From linear product cycle to circular product cycle
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When I say “circular economy”, what do I mean by that?
In my first column, I wrote:
The only real delta between the linear economy (or, more narrowly to manufacturing, the linear product life cycle) – “take, make, waste” – and the circular economy is the incorporation of properties and parameters of environmental and health safety in the design. and the manufacture of our products.
Thus, in order to adhere more closely to a truly circular product life cycle, every aspect of a product throughout its life must be examined against a set of circularity criteria. Today, for manufacturers in industries producing complex products, this is a task as huge as it may seem. It’s not just about recyclability.
It is ultimately about:
- Not having to extract and process minerals and substances from the planet, but reuse what we have already extracted and processed, and
- Keep what we have already processed viable and used for as long as possible.
For large portions of finished products, recycling is not that difficult; sufficient infrastructure exists for recycling metals and, although not nearly as sufficient, there is a growing and improving – but still inadequate – infrastructure for recycling plastics.
In either case, a thorough understanding of the composition of the recycled material is required to achieve the best results. The majority of widely used metal alloys used in electronics is well known: there are many common alloys, the composition of which is defined by industry standards, used for steel, aluminum and copper which constitute a percentage by very high weight of most electronic components. some products.
The same cannot be said for plastics, however.
There are no industry standards defining the composition of plastics; there are generic categories of polymeric materials including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), polycarbonate (PC), as well as blends such as PC / ABS, thermoplastic elastomers (copolymers of plastic and rubber), etc.
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To these are added other substances to provide or improve performance characteristics such as color, the ability to resist ultraviolet light without breaking down (UV stabilizers), flame retardants (plastics are flammable!) , plasticizers (used with PVC to make it flexible), etc. to. These blends are therefore the resin formulations used to create housings, wire insulators, printed circuit laminates, semiconductor encapsulants (and other devices), etc.
Each resin formulation is unique; Mechanical engineers normally select a specific resin from a specific preparer / supplier and ask their subcontractor to use it. The engineer does not revise the composition; they are usually unable to do it even if they wanted to because it is owner. Herein lies the problem with polymers: Unless the engineer specifies acceptable and (more commonly) unacceptable substances that can be used in their polymers, they will have no control over the circularity of the resulting material.
It is not easy. The beauty of polymers lies in their variety and the incredible depth of polymer expertise around the world. Nowadays we can produce amazing and beautiful objects with almost absolute control over their properties. But circularizing them is difficult because of this variety.
For example, you can’t just take just any black ABS plastic material out of a recycling center and turn it into inkjet printer cartridges or kitchen utensils. What enters the installation is generally not controlled: contamination and the fundamental characteristics of polymers subjected to mechanical recycling degrade the properties of the polymers. But with diligent focus and intention, it can and has been done. The classic example of an implementation today is that of HP circular mechanical recycling of plastics used for inkjet cartridges. It is for a part of a product family. It took a lot of effort, diligence, time and money to bring this project to fruition.
What needs to change for us to do this on a large scale?
Over the next few columns, I’ll try to help readers better understand the definition of circularity for electronics, how individual businesses can begin to implement it, and what needs to change for adoption and implementation. generalized work.
I welcome your questions and comments on the EE Times forum below. Meanwhile, you can also visit DCA at DesignChainAssociates.com or email the author with any questions or comments on this article.