By Charles King, Pund-IT® December 21, 2022
Sustainability is popular in the tech industry, with numerous vendors highlighting their strategies and efforts for enhancing the efficient use of energy and raw materials for products and packaging. However, fewer organizations discuss the mechanics of that process, and how enhancing specific steps in complex processes can deliver greater results.
A year ago, Dell introduced Concept Luna, a proof-of-concept developed in collaboration with Intel that aims to rethink how personal computers, peripherals and accessories are designed and manufactured so component parts can be easily removed, reclaimed and reused. Last week, Glen Robson, CTO of Dell’s Client Solutions Group, published a blog discussing Concept Luna’s progress on its first anniversary. Let’s consider Robson’s points in more detail.
Challenging the high-tech status quo
Why are projects and programs, like Concept Luna potentially important? According to the Waste Electronics and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Forum, in 2021 some 57.4 million tons of E-Waste was discarded—more than the total weight of The Great Wall of China, the world’s largest man-made object.
As an example, the Forum estimates that, annually, 151M mobile phones—approximately 416,000 per day— are trashed, incinerated or landfilled. Along with being wasteful, the process carries profound environmental and health costs. It is estimated that 40% of heavy metals in U.S. landfills come from discarded electronics. Plus, according to the EPA, an undetermined volume of E-Waste is shipped from developed countries to undeveloped countries that lack the facilities and expertise to dispose of it, leading to further health and environmental problems.
As anyone who has tried to replace a phone battery or faulty laptop component can attest, electronics are often difficult or even impossible to repair and reuse. That, in turn, significantly impacts recycling costs and efficiency. As Robson noted in his blog, “It can take recycling partners more than an hour to disassemble a PC with today’s technology, held together with screws, glues and various soldered components.”
Those complications can hinder or cripple recycling, especially efforts to scale reclamation processes to keep up with the tens of millions of outdated PCs and laptops that are discarded every year. Are there ways vendors can develop and design products to address these problems? Dell believes there are.
Concept Luna’s strategic simplification
Dell’s Concept Luna starts with a simple premise: Imagine a future where nothing goes to waste. Robson describes a process where “we harvest individual electronics components for a second, third or even fourth life.” When a device “is truly at the end of life, we refurbish and recycle it to incorporate these same materials into next-generation laptops, monitors or phones.”
How is Dell’s Experience Innovation Group leveraging Concept Luna to achieve that vision of the future? Three things:
- Sustainable design – Dell’s engineers have developed highly modular laptop and PC designs with component parts, including processors and boards, memory, storage and other components that can be quickly and easily removed. Glue, solder and mechanical connectors, like screws, are kept to a minimum. As a result, Concept Luna-based PCs can be disassembled in minutes.
- Intelligent telemetry – An often-neglected point in electronics design is that product components, like computer displays and peripherals, do not age or reach end-of-life at the same time. Concept Luna includes developing telemetry that monitors the performance and condition of individual devices and components, and alerts staff when parts need to be repaired or replaced. Robson describes it as, “Akin to how we maintain our vehicles: we don’t throw away the entire car when we need new tires or brakes.”
- Robotic automation – Finally, Dell commissioned a micro-factory to work with its Concept Luna design team, resulting in a device that can be disassembled robotically. This should vastly improve the time and human effort required for product recycling and refurbishment. As a result, those processes should be considerably easier to scale, improving their value to enterprises and service partners that manage hundreds of thousands of devices, and are also likely to enhance future Dell services and solutions.
As Glen Robson noted in his anniversary blog, while Concept Luna “is ‘just a concept’ right now, it is a long-term vision for how we achieve an even greater business and societal impact through circular design practices.” As such Concept Luna qualifies as an important part of Dell’s Advancing Sustainability goals and also stands as an innovative example of what electronics and electrical equipment makers can achieve.
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