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Design for Disruption: Design for Reuse & Resilience

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If we are looking to industrialize 3D printing across the board, we will need to deploy new ideas and new strategies. Faced with a new technology, we’re using old thinking to displace older ideas. But, with new thinking, we would be more likely to grow much more rapidly as an industry. One potential source of disruption could be by thinking more holistically about objects, parts, and assemblies for reuse.

Carbon fiber being recycled.

Recycling and reuse are now seen as fun, little greenwashing projects for the corporate social responsibility department. It’s something for the CEO to get all presidential about as they solemnly speak to banqueting halls of contrite people glancing at Prius-equivalent watches. The Swiss movement that works on their watch is probably the most sustainable thing in their day of meeting to meeting, jet to town car.

Yet, if we look at scrap metal markets or the market for polymer regrind, then we realize that these are huge segments worth many billions that operate due to greed. Industry has recycled since it began and your waste streams are another business’s entire industry. With great efficiency and profit, many industrial waste products are repurposed, resold, and reused. However, if we look at companies making parts, assemblies, and products, they don’t think at all about recycling or reuse.

HP recycling bottle shred: Through its recycling programs, HP is transforming how we design, deliver, recover, repair, and reuse our products and solutions for a circular future

Your product lives until your customer’s guarantee ends and then you don’t care. Meanwhile, cutting edge firms are trying to closed-loop recycle everything or provide end-of-life options for your parts. Apple takes back a lot of items it sells and Patagonia will help you patch up your jacket. However, generally there is precious few in awareness as to the need or utility of design for reuse. In my mind there is sound business logic, as well as advantages to be had from designing so that a product can be reused.

Let’s leave all of the cuddly, heal-the-world arguments at the door for a second. Let’s say you’re Capitalist with a giant C and you care for nought besides the dollar. Even in that case I would argue that design-for-reuse makes cold-hard-cash type sense for many people. I’ll let you in on the single biggest insight I’ve had this year: design for reuse, disassembly, recycling, ethics, cost and resilience coincide.

Plastic bottles being recycled.

Unconstrained by any good sense, you’d use as many manufacturing processes as you could to squeeze out every last cent while using as many materials as your focus groups, designers, or trends dictate. You could perhaps make a cheap item with many parts, materials, and processes. Your materials can come from all over the world, traveling thousands of kilometers. Parts could criss-cross the planet because they would be just cents cheaper and assembly will be done wherever people pay the least. You care not about labor rights, the environment, CO2, nothing at all beyond your fiduciary responsibility to squeeze the most buck out of the available planet. Well, such a product is looking mighty vulnerable now. It’s these globe trotting products with supply chains that stretch around the planet that are now in short supply.

So, imagine you’re putting on some sandals and woolen socks, how would you redesign this product to reduce its environmental impact?

  • Make everything as local, and close to the customer as possible.
  • Use the least amount of parts as possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Use only labor that you know is not being exploited, e.g. local labor.
  • Reduce water, CO2, nasty chemicals and waste generally.
  • Reduce energy.

OK, so new CEO, new dance. We have to design a product for disassembly. How would we do that? Or—and this will give us the same outcome—let’s make something super easy to repair and sustainable because it lasts longer.

  • Use the least amount of parts as is possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Reduce nasty chemicals.
  • Make parts repairable or make them easy to replace or make them easy to disassemble.
  • (Maybe feature a modular architecture)

OK, so a Venice Biennale later, we have another CEO. We now have to pantomime a corporation who cares about recycling. So, what do we do?

Use recyclable materials and how do we do this switch easily?

  • Use the least amount of parts as is possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Reduce nasty chemicals.
  • Make parts repairable or make them easy to replace or make them easy to disassemble.
  • (Maybe feature a modular architecture)

Oh nooo! Our CEO got a hold of a Harvard Business Review someone left in his airport lounge. We now have to redesign our product to be as ethical as possible. So, what would we do?

  • Make everything as local and close to the customer as possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Use only labor that you know is not being exploited.
  • Reduce water, CO2, nasty chemicals and waste generally.
  • Reduce energy.
  • Get someone to stick some kind of official label on our effort.

Who left an unattended copy of the New York Times in the boardroom? Our CEO now cares about supply chain interruptions, geopolitics, and resilience. We’re weeks away from greying ex-generals and spymasters taking 20,000 paydays to tell us that the world is sucking more. What do we do? We redesign our products for resilience. So, how do we do that?

  • Make everything as local and as close to the customer as possible.
  • Use the least amount of parts as is possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Use only local labor.

Oh darn. Someone read about 3D printing and now we have to redesign our products for additive manufacturing we’re weeks away from months of design for additive manufacturing nonsense. How do we redesign for additive?

  • Make everything as local and close to the customer as possible.
  • Use the least amount of material possible.
  • Use the fewest number of materials possible.
  • Use only local labor
  • Reduce energy.
  • Struggle for a year making parts ten times more expensive than the ones we have.

All in all, we can see here that if we reduce a part, redesign it to be more sustainable, redesign it for disassembly, redesign it for resilience, or redesign it for additive, we end up doing a lot of the same things. In every sense, these steps will make us faster and more versatile in each of these transformative processes. So, why not design for reuse today and design for everything else while you’re at it?

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