How to reduce the carbon footprint of our electronic products?

Committed to an objective of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, France must quickly move towards greater carbon sobriety at all levels of society. Industry is no exception to the rule since it alone was responsible for the emission of 78 million tonnes of CO2 in France in 20191.

To achieve carbon neutrality in 2050, manufacturers must keep in mind the environmental impact of the entire life cycle of their manufactured products: production, extraction of materials, logistics, final assembly but also recycling… All these elements participate in the ecological footprint of a product

In order to find the ideal compromise, the most effective way to proceed would be to rethink the product design phase, which is the pivotal moment for setting sustainability objectives. Indeed, at this initial stage of the life cycle where the needs are defined, the leverage effect is considerable. To achieve this, there are different approaches:

Do more with less

The “do more with less” approach emerged when primary materials became scarce and expensive. While this may not always be reflected in price, every material and primary product should be considered a scarce resource from a sustainability perspective. This approach takes into account the consumption of mechanical components, the necessary properties of these materials, as well as the quantities that must be produced.

For example, a manufacturer of high-quality electronic devices intended for mass consumption notably switched from casings made of very resistant composite materials to aluminum casings. This has enabled it to drastically reduce total energy consumption during the production, transportation and processing of materials.

Miniaturization as a success factor

In the field of electronics, the power density and the functional density of many components are constantly increasing. Developers can now achieve the same level of functionality with fewer components and reduce product size in the long run. Thus, a smaller housing reduces the necessary expenses related to materials, their processing and their transport. In addition, the electronic waste generated at the end of the life cycle is less important.

An overview, many levers

Still in the field of electronics, it is possible to achieve a certain degree of eco-efficiency with a mechatronic approach. Costs associated with cooling and circuit protection can be minimized by arranging the layout of active components on the board or in the case. For example, measuring devices contained in metal casings rather than plastic casings serve as heat sinks for the power electronics when the latter are arranged in a suitable manner and play a protective role. This drastically reduces the amount of components that need to be purchased and installed, which greatly speeds up and simplifies assembly.

For product developers, these opportunities create complex conflicts of interest: selecting a more environmentally friendly material during the use and recycling phases can lead to substantial additional expenses during the production process. In order to strike a balance, it is best to plan production and its automation from the product design phase and between production stages. Indeed, monitoring energy consumption while optimizing processes can lead to significant energy savings. Targeted energy management thus reduces consumption.

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