Embracing the planet

Posted on 01/05/2019 by IED

Pollution and its impact on the environment are altering the way we approach design, as Colin Ledsome CEng FIED points out

When something is in the process of being designed, the most fundamental decisions are usually about materials and the method of manufacture. There is often a wide choice of cost, weight, strength, stiffness, ease of manufacture, availability of materials and manufacturing capacity, as well as finish and corrosion resistance to be considered, in order to find a compromise that best meets the requirements.

In recent decades, we have become more and more aware of pollution and its effects on the environment we depend on. The effects on wildlife, vegetation and the overall temperature of the planet, with sea level rise and loss of polar ice as a consequence, are all becoming more apparent, along with the urgency to do something to reverse them. This means we have some extra factors to consider when making those fundamental choices.

Producing ‘raw’ materials, no matter what the source, and putting them through a manufacturing process to produce a component is usually an expensive, energy-intensive activity. It also produces significant amounts of waste, both of the material itself and the other materials used in the process, often including large quantities of water.

Add to that the effects of packaging, transport and storage, and most products have had a significant environmental impact before they begin their useful life. Designers should be aware of the environmental consequences of their manufacturing decisions, including where to manufacture, as well as the impact of the product itself.

Pressure is coming from political and market sources to give products longer lives in service, and make them easier to maintain and repair to extend those lives. This is an extra design requirement we should consider, even if it is not part of the original proposal. One option we have is to make it easier to give a product the potential for further ‘lives’ in service by designing it from the outset with that in mind.

Take a look at BS8887 Design for Manufacture, Assembly, Disassembly and End-of-life Processing (MADE): Part 3 1918 Guide to choosing an appropriate end-of-life design strategy.

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