REHYB@ÖSSUR: Sustainable development

15.09.2023. In this post, we will share some general thoughts on what needs to be considered when introducing sustainability into development process.

One of the UN sustainable development goals is “Responsible Consumption and Production “(goal #12). For designers and manufacturers, this means trying to meet this goal through smart design using methods and materials that have a low environmental footprint. Going forward, this will most likely become a requirement for new products and devices. Companies should strive to realise products with as low an environmental footprint as possible.

Many companies have already adopted this way of working, thinking about the whole life cycle of products. This means starting from understanding where the raw materials come from and how they are processed, all the way through to what happens to the product when it is no longer used. A vital step is to design products in such a way that parts are easily separable for reuse, recycling, or repair. Care should be taken to select raw materials and processes that minimise the lifetime environmental effect of the product.

There are, of course, trade-off decisions to be made. If a device is intended to last for a long time, more robustness may be needed and thus more resources (raw materials, energy, etc.) in the beginning. Reparability should be considered as well. On the other hand, for devices that are used for a short time or even for single use, simplicity may be the key design criteria. In all cases, it is important to consider what happens at the end of use; can a device or parts of it be reused or repurposed. Analysis like this is also very useful to compare options and understand which parts of a product or a device are critical when it comes to sustainability and thus point to potential improvement points for future developments.

Other points to consider are packaging and transport. For medical devices, the MDR (Regulation (EU) 2017/745) is setting requirements to this effect, and one of the General Safety and Performance Requirements (GSPR), Annex I, states that “Devices shall be designed, manufactured and packaged in such a way that their characteristics and performance during their intended use are not adversely affected during transport and storage… “. So, what is the best way to ensure that a device gets from the place where it is made to the point of use without compromising performance? Again, compromises may need to be made depending on transport method and distance. All in all, the packaging should be suitable for the purpose and designed with minimal environmental impact. In this respect, the packaging should be considered part of the product.

It can be expected that regulations on sustainability of products become more prominent in the coming years and maybe even become a requirement to participate in tenders, e.g., in the medical device field. It is highly advisable for designers and manufacturers to consider the sustainability of their devices early in development.