Electronic Technology for Sustainability

Electronic Technology for Sustainability

Electronic Technology for Sustainability and Innovation 

With an ever-growing focus on the global green agenda, there’s a correlating requirement to invest in the development of new technology for sustainability – in other words, creating products and applications that will enable us to prevent environmental damage and provide greater eco-protection.

However, while technology and sustainability may go hand-in-hand in terms of the solutions we develop to help slow down our impact on the world, there lies a dichotomy in their production – in that they generally require electronics to power them.

Electronic manufacturing faces its own issues as less than eco-friendly industry – so as specialists in high quality electronic components, circuit boards and products ourselves, we wanted to look at:

  • The role we play in the development of technology for sustainabiltiy benefits
  • How we can balance the impact our industry has on the environment
  • What changes we can look to implement to reduce this impact further

The role of electronics in sustainable innovation

Since environmental awareness has increased at pace over the last decade or so, it’s been met with myriad legislations across the world. Finally, in the face of unarguable data, governments and organisations have been compelled to instigate change in response to the impact our industrial, manufacturing and other activities have had - and continue to have - on the world around us.

This has brought about a sea of change in recent years, seeing huge moves forward in the innovation of sustainable technologies which we see all around us today. Some of the most significant technologies that have been developed and rolled-out include:

    •  Electronic vehicles
    • Green and renewable energy technologies
    • Smart home controls
    • LED lighting solutions
    • Smart buses and trams

All of these innovations have one thing - apart from sustainability - in common: they require circuit boards and electronic components to power them.

The dichotomy of sustainability in electronic manufacturing

Transparency should always be a given, so there’s no point in denying that there are several sustainability issues within the electronics industry – from both an environmental and social position.

As the Internet of Things and personal tech has become more and more far-reaching, one of the biggest issues for the environment when it comes to electronic technology is the sheer volume of e-waste – products that end up in landfill at end-of-life, when their usefulness expires, or when the next upgrade is available.

We also have the inherent industry issues of the materials and methods required to manufacture PCBs and electronic products, with concerns about sourcing, chemical waste/pollution and energy consumption. Of course with so many components being primarily manufactured in the Far East, there’s also the carbon footprint implications from within the supply chain.

From the mining of essential materials such as aluminium, copper, gold, nickel, palladium and tin, to the use of solvents and other chemicals, there’s no escaping some of the environmental fall-out caused by the production of electronic technologies – but with so much at stake, it’s all a matter of balance.

Solving sustainability in electronic design and manufacturing

If we’re to continue to develop technologies to help us achieve our global sustainability goals, yet are bound by the need for electronic assemblies to drive these products and innovations, manufacturers need to commit to minimising their impact as much as possible.

From a practical perspective, there are challenges to this due to the components and processes required in the manufacturing of electronic PCBs and circuitry – but as with any industry, improvements have been and continue to be made in regards to sustainable practices.

Solving sustainability in electronic technology requires a two-fold approach, with considerations and opportunities existing at both the design and manufacturing stages.

The key ways that electronics companies can help to complement the sustainable technologies their PCBs power by making their own activities more environmentally friendly is through the reduction of raw material usage to help conserve natural resources, reducing energy use in the manufacture of electronic components and reducing pollution.

Here are some of the things that we’re looking at implementing here at Daletech, as we move towards a greener future – all electronics manufacturers, take note:

  • Sourcing more eco-friendly components to prevent future damage to the eco-system
  • Using recycled materials and components where possible e.g. stripping down old PCBs
  • Utilise 3D printing technology
  • Abide by lean manufacturing principles
  • Source components as locally as possible where viable, or in larger quantities, to reduce carbon footprint caused by air/sea/land logistics

Source components as locally as possible where viable, or in larger quantities, to reduce carbon footprint caused by air/sea/land logisticsThere are also some great initiatives gaining ground to help the electronics industry deal with its inherent sustainability issues too, such as the SSUCHY Project. This EU initiative is working to develop recyclable and biodegradable composite plastics (bio-plastics) which, among other things, could be harnessed as a more sustainable option for wire coatings and electronic housings.

Researchers are also working on a wood-derived cellulose 3D printable materials, with the intention of using this eco-friendly solution as an alternative to plastics/polymers in the manufacture of electronics.

