Easily recyclable laptop developed on product development course
Students from Aalto University have developed a recyclable laptop computer together with students from Stanford University on a joint ME310 product development course. The project team included students of mechanical engineering, business and industrial design. The team's corporate partner was Autodesk, a manufacturer of industrial graphic design software.
Every year, almost two million tonnes of electronic waste is produced. Recycling electronic devices has typically been inconvenient and time-consuming for end users. The task of the students was to design a consumer electronics device that could easily be recycled.
- We considered several products from phones to toasters and toys. The laptop was a result of several compromises: we wanted to choose a well-known product that is used daily, currently has a short life cycle and is difficult to recycle, explains business student Linda Liukas.
An intensive product development phase began in Espoo and Palo Alto. The Finnish students visited California and the Stanford students came to Finland.
- Apart from these visits, all communication to the other side of the world was carried out using Skype and the Internet. At the most intensive phase we even took advantage of the time difference: we shared the work we had completed during the day with the Stanford students the same evening and they did the same for us the following morning, describes student Juho Huotari.
A good product makes recycling easy
The result of the product development phase was the Bloom computer, a laptop that can easily be disassembled into recyclable parts in two minutes. An essential part of the product development phase was to understand how users behave.
- Everyone has old electronic devices lying around because it's difficult to know what to do with them. However, users said that they would recycle products if it was easy enough. Understanding what 'easy' meant to consumers was then our job, Linda Liukas says.
To make recycling easy, the Bloom laptop has latches instead of screws. This way, the computer can be opened up without a screwdriver and it is easy to replace or remove components. The LCD screen, motherboard and keyboard contain metal, plastic and silicon that are difficult to recycle. The students solved this problem by attaching a pre-paid envelope to the back of the computer addressed to the nearest facility that can recycle these elements. The case of the computer is made of environmentally friendly aluminum that is accepted by most recycling facilities. Aluminum can be recycled almost endlessly and it requires 95 % less energy at the recycling stage than at the production stage.
However, green values alone are not enough to turn a product into a success. The Bloom laptop also offers its users other benefits: the keyboard can be detached from the computer and used wirelessly to improve ergonomics.
Product development is team work
The intensive product development course lasted nine months. The aim of the course is to train students to become leaders of interdisciplinary design groups. What did the students learn on the course?
- I'm interested in working within product development in the future. I knew that this course would be a must for all future product developers. And I learnt more than I could ever have hoped for. The course challenged us to think about product development from several points of view and to work with different kinds of experts, says mechanical engineering student Markku Koskela.
Industrial design student Chongbei Song was one of the two design students in the team.
- Following the principles of user-centered design, I emphasized the importance of listening to the users, developing products with the users and testing prototypes. I learnt a lot from the others in the multidisciplinary team. Hearing several different points of view makes it easier to understand human needs and the trends of future product development.
- Perfect product development requires a symbiosis of various disciplines. Solid knowhow of different fields is needed, summarizes Juho Huotari.
juhohuotari (at) gmail.com
+358 41 4581678
See how the Bloom laptop can be recycled:
Further information about the project:
Further information about the ME310 product development course:
Text: Lotta Knuutinen
Picture: Linda Liukas