Delft Design Stories

24 January 2020

Changing the world with only four screws

The planet is heating up. The oceans are filling with plastic. These are problems that will require huge, cooperative efforts to fix. Francesco De Fazio wanted to do his part. He discovered that just moving four screws on a vacuum cleaner could make a big difference. Text: Molly Quell Toasters and malaria Originally from Italy, Francesco came to Delft to study Integrated Product Design. “Everyone at The Polytechnic University of Milan knows about TU Delft,” he says, which is where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He wanted to improve his English and focus on sustainability issues, and he felt he could do both things in the Netherlands. During his second semester Francesco set to work on the design of the Excelscope - a medical device which can detect malaria with the aid of a smartphone. He readily admits that he spent a lot of that period thinking that the challenge was too great: “It was a lot of pressure for someone who had designed toasters.” The project went on to win the Dutch national James Dyson Award in 2018. Being successful under that amount of pressure came in handy when he went on to his internship. Francesco knew that he wanted to work with a large company, where he felt he could have a bigger impact. And he knew he wanted to work with a Dutch company, which cared about sustainability. He landed a project with the largest and the most quintessentially Dutch company possible for an industrial design engineer: Philips. Green pressure from Brussels While Francesco was worried about his workload in Delft, in Brussels the European Commission was worrying about product repairability. In autumn 2019, the European Commission, as part of its push to make Europe greener, implemented regulations that would require companies to make appliances longer lasting, both by extending lifespans but also by making them easier to repair. These so-called Right to Repair regulations will go into effect in 2021. They are accompanied by a scoring system for companies to determine how easy their products are to repair. The idea is that consumer products should be easier to fix. “Together with smarter energy labels, our eco-design measures can save European consumers a lot of money, as well as help the EU reduce its greenhouse gas emissions,” says European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy, Miguel Arias Cañete. The problem goes beyond climate change. According to the Global E-Waste Monitor, in 2016, the world created 44.7 million metric tons of e-waste, which includes items like computers, smart phones and washing machines. Only about 20% of that is recycled, with the rest going to landfills or being incinerated. As Francesco would discover, repairing something can be difficult to learn. In current product models, repair work is often time consuming and requires special tools. But surveys show that 77% of consumers in the European Union would like to repair rather than replace. Initiatives such Delft’s Repair Cafe reflect public enthusiasm for more of a make do and mend attitude. Ambitious compromises Philips wanted Francesco to look at several products and assess them for their repairability, underneath the new European Commission framework. “I thought ‘This is exciting’ but I wanted to be able to propose a tangible redesign as well,” he says. He also had another request: that he be allowed to score non-Philips products so the company would also have a sense of how they stacked up against the competition. Philips was receptive to the idea but wanted him to focus on the assessment. So, he found a highly ambitious compromise of sorts. He would get the assessment done in three months and then have three months to work on a redesign. “It cost me a lot of nights and weekends,” he admits. In the end, he selected seven vacuum cleaners - four from Philips and three from competitors - for the first part of his project. There were no guidelines for the process of testing repairability, only a scoring system from the European Commission. In the process of his thesis, he documented his procedure. More than a sum of the parts One of the most important takeaways from his research was his Disassembly Map. This allows someone to map the entire assembly and disassembly of the most important components. Francesco is currently working on an academic paper to document this process together with Professor Ruud Balkenende, which will show other companies and designers how they can do the same thing. Some of the vacuums were extremely complicated to take apart, requiring multiple tools and an extensive series of steps. Others, Francesco describes as “beautiful.” One vacuum he looked at only required the removal of three screws to access the main components. The analysis required him to disassemble and reassemble the same vacuum multiple times. He watched a lot of YouTube videos of people online disassembling vacuums to get a feel for how it was done. “There are a lot of Russian-speaking men who do this for some reason,” he says. Francesco figured out what parts were most critical and which were the most likely to break and how many steps it took to access them. Even though Philips only requested the assessment, he wanted his thesis to be about something more. The existing product design approach at Philips only partially considered repairability as part of the process. Francesco thought that if he could demonstrate the impact of a simple solution, he could convince them to put repairability as a central consideration in the design process. “Every change came with a problem,” he says. He would come up with what he thought was a simple solution, only to be told by someone else in the manufacturing chain that making that adjustment would unleash tremendous issues. As Francesco found out, vacuums must do more than being effective at removing dirt from your floor. They must, like most consumer appliances, meet safety standards. They must be able to be manoeuvred in certain ways. They can’t weigh too much. And, of course, production costs must be kept low. Solving the puzzle Using his Disassembly Map, he eventually figured out several solutions. One, however, was remarkable in its simplicity. By merely adjusting the position of four screws in the casing of one vacuum model, the entire external case of the Philip’s vacuum could be removed in a single step. In the current design, it took seven steps. Philips wasn’t the only one who was impressed with this outcome. His committee awarded him a 10 cum laude on his thesis. “Francesco's work is outstanding because it combines a thorough research approach with real-world impact. Not only did he make an extensive analysis of the repairability of 7 vacuum cleaners, leading to a new design tool; he also convinced Philips of the need to take repairabiltiy into account in their vacuum cleaners.” - Professor Conny Bakker The easier it is to get to the main components; the faster and easier products can be serviced. Francesco prefers to use the term “serviceability” rather than “repairability,” since the goal is for companies, or certified repair persons, to fix them, not the consumers. Regardless of who does the repair work, the easier the process, the less likely someone is to throw away the old appliance and buy a new one. And, if someone does want to upgrade, the easier it is to disassemble, the easier it is to recycle. That means that fewer vacuum cleaners will end up in landfills. After taking all those vacuums apart over and over, repairability is now something that de Fazio considers when buying new products. “But it’s really difficult for the consumer to know, how easy or hard it is to repair something. Unless you can find someone on YouTube who has already done it.” He would love to see mandatory labeling on products to show the level of difficulty in disassembly. Perhaps that’s a problem Francesco can work on his new role. Philips was so happy with de Fazio that they created a new position for him, as a Circular Product Designer, which he started in January 2020. Back to Home Health & Care Climate Action Urbanisation & Mobility Energy Transition Digital Society Francesco De Fazio linkedin This is a story of Industrial Design Engineering Francesco De Fazio This is a story of Industrial Design Engineering Conny Bakker +31 (0)15 27 89822 Publications Room B-3-330 linkedin Bas Flipsen +31 (0)15 27 89398 Publications Room B-3-060 Present on: Mon-Tue-Thu-Fri "Get fired-up instead of burned-up." linkedin Ruud Balkenende +31 15 27 81658 Room B-3-310 linkedin