Also of interest is the work of organisations such as SERI and also Materion – who’ve set up a recycling initiative to reclaim precious metals from throughout supply chains, plus also rolled-out their QMet alloys which are less environmentally damaging to produce than many other popular material options.

Some other more favourable materials that electronics manufacturers should be looking to utilise in order to improve their sustainability credentials include:

  • Aluminium
  • Borosilicate glass
  • Iron allloys
  • Graphene

There are other ways that OEMs, technology innovators and electronics manufacturers can help to reduce their environmental impact and promote sustainability too, such as:

  • Design and manufacture more robust, durable products
  • Rework and upgrade obsolete products
  • Focus on energy efficiency in product design
  • Build and verify prototypes before mass production, adhering to Design for Manufacture principles
  • Utilise printing technologies for electronics rather than traditional methods that generate more material waste
  • Create products that are repairable rather than replaceable
  • Use more sustainably sourced packaging

Of course there’s a consumer responsibility too, so education on recycling and more access to effective electronics recycling schemes is also needed in order to drive us towards our global sustainability goals.

Using technology for sustainability to address the green agenda

It’s clear that without the use of electronics, we can’t power the sustainable technology we need to make the world a healthier and happier place for future generations.

As designers and manufacturers of electronic components and PCBs, we - along with our industry counterparts - need to take as many measures as possible to ensure we minimise our impact on the planet, while simultaneously providing the power behind incredible sustainable innovation.

On balance, despite the issues the electronics industry needs to address, the incredible things we’re achieving as a global community through the introduction of sustainable technologies is well worth it.

When you think of the massive advances that have been made in regards to electric powered vehicles/public transport and renewable energy solutions especially, it’s easy to see how many benefits electronics offer towards changing the world for the better.

Other exciting innovations in sustainable technologies that we’re seeing come to the fore thanks to the power of PCBs and other essential electronic components include:

  • SMART farming technology
  • Commercial transport
  • Sophisticated wildlife and endangered species tracking devices

In Sweden, they’re even currently planning to build a road that will charge electric vehicles as they drive over it – all thanks to the power of electronics.

Supporting sustainable technology innovation

Having recently been through a period of development here at Daletech and with genuine passion to be part of the solution rather than the problem, we’ve slightly reframed our service intent from ‘supporting manufacturers’ to ‘supporting manufacturers to make a greener world’.

Our robotic pick-and-place machine offers greater efficiency that previous methods,

As well as looking into our own supply chains, practices and materials, we’re also committed to building powerful partnerships with manufacturers and innovators of technology for sustainability – using our 30+ years of experience to help develop the most eco-friendly products and technologies with our associates and clients.

We’ve worked on electric vehicle technologies in the past and have a wide range of skills and experience that naturally lead to a more sustainable approach in the process of our work and product development.

Here are some of the reasons to consider Daletech as your sustainable innovation partner:

  • Vast experience across multiple sectors giving us in-depth insight into what solutions can help provide the best outcomes.
  • The ability to advise on best practice for a smooth manufacturing cycle.
  • We work according to lean principles.
  • Updated manufacturing facility allows maximum efficiency.
  • Sophisticated software to monitor and track efficiencies and usage.
  • We specialise in technologically advanced products and can help with technical documentation.
  • A trusted, reputable network of suppliers for even the most specialised components
  • Product design and prototyping expertise – we can design, troubleshoot and verify products and electronic components in the first instance.
  • Ability to run small batches to verify new designs on a quick turnaround – we can rapidly assemble prototype boards even if you have your own manufacturing facilities to save you the time and cost of re-setting your machines.
  • Extensive knowledge in reworking and upgrading products.
  • Assistance in product verification prior to high volume roll-out and expertise in bringing new products to market.
  • Our trained engineers know how to deliver a robust, high quality product.
  • We use recycled packaging materials wherever possible and reuse where viable.
  • Energy efficient LED lighting.
  • Resilient supply chain and supplier consolidation to reduce carbon footprint.

We’re here for an informal chat if you’d like to speak to us about developing your own products or technology for sustainability – and we’d equally love to hear from other experts who may wish to exchange ideas and information on making the electronics industry more sustainable, as let’s face it, we’re all in this together.

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