The medical sector is at the forefront of technical possibility; it seeks to constantly improve people’s lives and improve the health of the world. Life expectancy has increased dramatically over the last 100 years, and healthcare product innovation is a major contributor to this positive impact.
The medical sector is particularly challenging to design for due to the complex regulatory requirements that are legally enforced. These are there to ensure that products are engineered to a certain calibre of quality, to mitigate all and any risk where possible, to ensure their efficacy is an order of magnitude greater than low-cost consumer products, and that safety is appropriately managed throughout the entire process of development and post development too.
However, one factor (and arguably the biggest factor) that the medical sector doesn’t necessarily cater for, or neglects the most, is the care for the Earth. Each and everyday tonnes of plastic waste is being disposed of. On average 8.4kg of waste is disposed of per person, per hospital visit (Minoglou et al., 2017). In the UK, we are slightly less polluting, at just 3.3kg. However, collectively the sum of this waste is still substantial.
A change that we’re enthusiastic about is the recent MDR requirement for manufacturers to develop products with longevity and ease of refurbishment in mind. There is also a note regarding efficacy and safety for the waste disposal, and its impact upon the waste management chain.
At Haughton Design, we seek to not only design products to be the best that they possibly can be, but also design products that are responsible too. We design products with cradle to cradle systems in mind and think about how a product could be disposed of responsibly, right at the early conceptualisation stages. This way of thinking not only draws out innovative ways of thinking, but also reduces the possibility for impactful waste to occur.
Some of the activities we undertake include:
- High level review of product development strategies to eliminate wasteful product development by reducing material waste and cost, and also to benefit users by reducing cost of product purchase.
- Material selection and review to eliminate or minimise, where possible, costly precious materials. We consider different grades to ensure materials are fit for purpose, conform to best practice guidelines so can be easily recycled.
- We review not only the ease of assembly, but also disassembly of the products that we design, to assess whether or not a product can be easily stripped down by hand or autonomously, in trade back or right to repair initiatives to extract and reuse critical componentry or media.
- Advanced computer simulation software such as Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to ensure that our products are robust enough to last/exceed their expected product lifetimes and endure the typical battles of real-world conditions. Ensuring our products are not over engineered but engineered accordingly for the use scenario.
- Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) to understand airflow or fluid dynamics where needed, i.e. to deliver the correct dosage of airborne particulates to patients through dry dose powder inhalers. This allows us to optimise the size of products and components to minimise waste.
- Process mapping for the manufacture for all major components to review their carbon footprint, and evaluate whether a conventionally sourced low cost part is more or less beneficial than a higher cost locally sourced part.
There are fantastic charities such as the Ellen MacArthur Foundation that seek to accelerate the world to a circular economy. Their efforts into this drive for change is inspiring and motivational. They have numerous case studies showcasing examples of new circular economies and real-world applications of working with companies to aid in their transition.
Other companies such as Apple, Ikea, GE, Nike, etc are also contributing significantly to circular economy practices, partially for environmental and ethical reasons, but more so because it just makes business sense. Medical Device companies will need to change in order to meet the increasing consumer awareness of the environmental impact of plastic waste in particular.
Philips are leading by example in this sector of sustainable medical device development and management. They have implemented circular economy practices at the heart of their development program.
We believe that regulatory bodies will continue to restrict environmentally damaging materials and manufacturing processes, through initiatives such as RoHS, REACH, WEEE, etc. in order to combat the requirement for more sustainable programmes, and to achieve the SDG’s set out by the UN. We believe that taking action sooner rather than later is required. We need to start developing products with future thinking in mind. We need to start to collectively take action now.
If you would like to learn more about how exactly Haughton Design can help your medical development projects and help develop more sustainable environmentally friendly products, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org