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Design for Disassembly, Circular Design, and Product Lifecycle Management

Key Takeaways:

  • Learn about electronic production ecosystems
  • Discover how circular design can aid in your production processes
  • Understand how design for disassembly works in both your product's favor and the environment's favor

For further investigation,  how can product lifecycle management begin to be improved through mechanical and electronic team collaboration?


Smartphone being disassembled and seeing circuits


As a young and very curious boy, I wanted to know how things worked. And for some reason, clocks fascinated me. For that reason, my parent’s nice, working mechanical alarm clock became the apple of my young eyes. One day, while no one paid attention, I took a Phillips screwdriver from the cabinet drawer that contained everything that anyone would want and ventured into my parent’s bedroom.

Within minutes, I had removed the back from the alarm clock and was delighted to see gears and wheels and small levers and springs. I removed one tiny clip and watched as springs sprung into action and catapulted gears into the vast cavities of that clock. Other pieces and parts loosened and, somehow, some way, fell to the floor.

I never could figure out how to re-assemble that clock.

The Clock Stopped? In Electronics Ecosystems

The metal and plastic parts that had served as an alarm clock now lie buried deep within a local landfill. At that time, preserving the ecosystem was an afterthought and the concept of designing a product for disassembly for material recovery hadn’t blossomed.

The old alarm clock serves as an example of linear design thinking for product manufacturing and life cycles. The manufacturing process for the clock required the use of plastics, aluminum, steel, and copper. Each of those raw materials pulled from natural resources. Heating and shaping the raw materials into usable components and cases required additional natural resources such as water. 

A non-serviceable approach to the inner workings of the clock and its case simplified assembly. No one anticipated taking the clock to a repair center when it failed. Instead, clocks had an intended end of useful life. Non-working clocks joined a seemingly endless parade of manufactured goods to the landfill.

Join the Circle: Circular Design and Assembly Potential

Linear design thinking does nothing for the environment. In contrast, circular design thinking integrates consideration of the ecosystem into product design. In addition, circular design thinking embeds thoughtful evaluations of environmental impact into economic principles. Accomplishing circular design thinking and value retention requires careful analysis of the processes that lead to the final assembly of a product. The analysis may consider methods for reconfiguring a product as functional requirements change or methods for assembling a product that ease disassembly.

Thoughtful analysis also requires a much deeper awareness about the content of materials used in the PCB manufacturing processes and of the materials used to produce components and cases. A deep dive into the analysis yields purer materials that have an entry point back into the technology stream and into the environmental flow.

Circular design thinking that focuses on Design for Disassembly (DfD) takes a path towards recycling without the need to transform components back into raw materials. Instead, circular design thinking and Design for Disassembly look for repairable, upgradeable, or reusable components. In brief, DfD seeks methods for extending the usable life of a product, components, and materials. If options do not exist for repairing or upgrading components and products or for reusing components and materials in new products, recycling components and materials to conserve resources stands as the next best path.

Network of product use, resources, manufacturing, and conversation attempts for electronic hardware

The multiple circles of product and resource reuse in electronics convey vast spheres of production.


Circular design supports Design for Disassembly (DfD) through an increased emphasis on ease-of-disassembly. DfD focuses on the type and number of fasteners used to secure a product and reducing the steps needed to disassemble a product. Because of the emphasis on DfD, manufacturers avoid using permanent adhesives, welds, or heat-formed joints.

As the figure indicates, DfD connects to Design for Recycling and Design for Sustainability through materials that can re-integrate into the supply chain and products that repair or upgrade easily. Those connections occur through the use of standardized connectors and designs that allow upgrades or repairs by consumers. DfD flourishes with the use of cross-functional components and assemblies that fit numerous products.

Reducing the emphasis on landfills at the end of useful life for a product can occur through repairable and upgradeable products or products that contain materials easily recovered for remanufacturing. In addition, design teams can increase the useful life of a product through an increased focus on reliability. Teams that adhere to a DfD mindset, design products or assemblies that use materials that lack contaminantes and separate easily for remanufacture or recycling.

DfD connects to green PCB design through the recovery of rare earth and precious metals. Establishing project plans and designs that follow RoHS and Waste Electrical and Electronic (WEEE) standards aligns with Design for Disassembly practices. A focus on simplicity through all planning and design phases for PCBs and electronic devices prompts teams to find waste and develop solutions that extend the useful life of the product. Mechanical and electronic design teams can use the functionality found within PCB design software to improve collaboration, evaluate materials to avoid toxic chemicals, change processes, and improve the environmental impact of products.

DfD also connects to the consumer by providing instructions for safely disassembling a product. Throughout the design cycle, teams should seek to guide users about disassembly and to design products that feature quick disassembly. The design of a product should also support the consumer's need to repair or replace parts. Each of the DfD steps extends the usable life of the product.

Design for Disassembly: Time for a Shift in Thinking

Design for Disassembly takes an intentional view of resource efficiency and the end-of-life for products. Teams that implement DfD consider best methods for recovering materials, retaining value, and establishing the next use of the components and parts. DfD seeks to answer the questions of how to maximize the reuse of the product and its separate components when the product reaches end-of-life (EOL).

Circular economy factors

Find a circular economy that works for your product design.

Implementing DfD also requires a shift in the perspective that teams use when making decisions, designing and producing printed circuit boards, selecting components, designing cases, and planning for product as a whole. The shift in thinking also includes how components join together and how the design layers the case, PCBs, and components for disassembly while maintaining the durability and usefulness of the product.

The change in perspective also requires a deeper analysis of sustainability and of the life cycle assessment. Analyzing the sustainability of a product involves an analysis of the environmental performance and impact of the whole product and the contents that make up the product. Within this analysis, teams consider environmental impact during the design, manufacturing, useful life, and end-of-life. Any consideration of sustainability also includes a Life Cycle Assessment that follows the standards established through the International Standard Organization.

All this leads to establishing value for Design for Disassembly. Manufacturers have found that thinking about disassembly often leads to improved and easier methods for assembly--that translate into decreased production costs. DfD also places a greater value on documentation. 

While the PCB design and production processes already provide precise documentation, DfD pushes documentation to show the materials used to produce the PCB and methods for safely moving those products back into a supply chain for reuse. Value also occurs through the realization that DfD attains the maximum potential for a design, the product, and the materials used within the product.

With the suite of design and analysis tools from Cadence, you can rest easy that any innovations in sustainable electronics technology do not have to come at a price of efficiency. Utilizing the superb Allegro PCB Designer, you can confidently venture toward a future of electronics design that considers waning waste necessities. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts.