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How to Extend the Life of Products

dornfeld, david, u of california berkeleyDéjà vu all over again!

My last few articles have been concentrating on effective utilization of resources and resource productivity as a driver for manufacturing (including green manufacturing) innovation. In part 3 of that series a list of seven ways to improve resource effectiveness was given. These were (and see part 3 for the details):

1) Avoid use of a resource in the first place 2) Light-weighting 3) Increased yield 4) Reduced footprint of resources 5) Insure high re-use yield and low “cost” of reuse 6) Leveraged resources 7) Extended life

It’s that last one that is the focus in this posting – extended life. With apologies to Yogi Berra, the goal is to get people to use products longer or, conversely, give products a longer useful life. Sort of a “ground hog day” for products if you recall the film by that name some time ago. Simply put, the longer a product lasts the lower the amortized impact – impact/unit of time. And, this is generally better.

One caution – as was covered in the posting on Green and Frugal (including graphs on trade-offs in replacement of products) the one circumstance that might cause this “longer is better” scenario to play out badly is if the technology of the product (or material, or production methodology or operating characteristics) change, meaning for the better or lower impact or consumption, then it might actually be better to replace the product more frequently. Of course you’d want to ‘do the numbers’ on this to make sure the net effect was positive.

If this is to work, it requires the ability to update products, accept “older” styles, design and build products to last longer, change consumer preferences to accept the longer use of a product, etc. The focus here is on “updating the product” both technically as well as, to some extent, stylishly.

Before launching into this “make the product last longer” one might ask – What do consumers want? I am not an expert on consumer preferences. But, it seems reasonable that, with respect to product use by a consumer, there are some simple categories that can define behavior. So, at the risk of getting way in over my head on this, let’s charge ahead.

These categories might be consumers who: 1) replace a product when it is broken (as long as the product is still needed) 2) replace a product  when they are tired of it or it is “out of style” 3) replace a product when the technology is improved enough (as opposed to simply style)

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