Boothroyd Dewhurst Inc.Wakefield, R.I.

Dec. 21, 2004
Design for Environment

Today the idea of environmental issues influencing product design might seem as remote as a proposal in the early 1960s that pollution would become a constraint on manufacturing. So if anticipating change is a route to success, then Boothroyd Dewhurst's Design for Environment (DFE) software has potential for competitive opportunity as well as cost savings. Intended as an analysis tool that helps users design products that are easy to disassemble for recycling, reuse, and/or disposal, the software has as its central premise the idea that voluntary environmental design should be a cost-driven activity. "In fact, it appears that most companies and governments pursue 'green designs' only when they discover the favorable cost/benefit relationships," says Winston Knight, vice president of Boothroyd Dewhurst. Eastman Kodak Co., a company that is evaluating DFE software, saved $60 million last year by remanufacturing products instead of discarding them after use. "Without the benefit of DFE, many firms will forgo that kind of future savings, and many are actually paying now to cart valuable materials to landfills," adds Knight. Several countries, particularly in Europe, have already put into place "take-back" laws that pass the responsibility for the disposal of end-of-life products and packaging back to the manufacturer. As a result of this legislation, domestic and foreign companies wishing to do business in countries such as Germany and the Netherlands will have a difficult time achieving a profit unless their products and packaging are designed for efficient recycling, reuse, or disposal. DFE, like predecessors Design for Manufacture & Assembly and Design for Service, is a concept-stage tool that substitutes analysis and optimization for the usual practice of following broad material and manufacturing guidelines. DFE reveals the cost benefits for various options -- such as material recycling, part remanufacture or reuse, and disposal through landfill or incineration. Designers also can pinpoint in the disassembly sequence where the major economic and ecological benefits end and where further disassembly is of no benefit either financially or environmentally. By understanding the inherent value of the materials and parts in a product, manufacturers are better able to plan for potential product take-back regulations, says Knight. DFE determines the environmental impact with a value-assessment metric developed by Boothroyd Dewhurst's European collaborator, TNO Institute of Industrial Technology, Delft, Netherlands. Called MET points, the metric analyzes issues relating to materials, energy, and toxicity. The material assessment considers the product's impact on the exhaustion of earth's resources. The energy portion examines energy-related effects, such as the greenhouse effect, acidification, eutrophication, and smog. The toxicity factor measures toxic effects in terms of humans and ecotoxicity. As questions in the disassembly and environmental sections of the software are answered, step-by-step change-and-improvement options are presented along with the product structure, costs, and eco-effects. A graph display summarizes the entire product analysis and allows tracking of disassembly costs with environmental impacts. Alternative designs or disassembly sequences can be compared on a single graph, allowing "what if" assessments.

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