There are a variety of potential barriers to developing products that are ‘made to be made again’, such as the time and labour intensity of repair and remanufacturing, the cost in designing products in this radical way, and the quality of the recovered components or materials.
The work of Dr Joseph Chiodo, of Active Disassembly Research, has addressed a number of these challenges. Active Disassembly is the process of designing a product using materials or processes that provide movement or release when faced with external stimuli. This is so that it can be dismantled in a non-destructive and hierarchical way. Dr Chiodo’s work began in the early 1990s, and initially focused on design for disassembly, indicating that more automated processes were required. A design led solution to disassembly was born using smart materials and processes. This reduced the mean time of disassembly, especially in large batch processing.
One of the first and most visually impressive examples of this technology is a screw that will lose its thread when heated, enabling high quality batch-disassembly, unlike the shredding or fragging recycling processes that occur in many industries today.
Following a series of research projects with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Sony, Nokia, Motorola and others, Dr Chiodo moved on to trying to get this technology into everyday products. With the price of smart materials previously a barrier to adoption at scale, the focus of research moved to using existing engineering materials and processes that have been made smart. These are specifically designed to address complex recycling issues where added value output fractions are desired. Some recent examples impose stresses in conventional engineering materials or provide significant change in mechanical properties on demand. One interesting project currently being investigated is adding an interstitial layer – a method that can enable the removal of sealant or adhesive in a single bead, preventing the contamination of recyclate.
The work of Active Disassembly Research has shown that technology exists to make remanufacturing and materials recovery faster and more effective, but current customer demand for higher performance and lower price, combined with linear business models of most OEMs hasn’t facilitated the uptake of this technology. Dr Chiodo says that there needs to be more pioneering projects to lead the way:
Customers are motivated. With a manufacturer or a 3rd party recycler willing to take the product back, then we will have a serious technology uptake and the majority of environmental impact eliminated. The right business plan will ultimately make extended life and ‘End-of-Life’ scenarios such as remanufacturing much less expensive since added value savings and very high output fractions can now be reclaimed. Thus, manufacturers will significantly profit from minimal design changes and marginal cost upfront as a strategic aspect of a portion of what they’re selling.