to make the product more sustainable. Next, we conduct a functional analysis. It specifies the requirements a product has to meet and the functionalities it must offer. Then it is time for the sustainability study. For this, we look for ways to reduce the number of components and types of material as much as possible to improve the sustainability of the production process and make the product easier to recycle later on.”

Such studies are costly, of course, but our experience shows that customers generally earn back those costs once the production process has been up and running for a few months. Peter: “Generally speaking, a sustainable design always creates a win-win situation. On the one hand, you reduce your product’s environmental impact. On the other hand, your product consists of fewer components or materials, which improves its manufacturability.” Due to the close collaboration between Rompa Group and Verhoeven, manufacturability factors into a product’s design process at a very early stage, which makes it easier to start the production process later on.

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