Designing for remanufacture and creating a business model
Building a new company is hard enough, trailblazing a new way of doing business and designing products from scratch seems almost madness, but that is what we’ve decided to do.
In the first part of the story I described in outline what we are trying to achieve in creating a light bulb service business and remanufacturing the lamps towards the end of their productive life. In fact we’ve now established the service should reduce the quantity of electrical waste generated by 99% a year compared with traditionally bought bulbs. A massive improvement and the main reason the team is so engaged.
Over the last couple of months the project has moved from design to prototyping. Almost inevitably this has led to a number of design issues being highlighted, particularly in creating fixings that can be rapidly assembled and disassembled to ensure the cost of remanufacturing is minimised. This has added a number of weeks to the project schedule but it will be critical to the service that the remanufacturing process is highly productive (Is that the right word for remanufacturing?).
The first lamp design is now (almost) complete and initial prototype components have arrived. That’s always an exciting part of the product development process. No matter how good the CAD images they don’t give a feel for the product itself, that can only come from seeing and holding it. So it was no surprise that we all spent considerable time playing with the various parts and looking at them from all angles. In fact we were somewhat obsessive!
From the outset we wanted to create products that looked great, to stand out from the crowd and create unique demand, encouraging a long term emotional attachment. Time will tell whether we have succeeded but we all believe we’re on the right track.
Assembling them together and lighting the lamp was the next step and while it highlighted some detail issues with the optics, it did prove that the basic design principles were sound. Not only that but when it was turned on it looked great — to say we were all delighted would be an understatement — and the temperature performance was better than we had modelled. We now expect the LED devices to be useable for over 100,000 hrs. That’s about 12 years of continuous use and goes a long way to supporting our objective of creating long lived products.
The last major task now is to complete the electronic design. It is a little known fact outside of the lighting industry that the two main failure modes of LED light bulbs occur within the driver (power supply) electronics. The first relates to the small number of components that wear out with use, while the most common cause is due to transient voltage spikes on the mains supply, destroying key parts. The major lamp manufacturers are all refining their designs as experience grows to achieve their desired product lives, which appear to be between 6 and 10,000 hrs of operation. It should be remembered that those will be the mean lifetimes, so half of the products will have failed by that time.
We’ve decided that our lamp service will replace the bulbs every 3 — 5 years, so we’re designing the electronics to last at least that long before it needs remanufacturing. The service model spreads the small additional cost involved to make it affordable while ensuring the products are highly reliable. However fitting all the components into the space we have is proving a challenge so I’ve ordered the tech guys a bigger hammer!
There’s still some more detail work to complete but the final prototype should be completed within the next couple of weeks, then it’s onwards to tooling and first production (fingers crossed!) for initial trials. In the meantime we’re working on the design of the next lamp.
In spite of the various challenges, designing products is a relatively straight forward and well understood process for the team, whereas developing a new business model is a new experience for all of us. When we were considering how best to ensure the bulbs came back for remanufacturing the most promising structure appeared to be a lease arrangement. This is clearly common with high value products such as cars but rare with low cost parts. So one of the challenges was to create a more all encompassing and highly compelling service by solving some of the underlying problems involved with lighting in the home.
So based on considerable research we’ve designed a service that will hopefully captivate and delight customers and keep them coming back for more — we just have to build that into a clear and persuasive story.
There’s still a huge amount to do to complete the development project and we have yet to agree a few weeks extension with our grant funders, Innovate UK. But having been blown away by the first prototype we’re fully enthused to push on.
By the time I next put fingers to keyboard we should have the first off-tool products and I’ll be talking branding and crowdfunding and have the second lamp design completed - keep tuned and I look forward to your comments and thoughts.