Are you passionate about building products that are sustainable, clean, green, and safe? Our team knows exactly how to go about this.
Designing for a green tomorrow
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” ~ Native American Proverb
The fate of our future generations is inadvertently in our hands, and we are far more responsible for it than we can possibly comprehend.
Today, we still live without giving a thought to global environmental implications. Every once in a while, we see a picture of a bird or a seal or a whale with plastic wrapping caught around their necks and feel momentarily guilty about the plastic waste that’s ending up at sea. And then we go on with our lives.
If we do feel guilty about using unwarranted amounts of plastic in our day-to-day lives, we blame it on the large corporations selling their goods in wasteful plastic enclosures and not thinking of better, recyclable, alternative packaging for end consumers.
How much of a responsibility lies with us?
As a design engineering company, we thought deep and hard about this. Yes, we have been conscious of considering energy efficient designs, materials management, minimizing waste and extending product useful life. Our blog on environmentally sustainable design covers a couple of these points.
But we wanted to do more. We wanted to define the way we, as individuals and a company, think, act, work and live around the epitome of green designs.
To serve this purpose we formally defined our corporate vision and mission statements that focus on our passion for responsible, clean, sustainable green designs.
Our Vision Statement:
To design a sustainable, clean, and safe future!
Our Mission Statement:
To create great products that are human centric, functional, reliable, sustainable, energy efficient, and recyclable, while using a minimal carbon footprint to produce and distribute.
Design Principles that can make a world of difference
At NeuronicWorks, we believe in designing with a purpose. Our clients approach us with great ideas that may or may not be practically feasible. Once the idea is validated, a critical part of our job is to plan the design and realize it.
This is as early as it starts.
From the very beginning we think about the whole picture – products/components required and available, source (location) of the material and components, possibilities of product expandability, certifications and regulations, and manufacturability among others.
At the design stage, we adopt principles that ensure the products we build are built for tomorrow, while retaining their value for as long as possible. We design for modularity working towards a circular economy that ensures minimal use of primary resources, reduced waste generation and reduced environmental impact.
Image source: Circular Economy
Figure 1. The circular economy principle (as on the right) where value is retained and reused as opposed to being destroyed and abandoned at the end of product life cycle (as on the left)
The concept of circular economy is based on the cradle-to-cradle design principles (See Figure 2), developed by William McDonough and Dr. Michael Braungart in 2002, where the goal is to design products that are 100% beneficial to both people and the environment and that avoids the cradle-to-grave mentality (i.e., use it, lose it, and bury it).
Figure 2. The cradle-to-cradle principle of design, manufacturing, and reuse
It is now up to us to design products that at the end of its lifespan, can return product components safely back to earth or back to the industry as valuable raw materials (refer to Figure 1).
To this end, we employ a multitude of design strategies that include Design for Recyclability, Design for Sustainability and Design for Environment.
- Design for Recyclability is a design thinking strategy that aims to design products that have minimum impact to the environment and contributes to success in recycling. If a product is not recycle-ready, there is not much an end-user can do at the products end-of-life, other than disposing of it without the scope of recycling and so it is important to make this consideration early in the design stage.
- Design for Sustainability is the approach to design products that consider environmental, social, and economic impacts through its lifecycle. When sustainability is considered in design, it ensures that the product offers a higher value than what was lost in its making, continuously maximizing its value across its lifecycle.
- Design for Environment principles covers the entire lifecycle of a product and focuses on materials, transportation, production, distribution, packaging, and usage. Design for Environment ensures environmental considerations are integrated into the product design and development process making way for products that are easily recycled, reused, serviceable and upgradeable to prolong useful life.
Figure 3. Design competency hierarchy
In our experience one cannot design green without developing design competency. Inspired by Maslow’s approach, Figure 3, depicts the increasing levels of design competency required for designing a green product today.
At the base is Design Engineering, which is the fundamental competency that one aims to gain by attending an engineering program. This is the level most designers can deliver.
Then there are ‘Good Designs’. These are designs that are built with Design for eXcellence (DFX) principles in mind and are human centric, functional, foolproof, sturdy, reliable and energy efficient designs. Fewer designers can claim this level of competency.
The next level is ‘Standards Compliance Designs’. Official regulatory bodies (FCC in North America, ISED in Canada) aim to regulate the design process with the purpose of attaining safe-to-use products, and products that “play nice” in the environment (i.e., do not disturb the functionality of adjacent devices). Even if a product design is great but does not meet the current applicable standards' requirements legally published in that geographical market for a particular product type, the product cannot be put onto that market, and will be quarantined by customs inspectors at the border. So, every design being built must meet required safety and regulatory standards for the intended market. This type of knowledge is built over years of experience and expertise.
Going up another level of competency is to ensure ISO certified processes are in place for both design and manufacturing of the product to ensure the consistency and perpetuation of products quality from batch to batch and from manufacturer to manufacturer. (ISO 9001:2015, ISO 13485, ISO 39001:2012 to list a few.).
Finally, the pinnacle of design competency is to responsibly design sustainable, recyclable, green products using a minimal carbon footprint to produce and distribute them, products that will be an asset instead of a liability to our future generations.
Though it sounds ideal, it is not enough to simply design a product based on customer requirements. To be successful and to be considered a good and green product, we need to design for excellence, while meeting appropriate regulatory standards, following an ISO certified process, and designing with environment, sustainability, and recyclability in mind.
Think Global, Act Local
World War II was followed by a long period of economic expansion with a focus on industrialization across the world. This trend though saw a shift as we entered the new millennium. According to the Bureau of Labor statistics, between 2000 and 2010, nearly six million jobs in US manufacturing were lost and most jobs were moved to the Far East. This created an imbalance and dependency that have proven to be detrimental. Additionally, by moving most of the manufacturing to the Far East, the levels of pollution and environmental hazards have dangerously affected countries situated on that side of the world without the purview of strict environmental regulations. This has been a great price to pay globally for the immediate benefits of lower production costs. Though globalization today has ensured that our world is a much smaller place, in terms of kilometers, we are still quite a long and expensive distance away from one another. Today, a large share of global CO2 emissions is from transportation of exports.
The imbalance created by moving manufacturing to the Far East combined with the concentration of manufacturing in a few hot spots, has made it extremely challenging for businesses looking to source or manufacture onshore. For e.g., in the case of semiconductor chips, there are only few dominant producers in the world mostly located in the Far East. The pandemic exposed a weak link in the global supply chain which resulted in component shortages globally. As a result, semiconductor production is moving to other new locations around the world (NA and Europe), though it will take years before we begin to see results.
By depending on other countries for raw materials and production, we encourage transportation that contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. There is also the added costs of distribution, customs, and taxes, not to mention the waste that comes with packaging.
Sourcing and manufacturing locally can lead to a resilient business environment that can quickly respond to evolving needs. It also leads to a stronger economy with increased jobs and stronger communities that can depend on each other.
At NeuronicWorks, we believe in building a strong ecosystem and developing our in-house capabilities. We have partnered with some of the best chip design and manufacturing houses in the world and have taken steps to build a vertically integrated organization that provides both end-to-end design and manufacturing. We recently launched our PCB Assembly services to offer our customers the option to design and build their products locally. Interestingly enough, we work with amazing clients who are passionate about the environment and who are keenly interested in localizing their product design and manufacturing. This has been a blessing as it becomes so much easier when we have customers and partners who work towards the same goals as we do.