Green Technologies: Design for Recycling

“From 2010, the European Union has made it mandatory for all automakers to produce cars that can be recycled up to 80% so that the pressure on the natural resources is lower. Auto compnenets maanufacturers are abandoning the use of carcinogenic products in favour of biodegradable materials.”

Manufacturing management talked in 80s and 90s about two target considerations for designing any new products- design for manufacturability, DFM and design for assembly, DFA. The idea was to tell designers that they can’t work in isolation creating the drawings and detail specifications including tolerances of the product and all its components without ensuring its feasibility to manufacture and assemble without excessive cost and inconvenience. Later on the design for serviceability got introduced. It must be easy to repair and service the product too.

And with the concern of the global warming and pollution of the environment that is becoming critical today, the engineers must design products also with recyclability or recycling, DFR as one of main considerations for easy disposal without causing much damage to the environment.

“The automobile industry still remains the pioneer in this field. The bodies of most end-of-life vehicles have been recovered by specialized processes. But this is no longer enough, as cars are not made solely of metal. Polymers are extensively in use along with various grades of coated and uncoated steels. Designers must therefore try to recycle all the components going in the latest cars. This is the real challenge, because it requires the establishment of economically viable recycling chains, organized by major categories of materials.

“All the major automakers have decided to incorporate the demands of recycling into the design of its vehicles.

Design for Recycling encourages manufacturers to take voluntary action without waiting for the government imposed intervention or making it mandatory. Its goal is to encourage pre-production planning for safe and efficient recycling by eliminating hazardous and non-recyclable materials from the production process. Manufacturers and their technocrats are taking up the challenge keeping the global need in mind.

There are many tough technical problems that require R&D. for example, plastic gas tanks, becoming very common in new vehicles, cause several problems for recyclers. First, there is potential danger to the environment and worker safety because the plastic tanks absorb volatile organic vapours from gasoline. Furthermore, the current multi-layer/multi-polymer design cannot be easily or economically recycled.

All the R&D institutions will have to take special interest to work for green technologies. Will India and its innovators take lead to remain globally competitive?

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