Yanking open an overstuffed file drawer in his office at Kodak headquarters in Rochester, NY, engineer Robert Fischmann pulls out two articles that he has carefully filed away side-by-side: One is a news story from the Neward Star Ledger, dated May 15, 1990, describing the "Wastemaker Award" given to Kodak that year by several environmental groups for excessive and wasteful use of packaging materials in its one-time-use camera. The other is a newswire bulletin, dated December 8, 1998, announcing Kodak as the recipient of the World Environmental Center's 1999 Gold Medal for Corporate Environmental Achievement.
From one new model introduction to the next, Kodak engineers have strived to reduce the amount of material and energy required to manufacture a single-use camera. Through such improvement efforts, Kodak has also been able to reduce the price of the camera by almost half since first introducing it.
Fischmann, who heads up worldwide recycling operations for Kodak's one-time-use camera, relishes the contrast between the two. But transforming what was essentially a disposable product into one in which all but one of the components are recovered for reuse or recycling involved much more than a simple product redesign for Kodak engineers.
"Given the choice at the beginning, we would have rather sold a roll of film. However, once we saw that the market for single-use cameras was taking off, we jumped in. But we had a lot to learn about environmental design," recalls Camera Technical Center Manager John Spencer, who is responsible for overall product architecture, product roadmaps, and engineering competency for the single-use camera. "The original concept was a throwaway product-after all, we first called it the Kodak Fling-and suddenly we are grappling with questions like, How do we design a camera that we can take apart without damaging it and reuse parts of it?'"
Learn, Kodak engineers obviously did, using life-cycle assessment tools and applying robust design techniques to minimize the product's environmental impact. Since its introduction in 1987, Kodak's single-use camera has gone through four major redesigns, with engineers meeting the same three environmental design goals each time:
Reduce the material content and energy required in the manufacturing process
Increase the number of recycled parts
Increase the number of parts that are reused in new cameras
In fact, the only part in the entire camera today that is not either recycled into new parts or reused is the battery (see sidebar page 72). Kodak gives them away or sends them to steel mills that recover the metal.
A total of 26 of the 27 (96.3%) parts that make up Kodak's single-use camera are either recycled or reused in a new camera (some components are reused up to 8 times!). Taht works out to between 76 and 90% of the camera by weight. Many of the parts made of polystyrene and polycarbonate materials, such as the outer covers of the camera, are removed, ground up and extruded into pellets, and remade into new parts. Although a high percentage of batteries is returned to Kodak. they remain an obstacle to the company's "no-landfill" policy.
Cutting out the waste
. Increasingly, engineers everywhere are focusing their efforts on designing green products. A testimony to the successful efforts of engineers at Kodak, the company's newest single-use camera, introduced in 1999, has 75% less material content and consumes 67% less energy in the manufacturing process than the original model (see chart). As a result, Kodak estimates that it has diverted more than 50 million lbs of waste from landfills (based on an average of six cameras per pound). Here's how they did it:
Switched from a cardboard box to an all-plastic body (itself made of 35% post-consumer resin) and plastic label. "This transition resulted in significantly less cardboard waste in our recycling operations and at the photofinisher, and created a safer, more efficient film extraction process for lab operators," says Fischmann. The polystyrene-based, pressure- sensitive label is reground and pelletized right along with the cover, which saves both time and waste. Wherever possible, Kodak engineers have standardized on readily recyclable materials, such as polystyrene and polycarbonate.
Reduced the wall thickness of many of the molded parts, while at the same time preserving the required structural integrity.
Incorporated snap features instead of ultrasonic welds to hold together the covers.
Refined its plastic injection-molding operations. "By adding hot-runner resin delivery systems and using FEA to optimize our mold-filling operations, we're molding 67% quicker than we were back in the 1980s," says Bill Moucha, manager of global tooling. "And we're not just saving on energy, but on the amount of tooling required, too."
