Design for Disassembly


To realize a sound circular business case, two things are needed: a circular business model and a circular design strategy. One of the resources that makes an important contribution to many circular design strategies is Design for Disassembly. In other words: designing products with an eye for disassembly. A product that is easy to disassemble is also easier to repair, adapt or upgrade. And in the end, the parts or raw materials can be recovered more easily.

CIRCO Expert Café - circular product design

Review of the product architecture

Research by the Dutch university TU Delft concluded that designers and engineers need better tools and methods to make products that are easy to repair. In a repairable product, the parts that most frequently fail are easily accessible. In practice this is not always the case.

Bas Flipsen, senior lecturer at Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft, therefore advises every product designer to disassemble their product themselves:

“By taking products apart, you learn to recognize barriers that stand in the way of the circular recovery of materials and parts. This allows you to identify and redesign ‘hotspots’ for easy repair, maintenance or reuse.”

TU Delft has developed two user-friendly tools to help designers get started with Design for Disassembly. ‘Hotspot Mapping’ and ‘The Disassembly Map’. With these tools you can map out the product architecture, assess and think about solutions to improve a design.


Hotspot and Disassembly Mapping

Hotspot mapping is a tool to assess the product architecture based on 5 Hotspot indicators:

  • Time
  • Accessibility
  • Priority part
  • Economic value
  • Environmental impact

These indicators come together in a Hotspot spreadsheet. You then create the Disassembly Map based on this spreadsheet. This visualizes how the product is put together and how deep, for example, a part is in the product. The Disassembly Map is your guideline for realizing solutions in product design. There are 3 different options for this:

Surfacing: Reducing the number of steps to reach a critical part. You bring a critical part closer to the surface.

Clumping: Merging parts into small groups of parts, making priority parts more accessible.

Trimming: Shorten (in time) the steps to the priority parts. For example, because you have to loosen 1 screw instead of 5 screws.

Design for Disassembly is not a new field but is now receiving renewed attention. Their practical application in this phase will therefore often require compromises in terms of costs or other circular objectives such as long life.


Value drivers for Design for Disassembly

Philips Engineering Solutions has gained experience in Design for Disassembly in various areas in recent years. In daily practice, several elements result in higher (perceived or not) costs or risks.

First, a lot of production is outsourced. As a result, it is not always possible to get the desired adjustments implemented. In addition, there should be no upward pressure on prices, certainly in consumer electronics. Finally, a minimal decline in reliability in production can have major operational and financial consequences. This means that Design for Disassembly is still being used very limited.

Application only takes place if there are clear value drivers that compensate for the costs and risks mentioned. These are often still missing, because the various circular business models have not yet been explored and adopted. Steps are being taken in capital-intensive medical equipment, but this requires major adjustments, especially for consumer products. Regulations may become a business driver with the matters that are now being prepared from Europe in, among other things, the Sustainable Product Initiative regarding circularity and repair.


An integral part of the design process

Francesco De Fazio, Circular Product Designer at Philips Engineering Solutions:

“Disassembly is a means not an end. You need a strategy in which you determine how and for what purpose you apply Disassembly. Business model and design readiness go hand in hand.”

The strategies and business models can be very different. These depend, for example, on:

the market you operate in:

  • Self repair options for consumer products
  • Service package with predictive maintenance for professional, expensive devices

the way you want to apply Disassembly:

  • Individual repair on site
  • Large-scale industrial refurbishment or component harvesting

The type of product and the target group therefore largely determine which strategy is relevant. For all possible variants, however, there is a clear correlation between the business model and the interpretation of Design for Disassembly. It is then relevant to include both elements at an early stage, integrated and in conjunction with the design process.


Aesthetics and Complexity

Tom Evers, CIRCO trainer & owner of design agency D’Andrea & Evers Design, looks at Design for Disassembly from his practical experience.

“Research shows that more than half of the consumers would rather have an electronic device repaired than replaced immediately. More and more is happening in this area. For example with the existing right to repair legislation in France and future legislation in Europe.

It does require a different way of thinking. This is complex for companies where the products are designed and produced on a large scale with many suppliers for a global market, such as at Philips. With many other products it is quite possible to take a step faster.”

Tom illustrates this with the example of a chair. By making small changes to the design, you can make it easier to disassemble. This way you can repair the chair and sell it again. With a webshop for new parts and an upgrade service, there can also be a business model for it immediately.

In practice, it also appears that it is not only the lack of value drivers that can form a barrier to Design for Disassembly. Many designers sometimes disassemble products themselves. Often they are surprised and somewhat frustrated at the complexity. On the other hand, designers attach great importance to the aesthetics of the design. Also for the outside of the product where, for example, screws do not produce a high-end image. An additional question is therefore whether this ‘professionalism’ is not also a complicating factor for applying the techniques suggested by TU Delft. Here too, a change of mindset is necessary.


Tips to get started yourself

Do you want to get started with Design for Disassembly? Then we have some tips for you.

-Disassemble a product yourself. The tools from TU Delft are useful to map out step by step how to do this.

-Think carefully about the goal: what do you want to achieve with Design for Disassembly? It is a means and not an end in itself.

  • A circular design strategy is not enough; think about a suitable business model.
  • Consider other design requirements, such as longevity, durability or safety.
  • Even a small step is an improvement. Look at what is easy to achieve and then proceed step by step.
  • Follow the TU Delft online course Circular Product Design Assessment.

Dive deeper

The insights from this article come from the Expert Café: Design for Disassembly that took place on February 8, 2022. In this online session, CIRCO, TU Delft and Philips Engineering Solutions shared their experiences from theory and practice to assess the “ease of disassembly”. The session and all the tools mentioned can be viewed via the following links.

You can rewatch the recording of the Expert Café here:

You can download the presentations of the speakers:

More information about the tools from TU Delft:

More information about disassembly from Philips Engineering Solutions: