How getting liquid protection right can help manufacturers move toward the circular economy

Feb 23, 2022 | Electrical & electronics, Machine building, frameworks & safety

Driven by the need to become more sustainable, today’s manufacturers want to move the product lifecycle away from the traditional linear ‘make, use and dispose’ model of the past, and instead support the circular economy. For many manufacturers the focus has shifted from an overriding emphasis on making profits to a concentration on the triple bottom line, which brings in people and the planet alongside profits as key goals. The conversation is increasingly around sustainability and leaving the planet in better shape for future generations.

Manufacturers are increasingly taking ownership of this goal and making sure what they do is circular. They increasingly appreciate that by doing so they can benefit both the environment and their own bottom line. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation estimates that circular economy activities could contribute as much as US$700 million in annual material cost savings to consumer goods production, along with a 48% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030.

To meet their circular economy goals, manufacturers are looking for ways of building in technologies that reduce the environmental impact of their product; allow it to be reused and recycled and also extend the product lifecycle.

Playing their part in the chain

In terms of reducing the impact of the final manufactured product, component providers can play their part by using fewer chemicals in their products but also by making use of fewer resources to develop the final solution. They can help manufacturers drive re-use and recycling also by making sure that the design process at the start of a product lifecycle incorporates materials and components that can extend that lifecycle but also be refurbished and reused as raw materials of new products.

None of the above is easy of course. The challenges are numerous. Many of the ‘starting materials’ manufacturers use today are mined to extract various metals, and other materials to be used in the manufacturing process itself. Then at the end of the product lifecycle, many manufactured goods are still thrown away today.

Putting a plan in place

To address these challenges, the industry first needs to find ways it can recover materials and recycle them. Second, it needs to ensure that the materials used in products can subsequently be reused, thereby removing the need to keep mining for new materials. Even if there are certain materials that simply can’t be reused, manufacturers can focus on finding alternative materials that are regenerative.

Providers of solutions that protect a manufacturer’s products, by delivering water and humidity protection solutions, for example, can help here in helping their manufacturer partners to achieve their circular economy goals. They can, for example, help increase the product lifecycle for as long as possible, not just for the first user but subsequent ones also.

To do that, of course, they will need to prevent one of the biggest failings in electronics: corrosion damage. Plasma nano-coatings delivering a robust conformal coating will increase product lifecycles and eliminate scrap on the assembly line when the product is being made because they can form a reworkable protective layer.

Consequently, manufacturers won’t need to landfill waste products because the process instead enables them to rework products and replace components. As a result, with product lifecycles increasing, return rates will fall away. When products do get returned when customers have finished using them, there is the potential to then re-use them by simply re-using or recycling the key components and feeding them back into the supply chain.

Manufacturers are becoming more aware of the benefits of this approach but also the link between sustainability and financial benefits. By being sustainable, an organisation is effectively de-risking its business and highlighting a direct connection between being environmentally conscious and future profitability.

Ultimately though, manufacturers should really be asking themselves: if they are not providing technologies that promote longer product lifecycles and reusability or recyclability then what are they doing to enable the circular economy? This is not a fad after all. Far from it. It is the way every business will need to operate moving forwards. And successful companies will be the ones that most quickly address these issues and find more sustainable solutions.

Author: Dr Stephen Coulson, Chief Science Officer and Founder, P2i


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