How can we turn trash into treasure? The architecture drivers for a circular economy

This is the third article in the series on the topic of circular economy and architecture drivers for circular equipment. In the previous two articles, Architecture drivers for circular economy; Why sell & forget won’t cut it anymore and Architecture drivers for circular economy; Service, solution, device architecture, I have highlighted the need for new business models when the industry moves to circular economy, and I have mentioned some aspects of circular design and drivers that need to be enabled for circular economy propositions. In this last article, I will describe a few more drivers for equipment that will enable circular economy.

At the end of its useful life an equipment is usually considered trash and ends up as landfill. However, this equipment even after the end of its useful life, still has value as there is energy spent in producing materials and parts used in the manufacturing process. The energy used is not only energy gained from sources such as fossil fuels, also human energy and intellect is used. One may wonder if this equipment at the end of its useful life has become trash or treasure? After all there is an amount of energy and material locked in it that we are throwing away by putting it on a landfill. Shouldn’t we try to make an optimum use of resources spent in creating the equipment, or in other words can we turn trash into treasure? In line with the circular economy model, the equipment should be taken back into a reverse supply chain to conserve the material, intellect and energy spent in producing equipment as much as possible. The following are some architecture drivers that will enable reusing as much of the equipment as possible.

The reverse supply chain

The reverse supply chain | Architecture Drivers for Circular Economy; Trash or Treasure

According to the circular economy model, equipment may be refurbished for a secondary use, reusable parts may be harvested for repairing other equipment and when no refurbishment is possible, or no parts can be retrieved, the equipment’s constituent materials may be harvested.

Driver: A reverse supply chain that takes back the equipment that has ended its useful life is needed.

Driver: It should be possible to make an assessment of the reuse possibilities of the equipment.



Refurbishment | Architecture Drivers for Circular Economy; Trash or Treasure

The preferred way of circulating equipment in the circular economy model is to refurbish it and put it to use again as often as possible. This way most of the equipment is reused and most of the energy and materials used in its creation are preserved. When refurbishing equipment, it is cleaned, any defects in the equipment are repaired and aesthetics/appearance of the equipment is improved if possible.

Driver: The equipment architecture provides capabilities to estimate the remaining life of the equipment to make decisions of whether to refurbish it or not.

Driver: The architecture must allow easy changes to the aesthetic elements so that the equipment remains attractive for the next users.

Driver: It must be possible to physically clean the equipment for use by the next customer.

Driver: In addition to physical cleaning, the architecture must enable preservation of data security and privacy of the previous users of the equipment.


Harvesting parts

Harvesting parts | Architecture Drivers for Circular Economy; Trash or Treasure

When an equipment cannot be reused or repaired, some of its parts could be reused for repair of other equipment. This is possible because parts of an equipment do not age and lose their functionality at the same rate. The extracted parts should be stored and made available for other equipment. Prompt availability of these parts is needed to ensure minimal down time of equipment.

Driver: The architecture of the equipment must enable easy extraction of parts for reuse.

Driver: The architecture of the equipment and parts must provide capabilities to assess the remaining lifetime of the parts by e.g. counting the number of use of a part.

Driver: The supply chain architecture must allow for storage and prompt delivery of harvested parts.


Harvesting materials

Harvesting materials | Architecture Drivers for Circular Economy; Trash or Treasure

When an equipment is not reusable and there are no parts that can be reused, materials can be harvested.

Driver: The architecture of the equipment should enable that materials can be easily harvested with non-specialized tools.


It is important to mention here that it is not only the equipment architecture that should enable these aspects of circular economy, but also the process and organization architecture should be designed for circular economy. The recently passed “right to repair” law in New York state as an example will bring back ways of repair and reuse of electronic and other types of equipment. New business partners will come into picture such as supply chain partners, refurbishment partners, material extraction and processing partners etc. This will affect the process and organization architecture.

In this set of articles, I have mentioned a few high-level architectural drivers for products and equipment in line with the circular economy model. Starting from these drivers, a good set of requirements can be made to drive circular economy aware propositions in the market.

aly syed philips industry consulting

Dr. Aly Aamer Syed

Consultant Innovation management & System architectures
Industry Consulting, Philips Engineering Solutions