Zero-Waste Systems Engineering: A Process To Design Circular Products & Services
3 May 2018

Sustainn helps you to design circular products and services from scratch through the Zero-Waste Systems Engineering process.

Zero-Waste Systems Engineering is a structured process for the design and development of competitive, zero-waste and inclusive products, by means of the integration of Circular Economy concepts from the early stages of the design process. Circular products for the development of competitive circular services and product-as-a-service business models.

Zero-Waste Systems Engineering Overview

It is based on the well-known Systems Engineering processes, used for years for the development of most advanced and complex systems in the world, such as airplanes, spacecrafts, cars or trains.

It is focused on not generating waste all along the product life cycle, by means of the integration of Circular Economy concepts and Circularity Hierarchy criteria into the conceptual design phase. Design For All approach is also considered within this phase in order to develop inclusive products and services.

Main aspects considered within the process are:

  • – It is based on the integration of design technical solutions of the Functional Systems to achieve the optimal product technical solution
  • Recirculation processes of all the subsystems, components and parts are integrated within the industrialization process development
  • – Competitiveness of the product technical solution is assessed from the conceptual design phase


3 Steps To Design Circular

Step 1: Optimal Design Point Definition

Starting from Product Requirements, the Conceptual Design phase begins providing technical solutions for the different Functional Systems of the product. An overview map of the Conceptual Design phase is shown in the following figure.

First, we have to design the main functional systems which have most influence for achieving the optimal design point of the product architecture in terms of quality, cost and delivery. After then, usually the secondary and ambient conditions adequation functions have to be designed.

At this step we use the different Circular Design Methodologies, such as:

      • Design for Durability, to enable products to last a long time
      • Design for Disassembly, to ensure products are easy to take apart quickly
      • Design for Repair, to ensure product repair is simple
      • Design for Upgrade, to keep products relevant and useful longer
      • Design for Remanufacturing, to enable reuse of old components in new products
      • Design for Recycling, to make easy the recycling of the different components

Remarkably, Design For All (Universal Design) methods have to be included at this point to ensure that the product or service is inclusive.

Finally, functional systems technical solutions are integrated to obtain a circular and inclusive technical solution of the product. This process should be repeated for the different alternatives.


Step 2: Industrialization & Recirculation and Support Concepts

Once we have the technical solutions outlined and integrated, we design the industrialization, recirculation and service support processes for the complete product.

First, we have to define the Manufacturing Concept, designing the Nutrients Management Strategy. It is about defining the strategy for the subsystems, components and parts recirculation streams as well as for energy and waste valorization flows.

At this point, we take into account the Circularity Hierarchy criteria (“The smaller the loop, the greater the profitability of the overall system”), prioritizing recirculations to optimize the consumption of materials, resources and the embedded energy all along the recirculation processes, in this order:

      1. 1. Repair
      2. 2. Reuse
      3. 3. Refurbishing
      4. 4. Remanufacturing
      5. 5. Recycling

At the same time, within Product Service Support, we have to define the support and recovery concept of the product and all the subsystems, components and parts, including the reverse logistics processes. Main aspects of the Maintenance Concept have to be already outlined within Support Concept at this point.

As a result of designing industrialization, recirculation and service support processes, design observations from these areas are posed to the functional systems design, in order to complete technical solutions to make them manufacturable, recirculable and supportable.

Step 3: Competitiveness Assessment

Later on, we have to assess the alternative integrated product technical solutions in terms of quality, cost and delivery terms (Quality, Cost, Delivery Assessment). It is key to evaluate the competitiveness and circularity before proceeding to the detailed design of subsystems and components resulting from the optimal product technical solution.

Regarding cost assessment, it is necessary to follow Life Cycle Cost (LCC) approach, which is the cumulative cost of a product over its life cycle (from conception to disposal). LCC assessment is then carried out according to IEC 60300-3-3 2005 standard, where costs are structured following the phases of the complete product life-cycle.

Finally, we can proceed to deploy the requirements for the subsystems and components resulting from an optimal, circular and inclusive technical solution of the product.

Zero-Waste Systems Engineering Added Value

Zero-Waste Systems Engineering is a structured process that helps your company to design your products integrating Circular Design principles from the conceptual design phase. It is oriented to:

      • – Competitiveness, evaluating the product in terms of quality, life cycle cost and delivery
      • – Zero-Waste Generation, leading to eliminate waste generation as well as enviromental impacts from the conceptual design phase

Follow our future posts where we will give more details about processes, methodologies and tools to implement Circular Economy within your company and to develop circular products and services.

Do not hesitate to share your doubts and thoughts and contact us !!

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose”. Charles Eames




  1. Juan Manuel Castro Gutierrez says:

    Es muy importante los avances en el diseño de productos en una economia circular que se viene desarrollando en Europa, en sudamerica como en Peru estamos recien empesando con los aspectos conceptuales de la economia circular, sin embargo existen instituciones gubernamentales y algunas empresas interesadas en estos temas. Es necesario que la economia circular se considere como un tema que debe ser incluido en la curricula universitaria.

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