Eco-design: Sustainable from the start
Today, a large number of demands and requirements are placed on product development. Products must not only function reliably in the customer´s application in accordance with HARTING´s quality standards but must also be manufactured safely and cost-efficiently at the specific production site and comply with applicable standards and laws.
The legal requirements currently focus strongly on the avoidance of substances that are hazardous to the environment and health. The ban on lead has already been in place for some time, while a ban on PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) is also being prepared currently.
Consequently, on the development side it is vital to monitor these bans closely and switch to alternative materials and processes in good time. Information on these substance bans must be available in good time in the global development department and suitable alternative materials and their properties must be fully outlined and explained. In order to achieve this goal, we have provided extensive information on alternative materials in our knowledge management system, while also ensuring procedurally that every material selection is reviewed by experts at the right time in order to correct a faulty selection in good time.
But the focus is not only on legal requirements, the important demand for greater sustainability also influences product development. Here, the eco-design principles as shown in Table X play a significant role.
Ecodesign principle - Destination
Longevity - Lifetime adapted to the target application
Repairability - Replacement and improvement of individual components possible
Material efficiency - Lightweight construction, miniaturisation, process optimisation
Energy efficiency - Lower energy consumption in production and operation
Low in hazardous substances - No substances in the product or in production that are hazardous to the environment or health
Renewable raw materials - High proportion of renewable raw materials in the product and its packaging
Recyclability - Recyclable materials in the product and packaging, easy separation of different materials
Some product features have a direct positive influence on several eco-design factors. For example, product weight will not only influence material efficiency, but will also reduce energy consumption in a mobile application. Examples of recent product developments that particularly reduce product weight are the SPE interface, which significantly reduces the weight of the wiring harness due to the lower number of cores. In the development of high-current contacts, we were also able to significantly increase the current-carrying capacity with the same contact diameter and thereby achieve significant weight savings in customer applications.
Reductions of the contact resistance also has several positive effects. The current carrying capacity increases, and at the same time the emitted heat and the energy losses are reduced. This lowers cooling requirements and lifts the energy efficiency of the connected system.
Not all eco-design principles can be reconciled with the product requirements. Overmoulded connectors, for example, are cheaper and more robust, but more difficult to recycle and repair. Appropriate compromises must be found here in order to meet the competing requirements in the best possible manner.
In order to solve this problem, HARTING is taking part in a funded project that aims to relate the eco-design principles to each other and make them systematically assessable (see box).
Once this project is completed, we will be able to meet our customers´ wishes and demands for cost-effective products that can be manufactured and operated sustainably, thereby making important contributions to environmental protection.
Sustainable Lifecycle Engineering:
In future, the focus will no longer be placed solely on technical and commercial requirementsin development. Rather, there will be an additional examination of factors such as the environmental compatibility of the product or the extraction conditions associated with raw materials. But at what point should sustainability information - and above all which information – flow into the development process? We are investigating these questions in the joint project Sustainable Lifecycle Engineering.
Methods and tools are being developed based on three fields of action - the identification of relevant sustainability requirements, the derivation of model-based decision support and the inclusion of the product life cycle. HARTING will implement these in its own development during the project and feed the experience gained back to the project team. In this way, we will arrive at a systematic development methodology that makes sustainability requirements transparent and takes them into account from the outset in the decision-making process. This is an exciting and innovative approach that we are driving forward together with our partners Diebold Nixdorf, Fraunhofer IEM, Miele, Siemens Digital Software Industries, Paderborn University, Wago and the Wuppertal Institute. The project is being funded by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalisation and Energy of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in the it's OWL cluster of excellence over a period of three years.