Life Cycle Assessment of Consumer Electronics: Marketability and Product Development

November 15, 2019 Cadence PCB Solutions

Linear economy versus circular economy for consumer electronics

 

Regardless of whether you believe in global warming or it is a hoax made by some secretive power brokers, the fact is, the world is much warmer than what it was than a couple of decades ago. Back then, the air-conditioner was almost non-existence in residential houses where I grew up, but now, I’m in shock of the electricity bill for having four air conditioners in the house.

It’s undeniable that climate change is a reality, and the planet is, in a way, unhealthy compared to generations ago. Much of the damage was caused by technological growth in disregard of the earth, including the production and use of consumer electronics. Before the earth gets any sicker, PCB designers could play a part in minimizing the negative impact of consumer electronics by adopting a life cycle assessment.

What Is Life Cycle Assessment?

Life cycle assessment (LCA) refers to a set of analytical processes that evaluate the impact of products on the environment. It is a ‘cradle-to-grave’ method that takes into account the resources used and wastes or emissions produced throughout the production, usage, and disposal of the products. 

As societies become more sensitive to environmental changes, guidelines are drafted to ensure that manufacturers perform life cycle assessments on every aspect of the product lifecycle. The Japan Electronics and Information Technology Industries Association has created a standard guideline to streamline the evaluation amongst manufacturers in performing LCA.

Why Is Life Cycle Assessment Important For Consumer Electronics?

Like it or not, consumer electronics are significant contributors to environmental pollutants. As the latest smartphones hit the market, millions of consumers will be disposing of their older smartphones. The same happens for other household electronics like TV, laptops, printers, or a blender. 

These electronics are either disposed of or recycled to claim materials like copper and gold. However, the process of disposing of and to an extent, recycling, may result in harmful toxins being released to the environment. Components like lead, cadmium, mercury, and flame retardants may pollute the environment. 

It’s a mistake to assume that consumer electronics only pose problems to the earth at the end of their lifecycle. The choice of materials and manufacturing are also known causes that change the balance in the ecosystem. Electronics production involved both renewable and non-renewable sources such as copper, titanium, and gold. Traditional mining approaches often damage landscapes and release toxins into the earth. 

 

Pile of discarded circuit boards and other electronics

Electronics waste is hurting the environment.

 

There are also concerns about emissions of harmful gasses and wastewater during the manufacturing of consumer electronics. The world is not going to stop producing electronics, but as humans are getting more conscious of the environment, life cycle assessment becomes ever more crucial in minimizing the negative impacts. 

Design Factors That Impact Life Cycle Assessment Of Consumer Electronics

It seems the burden of minimizing negative environmental effects of consumer electronics fall largely on the manufacturers and consumers. However, as PCB designers, we can do our part to tip the balance in favor of the earth. 

Here’s how:

1. Increase PCB Serviceability

You can start by increasing the serviceability of the PCB. Some components may wear out faster than others, and they should be identified in advanced. Strategic components placements and designations also encourage repair efforts on the PCB. If that’s not possible, you should consider adopting modular designs by separating the PCB by functions. This minimizes electronics waste should parts of the PCB failed. 

2. Use RoHS-Compliance Components

PCB designers have a crucial role in determining the choice of components used in a PCB. As far as the environment is concerned, the decision should lean towards using RoHS compliance components. Often referred to as lead-free components, RoHS certified components are also free from nine other substances like mercury and cadmium. These chemical substances, when leecheds into the earth, can do great damages to our health.

 

Gloves working on the testing and servicing of a circuit board

A serviceable PCB means a lesser amount of electronic waste.

 

With the life cycle assessment that comes into play, you’ll most likely already have plenty thoughts on your mind when starting a PCB project. Make sure to be using Cadence’s suite of PCB design and analysis tools to reduce the amount of work on your shoulders. It also helps to have a feature-packed PCB designer such as OrCAD PCB designer, especially when it comes to engineering the PCB for serviceability.

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts

About the Author

Cadence PCB solutions is a complete front to back design tool to enable fast and efficient product creation. Cadence enables users accurately shorten design cycles to hand off to manufacturing through modern, IPC-2581 industry standard.

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