In my previous blogs on design for disassembly (DfD) I discussed how recycling rates can be increased by designing consumer products from the ground up with DfD principles:

  • Reducing the number of different materials
  • Enabling an efficient disassembly process
  • Making disassembly an intuitive and compelling process

In the first two blogs I focussed on ways to make disassembly easier and simpler by reducing the number of materials and enabling an efficient disassembly process. However, these methods on their own do not guarantee that the consumer will actually carry out the disassembly if the process is not perceived to be easier and simpler. The subject of this final blog is how disassembly steps can be designed to be intuitive and compelling by using guidance tools and feedback.

Guiding the consumer

Designers can help the consumer identify, understand and carryout the intended disassembly by deliberately incorporating signifying features such as graphics, thumb indents, catches and surface textures into their designs. The creative (and tasteful) use of signifiers is necessary to differentiate between the main features of the product and those intended for disassembly.

Using a very simple example, the porridge container pictured to the left below has been designed for disassembly and recycling. It is comprised of a polypropylene pot and lid, aluminium foil seal and an insulating cardboard sleeve. What is good about this design is that the lid and seal have to be removed as part of the process, as is the case with most food containers. However, although the cardboard sleeve can be removed, it is not at all obvious to the consumer that it can and should be separated from the pot before disposal. A very simple design feature, such as the “peel back” and “zip” signifier used on Yeo Valley yogurt container shown below could make this removal step more intuitive and compelling.

Of course, giving the consumer more freedom to access the inside of a product has its risks. If the consumer in the previous example were to remove the cardboard before finishing the porridge, they would likely burn their hands. To prevent confusing and unintended disassembly paths, or potentially dangerous misuse of the product when prematurely disassembled, designers can use constraint features.

Reassurance at each step

Like me, most engineers enjoy taking things apart, however, for the average consumer the process of pulling off snap fits and unscrewing bolts can be intimidating.  By providing feedback, the consumer can be reassured that they are doing what is intended at each step, building confidence and increasing likelihood of success.

Using the example of the porridge and yogurt pots again, once I had removed the cardboard sleeve of the porridge container (below left); there was no indication that this was what I was supposed to do. The inside face was blank and provided my action of disassembly with no “positive” feedback. To improve products like this, designers could simply include a recycling sign, “friendly” graphic or even some other incentive such as a way to reclaim “points” (which mean prizes), as in the case of the yogurt pot, as shown below to the right.

Bring it all together (or apart)

By following these principles designers can help consumers recycle or repair more products at the end of their useful life, change consumer behaviour and overcome the stall in recycling rates. In these three blogs I have focussed on consumer products; however, these approaches can also enable “mass de-manufacture”, extending the benefits to more complicated products which can be returned to the originator for rapid disassembly, repair and recycling.

James Westley

James is a Senior Engineer within our Mechanical and Analytical group with 5 years of experience in the energy sector. He is a composite specialist interested in projects which promote sustainability.