In today’s fast-paced world, electronics are constantly evolving, with newer and more advanced devices hitting the market every day. But with this rapid progress comes a growing concern – electronic waste, or e-waste, and its impact on the environment. Pepi Maksimovic, Director of Application Engineering at Ansys explains how digital simulation could help manufacturers address this challenge.
E-waste refers to discarded electronics and electrical components that are not designed to be recycled or reused. It can be laptops, computers, tablets, cell phones but also washing machines, and microwaves.
According to the US environmental protection agency, Americans own more than 3 billion electronic products and throw away more than 400 million electronics every year. Less than 20% of electronics are recycled.
As the Director of Application Engineering at Ansys, a leading provider of engineering simulation software, Pepi Maksimovic understands the critical role that digital simulation can play in addressing this issue. It can help manufacturers design and manufacture products that are easier to recycle, reuse, and repair, and that are also more robust, reliable, and durable so that they last longer.
1/ Material Selection for Sustainable Electronics Manufacturing
“One of the key aspects of sustainable electronics manufacturing is material selection. Digital simulation can assist in choosing materials with a lower carbon footprint, considering factors such as the manufacturing process and transportation distance. Ansys’s tool Granta provides a comprehensive database of materials with information on their typical engineering properties such as strength, density, and conductivity, as well as their carbon footprint.”
The software can calculate how much energy was used to create that material. Manufacturers can also select the materials according to the way they are produced and in which country they are produced. The software also mentions if the materials come from a recycled source.
Manufacturers can utilize all this information and opt for materials that are more sustainable and have a lower environmental impact.
The software also offers a traceability function to be able to know exactly which materials were used in this particular model of a cell phone or a laptop.
2/ Design Optimization for Reduced Material Usage
Another way digital simulation can contribute to sustainable electronics manufacturing is through design optimization. By reducing material usage in product design, manufacturers can minimize waste and contribute to a more sustainable approach to electronics manufacturing.
“Engineers can use simulation software to analyze and optimize the shape, size, and configuration of electronic components, aiming to use as little material as possible while still meeting functional and performance requirements. Granta also provides information on the recyclability of materials, enabling engineers to choose materials that can be easily recycled at the end of the product’s lifecycle.”
3/ Designing for Disassembly, Repair, and Recycling
One of the critical aspects of addressing e-waste is designing products with the end of their lifecycle in mind. Currently, electronic devices are not designed to be easily disassembled, repaired, or recycled, resulting in significant challenges in recycling and waste management.
However, digital simulation can help manufacturers design products with these considerations in mind.
“By using simulation software, engineers can test and optimize the disassembly process, making it more efficient and less labor-intensive.”
This can potentially lead to the development of automated machines and robots that can disassemble electronic devices and sort the components for recycling, reducing the need for manual labor and minimizing exposure to hazardous materials.
“Currently, if electric devices are not recyclable at a larger rate it is because for the most part, the disassembly part has to be done by hand. This is a slow process that is costly and not healthy for humans and for the environment as there are a lot of chemicals involved.”
Besides, digital simulation can help design products with components put in a way that is easy to disassemble. Some components are often glued together which makes it difficult to pull them apart at the end of the product’s life.
4/ Ensuring Product Integrity and Functionality
Digital simulation can also play a crucial role in ensuring product integrity and functionality. By performing simulations to test the engineering performance of electronic components, manufacturers can identify potential issues and address them before the products go into production. This helps to prevent the production of faulty products that may end up as e-waste, reducing waste and increasing the overall sustainability of the manufacturing process.
Additionally, simulation software can assist in optimizing the configurations of electronic parts, such as placement and shape, to improve performance and durability, leading to longer-lasting products that are less likely to become e-waste.
“For example, BMW is using Ansys software to analyze the reliability of electronic components (printed circuit boards) in their vehicles. In the automotive industry, electronics very often fail due to thermal stresses, mechanical stresses, humidity, and dust. Ansys can model all of these failure modes, helping manufacturers build durable components.”
So far, Ansys’s software crunches the equations that are based on the physical laws of nature. But lately, they have started to embed machine learning components.
“That’s the future. It’s the next-generation product development.”