Delft Design Stories

Read the stories of researchers and students at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, and discover the scientific questions on which they work and the solutions they present.

Sustainable aviation starts on the ground

Flying needs to become more sustainable, quieter and more efficient. For this you need to think far beyond the aircraft itself: airports for example, can contribute as well. In the newly launched Airport Technology Lab, TU Delft researchers are testing their ideas, from better weather forecasting models to faster baggage handling. All of these ideas contribute to improved efficiency in aviation, and a more sustainable industry. Already before the current coronavirus crisis, the aviation industry was facing huge challenges in areas such as sustainability, capacity and noise nuisance. The goal of the Airport Technology Lab (ATL) is to contribute to solving these problems. Since recently, it offers a special environment at Rotterdam The Hague Airport, where new services and products can be developed and tested under realistic and “live” conditions. Knowledge institutions as TU Delft, government bodies such as the City of Rotterdam, and the business community such as the airport and its innovation foundation RHIA, are collaborating closely. Fieldlab for aviation innovation “In other words, ATL is a fieldlab for innovations in aviation, where smart technologies are conceived, developed, tested and put into production", says project manager Elise Bavelaar from TU Delft. “We actually embarked on this course back in 2016 with the Innovation Airport initiative launched by Deltas, Infrastructures & Mobility Initiative (DIMI) and the faculty of Aerospace Engineering. This originated from the need to align all airport-related expertise at TU Delft and to link it together smartly. Of course the ultimate goal is to share this knowledge with parties beyond the university. An important part of Innovation Airport is our ambition to create a Fieldlab and the collaboration with the innovation foundation Rotterdam The Hague Innovation Airport.” The sector remains strongly convinced of the need for innovation, to be honest, I think even more than before the corona crisis. Read more Huge puzzle Airport Technology Lab is meeting this ambition and is thus an important follow-up from the Innovation Airport initiative. “All in all it has been a long journey to get the ATL to take off. It has taken us more than 18 months”, says Bavelaar, who has been involved with Innovation Airport from the start. “An important part of the process was our successful application for ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) funding. It was a huge and complex puzzle to coordinate everything and everyone, with on the one hand the many parties and areas of expertise (within TU Delft alone three faculties are involved, AE, EEMCS and IDE, plus the Innovation & Impact Centre), and on the other hand the different aspects that need to be addressed, ranging from financial affairs to legal issues. A key question was for example whether there was any unlawful state aid for the project.” Personal passion This made the ATL a very special environment for Bavelaar, who has a background in technology. She graduated five years ago from the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering at TU Delft. “Yes, it's a completely different job I have now, but I see that it is a considerable advantage to be well up-to-date on advancements in technology and engineering.” “It is precisely the combination of technology with other aspects that appeals to me. I experienced this in Germany during an internship for my Master's degree. I was working for Air Berlin and focused on improving airport processes. During that internship I discovered I like being involved with more than just the technology.” “My personal passion is to translate academic knowledge into practice. It is important that scientific insights can have a quicker impact on the real world.” Improved forecasting Back to ATL, which was officially opened at the end of May 2020. What makes this specific project unique? “For the most part this is because of the access to relevant airport data that we can use to test and develop new innovations. Of course appropriate measures related to privacy issues have been taken.” Meanwhile, the first tangible research projects have kicked off. “We have started working on three topics”, explains Bavelaar. “They all involve technology to make ground and air activities at airports more efficient and more sustainable in the near future. The first project is on expanding and refining the radar system at the airport. An extremely accurate model for current weather forecasting is being developed which will give Air Traffic Control increased insight into the current weather situation. This model can be used to predict possible turbulence between aircraft under changing weather conditions and this will ultimately lead to more efficient take-off and landing procedures. This part of the ATL project primarily involves the faculty of EEMCS.” Pleasant working environment In the second project, researchers are developing a new tool that can predict airside disruptions using machine learning techniques. This information can be used by planners at the airport to help them make tactical and operational decisions which will also lead to more efficient procedures. As part of the first project, the ‘flight-to-gate planning’ module is being tested. And finally, a tool is being developed which can simulate the efficiency, safety and resilience of processes in the airport terminal. Among other things, this tool enables development of applications for a call-to-gate strategy and passenger flow optimisation. In addition, this tool could be used to assess how the baggage drop-off points impact the flow of passengers in the terminal. According to Bavelaar: “The researchers’ initial experiences are positive. The airport has proven to be a pleasant working environment, with good accessibility and opportunities to test innovations. Moreover, the airport staff and the other stakeholders are more than happy to work with us.” The coronavirus situation demanded a great deal from the students’ capacity for improvisation. Nonetheless, in virtually no time at all they made the necessary practical adjustments, as did the other researchers in the project. This is really something to be proud of. Student involvement “So we're making good progress”, concludes Bavelaar. “An important factor is that we continue to reinforce the vision of DIMI within the project and in particular the emphasis on a multidisciplinary and holistic research approach. Of course there is the link with teaching at TU Delft. For example several student groups of the Interactive Technology Design course, at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, have already worked on airport assignments.” “The coronavirus demanded a great deal from the students’ capacity for improvisation. However, in no time at all they made the necessary practical adjustments, as did the other researchers in the project. This is really something to be proud of.” Bavelaar is aware that the current times have huge consequences for the aviation sector as a whole. “Yet the impact on the ATL project seems less bad than we feared, and if anything the coronavirus crisis has reinforced the need for innovation.” Read more stories of Aerospace Engineering Project Manager ir. M.E. (Elise) Bavelaar More stories More stories