Haughton Design’s mission is to responsibly accelerate your medical device development. As part of this mission, where possible, we aim to utilise sustainable and circular methodologies to reduce the environmental impact throughout the entire life cycle of a device. Senior Design Engineer, Will, shares guidance on how to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA):

One of the ways to reduce the environmental impact of a device, is first to understand the device. To do this, we would conduct an initial assessment of the device, splitting the life cycle up into the 5 core stages: Materials Source, Manufacturing & Assembly, Packaging & Shipping, Use, Disposal & Recovery.

An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is somewhat similar to a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). You may require an LCA to complete an EIA. LCAs are large, and somewhat complex studies that drill into the detail of the complete life cycle of a device. On the other hand, environmental impact assessments are usually stake-holder facing documents that provide a brief and transparent overview of where the high-impacting factors typically reside. Sometimes EIAs can be conducted as desktop exercises where data is readily available or, they may require detailed LCA’s to complete.

EIAs can form part of the marketable information pack for a product or device. There is growing consumer demand regarding environmentally friendly devices, and sustainability is becoming more important in the procurement decision making process too. More and more often, companies are providing EIAs with their products.

The scope of the assessment is also determined by the availability and complexity of data currently available. For example, if data is not yet available for the energy requirements of production manufacture, is it possible to make assumptions and calculate figures using GMP and typical methodologies? Or, is a detailed assessment required to gather true recorded data?

It may be possible to conduct basic desktop assessments referencing LCA papers of similar devices, or manufacturing methods. It may also be possible to evaluate a design using SolidWorks Sustainability where-by material models contain pre-validated environmental data. Certain assumptions can be based upon the material used, the manufacturing methodology, the location of manufacture, the shipping required and the operating life of the device.

When reviewing the environmental impact of a device, it’s important to be aware of the environmental factors deemed ‘crucial’. These impacts include:

  • Air Acidification
  • Carbon Footprint & Global Warming Potential (GWP)
  • Water Eutrophication
  • Energy Consumed

Other non-crucial, but still important impacts may include:

  • Land use (arable/non arable land)
  • Natural Habitats
  • Water use (amount required, drinking water/non-drinking water)
  • Ozone depletion
  • Waste generation
  • And many others!

The use-case scenario of a device may differ greatly. For example, an MRI machine is designed for repeated use. Engineers have designed the device for function, longevity, repairability, etc. Whereas a single-use medical device may have been designed for high-volume manufacture, material efficiency, and hopefully responsible disposal. Identifying early on what the most probable high-impact stages are for a device is key, however, it’s imperative that stages aren’t overlooked, as there may be unforeseen factors unaccounted for, for example when designing large MRI machines, the energy required to use the machine may be very high relative to the other stages, so engineering effort may be directed towards electrical efficiency and energy use. However, the disposal of the machine at the end of life may result in a large environmental concern, therefore circularity with parts and materials may be considered.

It’s not only possible to conduct an environmental impact assessment on current devices, but we also conduct them on early device concepts too. As listed above, certain assumptions might have to be made to generate quantifiable data, however, it is possible to use or reference this data to compare multiple conceptual device ideas or strategies to make an informed decision as to which device is the least impactful from an environmental perspective. These EIAs based on concepts then guide our design for sustainability strategy for the device we’re developing or indicate potential avenues of future consideration regarding next-generation platforms.

In a recent project, we identified that packaging and shipping was a high-impact factor relative to the other stages. To mitigate this impact, we formulated a design strategy to develop a device where the design for transportation was weighted just as important design for function, manufacture, assembly, ergonomics, etc. It’s resulted in a product that can now be shipped globally within a much smaller packaging volume, as we were able to reduce the ‘shipping of air’ down by ~80%! We did this by working very closely with manufacturers, packaging suppliers, couriers, etc.

We have also recently worked on a consumable medical device where we were able to reduce the total CO2e emissions throughout manufacturing and assembly by x3! We did this by radically simplifying the moulding process, the assembly process, and mitigated the reliance on a branded engineering polymer. To help visualise the magnitude of this carbon reduction, we shared the environmental impact assessment with the wider project team and key stake holders by including helpful equivalent measurables (i.e. flights from JFK to LHR, or miles driven in a 40mpg car).

Haughton Design believe that Design for Sustainability and the Environment is just as important as Design for Function, Robustness, Manufacture and Usability. However, selecting the right sustainability strategy can be complex. By completing assessments like the environmental assessment, can we make informed decisions to responsibly accelerate your device development. Please get in touch to discuss how we can help responsibly accelerate your medical device development.

William Morris - Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager at Haughton Design Will Morris 29 March 2023

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Get in Touch with Will Morris

Senior Design Development Engineer & Business Development Manager

Will graduated from the University of Wolverhampton with a degree in Product Design. Prior to Haughton Design, Will worked for Renishaw, where he led the industrial design for the current and next generation metal Additive Manufacturing machines. Will has a strong interest in Design for Sustainability, and the Circular Economy, looking to reduce companies’ environmental impact and often teaches about design engineering at local STEM events. Outside of work, Will enjoys Formula 1, rugby and travelling with friends.

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