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Agile product development – modularity delivers sustainable design
In the third article in our series on agile design, Guillaume Baral, Nexans Product Manager for Fiber Optic Cables and Components, highlights how modularity can make an important contribution to the sustainable design process.
Sustainability is continuing to grow in importance as a central theme for manufacturing companies and their customers. Achieving sustainable production and use of products requires a holistic approach that considers economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability. This has resulted in a shift in emphasis from looking only at the sustainability of production processes to focus on the impact that a product has throughout its life cycle. We need to understand fully the factors that come into play from initial design through to end of life, including activities such as manufacture, assembly, testing, transportation, installation, operation, decommissioning and recycling.
Design is the factor that has the most significant effect on the whole life cycle of a product. Therefore, to assess the potential environmental impact of a product, as well as the resources used throughout its life cycle, at Nexans we are able to carry out a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). This method is particularly valuable for evaluating different product design solutions by enabling designers to determine which design solution has lowest impact on the environment.
This is where an agile approach to product development, based on modularity, can yield important benefits. With modularity, our aim is to break the product design down into physically independent units. This provides additional flexibility for customers, as well as facilitating upgrading and adaptation to suit specific applications.
With modularity we can also simplify the LCA process. This is because it can now be carried out from the perspective of the individual modules, with each of them giving their own analysis. What that means is that any modifications introduced on one module impacts only its own life cycle assessment, but not the whole product.
This modularity enables development teams to build up libraries of modules with details of their own specific LCAs. So, when a product is modified or upgraded, a new LCA is only required for the module or modules that have been changed. The result is that the process for creating a new LCA for the entire product is simplified. This saves time, effort and cost. Yet it still delivers the crucial information required for effective sustainable design.