Why Does This Matter?
Our current linear model is unsustainable. We need to start reconsidering the resources we use and how products are designed. The design and manufacturing stages of the product development process have considerable potential to influence positive change. By prompting circular economy considerations in the early design stages and establishing circularity as a strategic target from the onset, we can continue moving towards larger circular economy goals. There are also economic benefits driving this change. According to PwC, Australia could generate $1,860 billion in direct economic benefits over the next 20 years. Although we are just scratching the surface in this article, keep reading to find out more about circular product design and manufacturing.
What is Circular Economy?
The circular economy model has been gaining significant traction in recent years. The theory is fundamentally based on adopting nature’s cyclical model to our economy. It requires factoring out our current take-make-waste model to build a restorative economy. Circular economy is based on 3 key principles:
- Designing out waste and pollution
- Keeping products and materials in use
- Regenerating natural systems
Circular Product Design
Product design is an integral component of moving towards a circular economy. In its essence, circular design involves designing products that can be ‘made to be made again’. There are two cycles that explain differences in product circularity: open and closed loop. Open loop describes a majority of products that are considered circular. These products were not designed with circularity in mind and cannot be recycled indefinitely, and quality is reduced when inputs are recycled. While the diagram above opens after product design, it could open at any point to be considered open loop. Closed loop describes the ideal trajectory of circular design, where inputs are recycled and converted into raw materials of the same quality.
A Deeper Dive into the Five Pillars
The five pillars are outlined in the open and closed loop diagrams above: material R&D, product design, consumer incentive, reverse logistics, and reprocessing technology. Each pillar has its own set of unique circular design considerations that can be applied to your product.
Material R&D is about choosing the right materials from the beginning. Reprocessing should be kept at the top of mind when choosing materials. Mono-materials or mono-polymers should be used so they are more easily recycled after use. For the same reason, mechanical treatments should be prioritised over chemical treatments, and complex coatings and additives should be avoided. Additives are often used for performance reasons, for example improving flexibility or durability, but there are methods of designing them out while still achieving performance goals. Learn more about material selection.
Product design should focus on creating durable products that remain in use. By designing for longevity, product lifetime is increased, and turnover is reduced. Product design should also follow the inherent properties of the chosen materials, so you are working with the material rather than trying to force the material to work with a set design. There are a range of strategies that can be applied when designing for circularity. Here a few strategies based on the Circular Product Design Framework:
- Designed for reuse by being durable or adaptable.
- Designed for refurbishment through standardisation or disassembly.
- Designed for remanufacturing by designing for modularity or minimal waste.
- Designed for recyclability by using regenerative materials, recycled materials or mono-materials.
Creative strategies must also be designed to build user engagement and incentivise consumers to return products for reuse, repurposing or recycling. This pillar can be supported by product authentication and track & track software that is now available. A business model that has been gaining traction is the shift from ownership to access, where companies are offering product rental or subscriptions to consumers rather than traditional asset purchase.
Reverse logistics must be in place to support the circular business model in place. Consumers should be guaranteed access to return points and understand the ‘why’ behind the process. Identifying supply chain partners that support the business model is a key facet of this pillar.
Completing the cycle is access to reprocessing technologies that can handle the materials. There should be a focus on retaining material purity through reprocessing. Consider where the materials go from there, and potential secondary markets.
Global Sourcing Services and Circular Design
GSS has connected with industry leaders including Coreo and Pentatonic to develop expertise in this area. Material selection, product design, and manufacturing is where GSS can utilise our knowledge to help our customers. GSS is passionate about integrating circular economy principles into the product design and manufacturing stages of the product cycle. We look forward to continuing to grow our knowledge in this space as it evolves and supporting customers who are interested in exploring potential circular or sustainable options for their products. Collaborating with innovative and forward-thinking partners can help you gain a competitive edge in turning your ideas into reality.