LEDucation presenters specify a ‘deconstructive’ approach to more sustainable luminaires

March 16, 2022
A second LEDucation virtual session on integrating circularity into the lighting industry provided action items for the product development process all the way to end of life.

VIRTUAL EVENT RECAP, PART 2 — Circularity and sustainability are intertwined concepts making their way into the lighting design and supply chain. The aim is to move beyond simply providing energy-efficient LED lighting by minimizing greenhouse gas–producing processes and developing quality illumination products that can be repurposed or replaced with less waste.

During the afternoon of Mar. 14, LEDucation hosted a second virtual Monday session on the circular economy, summarizing how Design for Disassembly (DfD) processes can reduce product waste and even speed up manufacturing with a unique perspective on the product development scheme. (Read our earlier report on the experience of designers, manufacturers, and lighting industry interest groups with putting circular economy principles into practice.)

Lighting research scientist Kate Hickcox of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) began with the statement that “more than 80% of the carbon impact of a product is determined during the design stage.” The manufacturing of components itself is an energy-intensive process, she explained, and careful decisions can reduce the amount of materials used — or the amount of materials that cannot be reclaimed or recycled for other purposes — and lower manufacturing burden, thereby reducing embodied carbon.

Hickcox outlined three ways in which Design for Disassembly (DfD) decisions support a circular product development model:

  • Increase material efficiency
  • Extend product lifetime
  • Improve recycling efficiency

Next, Aaron Smith, vice president of technology and R&D at Finelite, raised the question of how to design a product from the beginning, before its usable life, to determine what to do with it at end of life. Sometimes, he said, materials are chosen because on the surface they are promoted as recyclable — for example, the average milk carton. However, “most recycling centers won’t take them, even though [the paper is] claimed to be recyclable material,” Smith observed.

Design for Disassembly in lighting begins with the notion that the luminaire will be deconstructed, any parts that can be replaced will be, and anything else that can be recycled or repurposed will reduce waste.

So how can product developers and manufacturers strategize for DfD? Smith described a number of steps that can enable DfD and circular outcomes:

  • Group components for assembly by common material types while streamlining the number and variety of components
  • Select modular or interchangeable components to help futureproof the lighting product
  • Eliminate or reduce the complexity of fasteners, and develop tool-less designs or those that can leverage a common toolset
  • Minimize wires and composite polymers (composites often can only be recovered by shredding, which often results in more landfill waste)
  • Consider joining methods. Utilize snap fits, common screws, and tabs for fastening wherever possible to simplify disassembly
  • Use molded-in colors and finishes or low-VOC powder coating over potentially hazardous materials such as additive coatings, paints, and plating

Smith concluded that the goals for DfD are not only to have minimal parts for disposal but also to make the luminaire simpler to install, repair and replace, and disassemble. Applying these design principles can actually speed production, he noted.

Turning to suggestions for professionals across the lighting design and supply chain, Hickcox quoted Mark Ridler, head of design at London-based BDP, an architectural, design, and engineering firm, saying, “A luminaire isn’t circular unless the project is, too.” (Ridler has presented on circular economy concepts applied in lighting design projects, which you can watch on YouTube from the LpS Digital event channel.) Hickcox encouraged designers, specifiers, representatives, and distributors alike to understand and incorporate circularity in their business; educate clients on available products; support manufacturers who integrate circularity into their product model; set both company and project level goals for modularity and replaceability; and remain abreast of financial and service models that can balance costs for customers. As in the previous circular economy panel presentation, Smith noted that Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) will enable designers and specifiers to analyze and leverage their partner and luminaire selections as a message about adopting sustainable processes and products.

CARRIE MEADOWS is managing editor of LEDs Magazine, with 20 years’ experience in business-to-business publishing across technology markets including solid-state technology manufacturing, fiberoptic communications, machine vision, lasers and photonics, and LEDs and lighting.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.