Periodic Reporting for period 1 - sustainablySMART (Sustainable Smart Mobile Devices Lifecycles through Advanced Re-design, Reliability, and Re-use and Remanufacturing Technologies)

Summary
The project sustainablySMART will change the lifecycle of mobile information and communication technology devices by developing new product design approaches. This includes enhanced end-of-life performance, re-use and remanufacturing aspects implemented on the product and...\n\nThe project sustainablySMART will change the lifecycle of mobile information and communication technology devices by developing new product design approaches. This includes enhanced end-of-life performance, re-use and remanufacturing aspects implemented on the product and printed circuit board level, as well as new re-/de-manufacturing processes with improved resource efficiency.
Mobile ICT products, such as smartphones and tablets, feature a significant environmental footprint whilst having a product life of few years only. Moreover, electronic devices incorporate a number of scarce and valuable resources, which by now cannot be recovered efficiently.
Consequently, only keeping those products or components ?alive? allows continuous efficient use of the once invested natural resources and emitted greenhouse gases. This approach implements the idea of a ?circular economy?, which subsumes approaches for keeping natural resources, materials, components and products in the industrial cycle beyond a first use phase. Implementation into corporate practice requires essentially new approaches how a company and its partners create value for the customer and how the company can capture the value.
An effective circular economy approach for smart mobile devices prioritizes lifetime extension of products and components.
Modularized smartphones are a promising concept as they are easy to disassemble, to upgrade and to repair. Technically this calls for standardized interfaces.
At the end of first life of such products it is a challenge to tap into the upcoming wave of waste mobile ICT devices. We expect in the near-term future high return rates of these devices. This is a perfect timing to invest in research to reuse and refurbish these products with sophisticated technologies. Apart, we consider technological evolution toward the Internet of Things, which may provide a wide field for cascade re-use of single components.\n\nThroughout the first 18 months progress has been made in both major domains of the project: To design products for a Circular Economy and to keep (existing) products in a Circular Economy.
The first truly modular smartphone on the market, the Fairphone 2, has been assessed for recyclability and actually the modular approach enhances recyclability of materials significantly. A Life Cycle Assessment analyzed the environmental impacts of going modular: Additional connectors, printed circuit board area and module housing do not come for free, but increase the environmental footprint of production. This additional footprint is easily offset through a better reparability, thus longer assumed use time of the phone. The results of the reparability study and the environmental implications of modularization have been presented at the 2017 Mobile World Congress.
For European SMEs it is particularly challenging to get sustainable high-tech products off the ground. High initial investment to ramp up production is a barrier. MicroPro developed a first prototype of a tablet to overcome this barrier and to implement design features for better reparability, reuse and recycling. Design of the housing and main structural parts took into account the manufacturing capabilities of FabLabs, as these are meant to produce first batches of the ?iameco D4R tablet? later on.
Splitting the functionality of mobile IT devices in distinct modular building blocks will reduce complexity of the backbone and facilitate repair and servicing of the device. By now, the PCB of a mobile IT product for the B2B market has been redesigned to accommodate for four distinct modules, a processor module being produced as a prototype already. First ideas for a reversible interconnection technology have been developed already.
As long as products with significantly enhanced modularization and thus reparability, recyclability and reusability do not hit the market at large, end-of-life processes need to be advanced: Data erasure, as a potential barrier for takeback and reuse, does not yet properly work with smartphone devices. Factory reset among Android devices has been demonstrated not to erase private data. Methods are under development to erase data from FLASH memory through new software tools. As quality and lifetime of batteries increases, batteries contained in a tablet or smartphone might be still good for reuse. Fraunhofer IZM investigated ageing models and now the state-of-health can be determined by knowing the history of such a battery. Automated sorting of smartphones for remanufacturing and component reuse requires gentle handling. Appropriate feeders have been investigated and are ready for implementation in a sorting process, including optical model recognition. The disassembly step will feature a collaborative robotics platform, developed to work cooperatively with a worker. Extraction of boards is followed by desoldering of semiconductors (Ball Grid Array components), for which laboratory trials have been completed successfully and a machinery concept is under verification now. The individual rework steps for BGAs have been successfully implemented on lab scale.
Technology research is complemented by the development of innovative business models throughout the value chain. First outlines of such business concepts are ready.\n\nThe modularization approach of sustainablySMART will go beyond the reparability focus implemented by now with the Fairphone 2: With the PuzzlePhone standard interfaces will be defined, which will allow various players to contribute to the development of compatible smartphone modules. Modularization of a tablet design will enable FabLabs and other manufacturing hubs to assemble high-tech products. Both strategies, that of the PuzzlePhone and that for the D4R tablet are supposed to reshore production of electronics back to Europe. sustainablySMART demonstrates for the first time, how embedding technology can act as a facilitator of modularization on the printed circuit board level, which is an essential technology step to address design for a Circular Economy on board level. All these product technology developments are likely to lead to extended product lifetimes.
Advanced sorting and collaborative disassembly technology will significantly lower processing times for disassembly of smartphones and component extraction, either for repair or for repurposing of parts for new applications. These technology developments will open new markets for refurbishers and other players at end-of-first-life. This involves also new employment opportunities.
Although rework of used semiconductor components as such is not new, process and product quality are crucial. Processes developed by ITR and Semicon demonstrate the feasibility of desoldering and reworking components at high quality standards for a secondary market. Besides an economic dimension this approach particularly helps to keep electronics components in the loop, which have been produced once with a huge environmental footprint.
Any kind of reparability assessment by now lacks a sound scientific basis. Currently iFixit is developing such scientifically validated metrics to allow third parties an independent and transparent assessment of the reparability of a given device.
These innovations can also be mirrored in related environmental product policy, such as the European Eco-design Directive. Input to these stakeholder processes is continuously provided.
More information
Sustainable Smart Mobile Devices Lifecycles through Advanced Re-design, Reliability, and Re-use and Remanufacturing Technologies
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