For several years, manufacturing companies have been developing products which only have a single life cycle. That is, once the product has reached the end of its service life, it is scrapped as an industrial waste product. But in line with an increased political focus on environmental responsibility, and because in the future critical materials will become limited worldwide, there is a need to think about other directions.
Researchers from AAU are collaborating with, among others, Grundfos and Danfoss to develop a business case that is both financially and environmentally sound. Among other things, this involves operationalising business models based on a circular economy. The focal point of the project is take-back and recycling of own products.
- Instead of scrapping products that, for some reason, have served their current function, we research methods that can ensure the greatest possible value when products are recycled. This can be both functional value, where we recycle individual components from old products for use in new products, and it can be the value of the materials that the product consists of, says Brian Vejrum Wæhrens, professor at the Department of Materials and Production.
Furthermore, in order to ensure an economically viable model for product take-back, it is crucial to develop an efficient logistics process that includes everything from the return of end-of-life products, to the analysis of their condition and an automatic disassembly process.
- When the products come back, their quality will vary depending on what environments they have been exposed to and what they have been used for. Therefore, it is necessary to requalify components and materials in order to be able to determine what needs to be done to ensure a quality that lasts in new products. Finally, there is a need to create a production concept that can effectively incorporate inputs from this circular process, which in several respects challenges the traditional manufacturing process, says Brian Vejrum Wæhrens.
In the future, the circular approach to product lifecycle will also become an integral part of the development process so that components that come back will have been designed to be recycled into new products from the beginning, and so that the production process will have been designed to handle the conditions that circularity offers us.
The project, which is supported by MADE and Innovation Fund Denmark, has already shown good results, and Grundfos is now about to scale up the method.