How the manufacturing industry can tackle circular challenges | Article


1. Focus on value retention: identify loss of value

In circular innovations, the focus is on preserving value. In order to increase value retention, it is important to determine what loss of value occurs at the time of production, during product use and after product use. Focusing on this from the product design stage is the best way to prevent unnecessary loss of product value.

2. Create a circular product design

Circular product design focuses on business activities in a product’s design, production and distribution phases. Various circular design strategies are possible:

  • Design for product bonding and trust: design products to last longer and to be handled with care by the user.
  • Design for product durability: design more robust products.
  • Design for standardisation and compatibility: design modular products with standardized components or interfaces that fit with other products.
  • Design for ease of maintenance and repair: design products so that they are easier to maintain and repair and thus easier to keep in good condition.
  • Design for upgrading: design products so they can be adapted through future modification or upgrading.
  • Design for dismantling and reassembly: design products so they consist of as few different – ​​and preferably reusable – materials and components as possible, with connections that are reversible.

3. Optimize product use

At the top of the value hill, the use phase can be made as long and intensive as possible so that there is no loss of value and fewer products and materials are needed overall. Three circular business models are useful in this regard:

  • Product life extension: maintaining, repairing, modernising and reusing products or components.
  • Sharing platforms: facilitating increased product utilisation via an intermediary platform.
  • Product as a Service (PaaS): providing access to products instead of ownership, through rental, lease or pay-per-use arrangements.

4. Minimise loss of value at end of life

Down the value hill, there are various ways of restoring or recovering product value. All the way at the bottom is recycling (see also the R-ladder). The downside is that by the time recycling already occurs, a lot of value has been lost. Reuse, refurbishing and remanufacturing provide greater value retention and often require less energy to put the old materials or product components back in use. Large manufacturers, such as Philips and Bosch/Siemens, are developing – in addition to ‘access for service’ concepts – use cases for the reuse of complete systems, components and materials.

Finally: organize circularity in cooperation with suppliers and external partners

A more circular approach to manufacturing can only be achieved by working together with partners. These include suppliers, customers and supporting network partners, such as recycling companies and financial backers. Cooperation proves to be an indispensable element of all circular innovations.

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