SU industrial design students tackle computer recycling
SU industrial design students tackle computer recyclingOctober 28, 2003Amy Schmitzaemehrin@syr.edu
Ever wonder what happened to that computer you bought in 1999 and upgraded last year to a newer, faster model? Recycling millions of computers and their related hardware is a growing challenge in the U.S. In response to this challenge, the IBM Asset Recovery Center in Endicott, N.Y. and Syracuse University recently collaborated to create new ways to efficiently disassemble computer workstations while reducing waste.
“IBM is focusing on activities that minimize the impact to the environment through effective reuse and recycling processes,” says Donald Carr, associate professor in SU’s industrial and interaction design department. “SU saw this as an opportunity to give our students a real world problem. This is something being dealt with on a daily basis in the work world, and we wanted our students to understand the process of trying to solve a real problem.”
IBM invited SU students to help find ways of doing exactly that while still reclaiming resources. Students began the project by touring the “dis-assembly line” in Endicott, where IBM computers from all over the United States are disassembled. Some of the parts are reused internally and others are resold on the open market to third party vendors.
“After we toured Endicott, we also learned how to take a PC apart in order to understand how it is assembled. Then, using the Syracuse area as a resource for field research, we compiled a series of ideas as inspiration. We went to Hancock Airport and studied the design of in-flight beverage carts; we went to Sears to study their roll-away tool boxes,” says fifth-year student Nate Schaal. “This helped us determine how to design workstations for taking apart computers that would be convenient for the consumer while also reducing computer waste.”
The students created various mobile workstations that can be site specific to local computer repair centers. Instead of end-of-life computers being shipped to an asset recovery center for disassembly, computers can be taken apart anywhere the workstations are located. IBM critiqued and reviewed the models and has suggested follow-ups to the students.
“In addition to trying to improve the disposal process of the increasing numbers of obsolete computers, we also learned how important it is to design things that don’t generate as much waste in the first place,” says Schaal. The trend of acknowledging that products have lives beyond their original use is growing in the design field, and allows designers to have more influence on the ways products are made or changed.
The collaboration with IBM also made SU students keenly aware of the environmental impact of computers. “The students are the decision-makers of the future,” says Carr, “and now they understand a real world problem-that nothing is ever lost and it is important to recycle what we have.”