The word ‘Design’ sounds different under different circumstances – the first thought that comes to mind is ‘House Design’ or for that matter, ‘Shirt design’. But, have you ever wondered about its application in sustainability, circularity and efficiency? – All of them are critical features in a society that is outstripping the ‘carrying capacity’ of the planet. What it is referring is the quest for sustainable design (new, holistic) of how products and services are made, used and disposed of.
Complex modeling and analysis tools would help product and process designers towards sustainable goals in ensuring that the products have minimal negative environmental and social impacts not only through the life cycle but beyond. The awareness of tackling climate crisis has spread not only to public but even private sectors and an effective design could not have been better here than elsewhere. There are striking examples not only in US – Bullitt Center is entirely a carbon-neutral achieving both heating and cooling through geothermal wells; Adidas and Parley sneaker deploying recycled plastics as also elsewhere in the world. This calls for designers to look more holistically considering full life-cycle to the resources used in the manufacture. Such energy savings have beneficial impact on the power sector as a whole.
In the 3 or 4 decades back, designers or engineers looked at performance and cost whereas, designers today may have to consider more variables (15-20) that would be sustainable across diverse criteria – carbon and energy efficiency. Not only possessing the information and to make decisions but, understanding technological implications is indeed quite complex. Further improvement of an optimized design over years would involve deep transformation. The best example in this regard is vehicle electrification – not only new design but also creation of entirely a new value chain. One realizes not only technological advancement and deployment but, careful design that marries traditional best practice – new de-carbonization attempt.
This approach needs an understanding of product, lifecycle (production, use & next life). In addition, resource utilization covering logistics and suppliers along with carbon intensity are equally essential. This means, defining holistic sustainable indicators towards optimization of not only sustainability parameters but even cost and performance. Digitalization provides convergence on intelligence from simulation, production and enables loop of design optimization.
There has been a re-orientation of how we look at things now from the system’s approach point of view – environmental impact broadly includes materials, production, use and even next life. ‘Sustainable design’ as it is addressed revolves around circularity – covering recyclability, component separation, and re-usability, use of recycled content or even replacement parts.
The valuable data points are in varied systems – engineering, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), manufacturing and even legacy. In view of this, ‘Collective Intelligence’ connects industrial ecosystems where data is open and shared. This exercise facilitates designers to understand carbon intensity and resource utilization along with value chain. Further, information could be used in digital models and capture opportunities for partnerships, co-create and achieve sustainable growth.
The limited definition of ‘Sustainability’ has encompassed many aspects that were initially not thought off – social, cultural, human and economic factors in a comprehensive manner in addition to ecology. It is in this regard that material, technique and strategy assume all the more importance.
Energy audit facilitates identifying areas of improvement – HVAC systems for example, which consumes huge energy and heavy expenditure. Filter replacement and proper insulation to prevent hot and cold air escape along with temperature control could benefit greatly. There could be many options to reduce energy consumptions which are being worked out. Even though, the elements of sustainable options have been extended to the electronics design, it seems to be still at the infant level. One of the major advantages is the potential rise in exhaustion of non-renewable supplies and rise in eco disposal as well. Organizations across the globe have realized the increased environmental and financial performance through such green practices. Significant regulatory options are subsidies, tax exemptions, environment friendly policies and more importantly, preference to non-renewables over fossil fuels. Although it looks attractive, there are indeed certain challenges as well, in this transformation. The primary objective is reduction or minimizing resource utilization and consequently, contemporary firms lean on sustainable manufacturing.
Sustainability in electronic product & design and manufacturing towards environment friendly products are gaining importance – energy consumption, design for recycling and production of less toxic items seem to be key options that deserve serious attention. Firstly, the research on sustainability and its application and secondly, systematic framework in the field of electronic product design and manufacturing are the key elements that warrant focus. The foremost option in this regard is material selection as it involves trade-offs among several measures including ecology – reduced impact on environment, lower cost and minimizing resource utilization. The aim therefore is towards organic electronics devices which seem inexpensive and energy-efficient while realizing great functionalities.
‘Digital Twins’ as it is popular, is a virtual representation of real product providing seamless flow of data (both real and digital world) towards a holistic view of sustainability impacts along value chain and facilitating optimization as well. Digital twins allow simulation throughout the product lifecycle to optimize product and production system prior to physical prototypes. Digital twins allow designers a tremendous value in framing unlimited variations for iteration and rapid improvement economically and at a quick time period. Digital twins requiring fewer prototypes are cost permit. Such an exercise consumes no resource to design, test, validate and verify in the true world as it simulates the entire factory production or can opt hundreds of designs. Generative designs enable creation of non-intuitive ideas or entirely new breakthroughs which would not been otherwise possible.
Digital twins with the leveraged data across the product cycle and industrial ecosystems, will model a path to better environment outcomes. Comprehensive product lifecycles allow defining holistic sustainability indicators balancing carbon footprint, performance and profitability while optimizing them globally. Setting measurable sustainability targets allows tracking progress and identification of areas that need improvement. They are aiming at utilizing Artificial Intelligence to make better decisions on materials, manufacturing process and location along with optimization of supply chain around logistics and distribution.
The process oriented options lie in evaluation of classical recycling for variants of waste Electronic Home Appliances (EHA) – manual dismantling time and the flow of dismantled components were determined. Material flow (input-output) of recycling, formal organizational framework with of course, financial viability for discarded EHA. The second step of Models of sustainable manufacturing need to address interaction between drivers, enablers and resultants of sustainability.
Sustainable designs reduce not only emissions but even waste in a variety of ways: renders more energy and resource efficiency products and allowing more options for evaluation with a fewer prototypes; Efficient carbon footprint management and tracking actual emissions across supply chain and operations; allows remanufacturing, serviceability and next-life features into designs and operations; Accelerates innovation, research for emerging climate technologies (Hydrogen and Fuel cells).
Examples: In view of the greater benefits, many organizations are beginning to exploit collective intelligence – combining system of system approach with industrial ecosystems and sustainability. Digital twin technology is deployed in high performance air wings which control fridge’s cold air curtain. This has not only helped saving almost 1.1 terawatt-hours of power but, more importantly avoided tons of carbon dioxide amounting to almost a saving of $171 million.
Another example is zero emission sea gliders, which operates on water. This has facilitated reduction of not only time but, even cost of transporting people/food between coastal cities.
Application of sustainable manufacturing in electronics sector could be oriented towards: Consumer electronics (sound systems, home automation, computing and low-power electronics to multimedia systems), Industrial electronics (electronic control systems, instrumentation, aerospace or medical technology) and automotive electronics. Consumer electronics poses several challenges – higher demand lets resources down, demand for cleaner production, innovative materials and technology for Eco design in production, utilization and logistics phases, disassembly and remanufacturing policies. Although considerable work has been carried out on mobiles and PCs, tablet devices, smartphones, smart watches and other fast moving gadgets deserve a serious attention. Similarly, both industrial and automotive electronics attract greater attention towards sustainability studies.
Problem definition followed by modeling, prioritization, implementation (material selection, product design, process improvement) and evaluation is perhaps the sequence of steps that need be followed. Under each step, care should be taken on the environmental benefits. More vital to keep the entire chain is sustainable training and steady structures for continual improvement. There is a huge difference in the meaning of ‘Sustainability’ features of yester years and the current relevance – effective way of product synthesis among all available advanced manufacturing philosophies.
Sustainable manufacturing practices in any field present three fold benefits across economy, environment and social dimensions. The review undertaken for electronics around four perspectives (product design, material selection, process improvement and modeling) indicates gap in research and potential research avenues towards this goal. In fact Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a significant tool applied for conception, component and process design and assessment.
Sustainable manufacturing improvement strategies produce holistic benefits across people, planet and profit. However, it lacks a structured approach and warrants inclusive sustainable manufacturing model.
It is thus evident that product-related environmental impacts are dependent solely on the design criteria. Digitalization and automation have had a major role through harnessing collective intelligence. Businesses thus benefit in orienting their data, collaboration with stakeholders to avail climate conscious decisions during the entire design journey.
Another added advantage could be deploying recycled materials and derives environmental advantage early in the process – resource reduction, efficiency and emission reduction.
Many such novel approaches would lessen the burden on not only carbon emissions but even on the efficiency in utilizing recycled material. This would result in an all-round advantage to the power sector as a whole.
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