Get Ready for ‘Design for Disassembly’

Probably one of the best efforts in the world for managing electronic waste is under way in the European Union.

The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) legislation covers all components, subassemblies, and consumables that are part of a product when it is discarded. The EU's definition of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) includes all equipment that needs electric currents or electromagnetic fields to work properly. It also includes equipment for the generation, transfer, and measurement of currents and fields designed for use with a voltage rating of up to 1,000 volts AC and 1,500 volts DC.

The major categories of EEE are listed in Annex 1 of the legislation. They include 10 major types, such as large household appliances, IT telecom, and medical devices. Annex 2 is the indicative list of equipment falling into the categories of Annex 1, such as washing machines, mainframes, and cardiology equipment.

The objectives of the EU's overall environmental policy are to preserve, protect, and improve the quality of the environment. The policy is meant to protect human health and to ensure the prudent and natural use of natural resources. It is based on the principles of precaution and preventive action — environmental damage should be rectified at the source, and the polluter should pay.

With the priority being sustainable development, significant changes in product development, production, consumption, and behavior patterns are required to reduce pollution and the wasteful consumption of natural resources. This legislation is also designed to address the differences in member states' policies, so it has set the directives and final authorities at the EU level.

The EU has also recognized that waste management is an integral aspect of product life cycle management, and the legislation strives to optimize reuse and recovery through product design. The idea is to make repair, upgrades, reuse, disassembly, and recycling essential considerations at the earliest conception and design stages of an R&D effort. Most manufacturers are already using acronyms like DFA (design for assembly), DFT (design for test), and DFM (design for manufacturability), but now we need to consider DFD (design for disassembly).

Two years ago, I was asked to conduct a study on lithium battery recycling for a particular product. I examined the legislation as it read back then. The recycling directions included a request to remove the embedded battery from the product before taking it back to the EU retailer, which would send the WEEE to the recycling center. Since the battery was encapsulated in a potting compound, I could not return the product as a whole unit. I had to identify a company that could deal with the potting compound to reclaim the lithium in the battery as a second reclamation effort. As a result, the final product eliminated the potting compound, and the battery enclosure was redesigned for easy access.

As we have seen with the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances and Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances regulations, companies must be able to anticipate the recycling and disassembly fees generated by their materials and designs. The EU's “polluter pays” policy ensures that producers will consider the after-sales costs of every product slated to be shipped to EU member states.

8 comments on “Get Ready for ‘Design for Disassembly’

  1. t.alex
    August 15, 2012

    At the moment Design for Manufacturing gives manufacturer certain benefits such as cost reduction and streamlining of the production process. When it comes to a new concept like Design for Dissasembly, how would this provide any benefit to manufacturers ? To some extent some do not want their product to be easily disassembled because this is giving their competitors insights into the products.

  2. dalexander
    August 15, 2012

    @t.alex I think you have a point with disassembly and confidentiality, however, I am not suggesting the product be designed to make reverse engineering easier, but only for the purpose of breaking down the product to it's recyclable constituents. Anyone who wants to see how an iphone is assembled can open it themselves and disassemble it quite easily. In fact there are websites that specializing in tearing down videos for consumer products. But, in the instance I mentioned, the battery housing was redeigned for easy access and battery removal so the potting compound would not be an issue that required a separate expensive effort to remove. I think you point is quite valid and also should be considered as part of the design effort such that the secrets stuff is not compromised during reclamation. I worked on a product called “Stinger” that if the enclosure was breached, the contents of the EEPROM was wiped. We had to use a combination of a microswitch and a battery to clear the memory but it passed FIPS inspection and could be dissassembled for destruction purposes only.

  3. _hm
    August 16, 2012

    Yes, that is wonderful novel idea. All organization should put effort for this. But, how much cost will it add to final product price?

  4. dalexander
    August 16, 2012

    _hm, If the design for disassembly is included all the way back at the product concept design review, the cost may actually be less. I say this because in some cases, like the one I mentioned with the potting compound, that added material cost that was more than the new battery enclosure design. Generally speaking, the erlier changes are made in a product's lifecycle, the less it cost. Fewer people are involved in the change, fewer documents have to be modified, and there is less obsolete or out-of-date inventory to push out the door or write off. DFD is something all companies will have to consider if they will be shipping product into the EU. If it makes economic sense from a back end cost perspective, then the adoption of DFD will even be more pervasive.

  5. bolaji ojo
    August 20, 2012

    T.alex, Valid point. Apple's iPhone can't be opened by a consumer because it was designed this way. I can imagine this complicates the disassembly of the product. Does this consitute a problem for the end-of-life disposal that all products must eventually go through? I think so. Is Apple aware of this? I bet they are. I don't know what solutions they have in place, though. Perhaps just return them to Apple!

  6. bolaji ojo
    August 20, 2012

    Douglas, To T.Alex's point, does the packaging and the way a product is manufactured (and sealed) make disassembly more expensive? If yes, why do some companies do it and what are the likely disassembly-for-disposal solutions?

  7. t.alex
    August 20, 2012

    Apple in fact has a program to buy back your old iPhone iPad etc products. I think DFD makes sense in this case for Apple to help them reduce he cost of disassembly.

  8. bolaji ojo
    August 20, 2012

    T.Alex, Apple shouldn't just have a program to buy back these devices. It should under the law have an obligation to take them back! That's one of the principles behind the European Union's recycling and recovery program. They make the manufacturer pay for disposal and, of course, the OEMs build the cost into the price of the device at point of sale.

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