Old into new . Many design changes, such as using snap features to hold together the covers, help simplify camera disassembly and support the critical process of recycling old parts into new cameras. The percentage of cameras that are returned and recycled-just more than 70% in the U.S.-exceeds recycling rates for both aluminum cans and soft drink containers.
In Kodak's closed-loop recycling process, film developers send all camera bodies-including those of its competitors-to a centralized collection facility, which sorts them by manufacturer and then ships them to a Kodak reprocessing facility. Here, operators remove the covers, battery, and lens, then clean and inspect the remaining components and forward them to a Kodak plant where they will be assembled into new cameras. Among the major components that are reused (up to 8 times in some cases) are the frame, metering system, and flash circuit board.
But not the battery. "I haven't bought a double-A battery in six years," jokes Fischmann, though he isn't exactly kidding around. Every one of the more than 300 million single-use cameras that Kodak has recycled to date that incorporates a flash uses one or two AA or AAA alkaline batteries, and not a single one has gone into a new camera.
Although only a small percentage of the battery's energy is actually used up taking flash pictures with a single-use camera (Fischmann's estimate is 10 to 20%), Kodak says doubts about the exact amount of energy remaining in the battery prevent it from being reused in a new camera. "People don't like to wait for the flash to go off, and the only way to guarantee fast cycle times is to use a brand new battery in each camera," explains Fischmann.
The economics of Kodak's recycling strategy depend on reusing parts as many times as possible-and the company has worked to institutionalize the concept of robust design. To the engineering team, robust de- sign means developing a pro- duct that performs consistently throughout its life cycle, has inherently high reliability and durability, and meets both functional and recyclability requirements.
Ideas for many of the design innovations that support Kodak's efforts to reuse parts-like the snap feature-have sprung directly from field observations. As an example, the decision to round off the corners of the frame, allowing water to flow more freely during the cleaning process, was the brainchild of an engineer who visited the collection facility. "Whenever new design engineers join the team, we take them through the return process, so that they can see first-hand how the product is handled, and develop a better appreciation of the importance of a robust design," says Senior Development Engineer Maureen Churan-King. She is responsible for tactical implementation of Kodak's recycling strategy in new and existing products.
During her first tour of a camera remanufacturing line, Churan-King admits being shocked at seeing a dumper roughly up-end a crateful of cameras onto a vibrating conveyor belt. "My first thought was, "Now I know why the yields are so low.'"
The yields are no longer low, thanks to Kodak's efforts to educate engineers and make them more aware of the impact of the choices they make.
One area of the camera where engineers have improved the robustness of the design is in the high-value electronics system. "Early on, we were seeing things like small cracks and slight leaks in some of the flash tubes. Obviously, they were losing gas pressure out in the field," says Fischmann. "So we started taking a look at some of these failures, and through a small design change have achieved some pretty astounding results in terms of quality improvement." Kodak also encourages customers to return cameras that fail in the field, so that engineers can study them and make improvements.
Recently, engineers made a design change to a stamped metal part that synchronizes the flash with the opening of the shutter. Operators were seeing a high number of defects on the camera recycling line, whereby the electrical connection was lost or, worse, became intermittent. The original design, which relied on the spring action of the stamped part to provide adequate force to maintain electrical contact at all times, did not always hold up to the banging and jarring cameras encounter during the return process.
To avoid the potential for a flash failure in a new camera, Kodak designed a simpler part that is soldered directly to the flashboard. "The soldered connection is 100% reliable, even with normal abuse seen in the handling of recycled cameras," says Fischmann. "And it actually costs less than the part it replaced, and eliminated a difficult assembly step."
This kind of continuous improvement in the design of the single-use camera has resulted in excellent yields. "But there's always room to improve," says Fischmann. "For example, if we could just figure out what to do about those batteries."
Every one of the more than 300 million single-use cameras that Kodak has recycled that incorporates a flash uses one or two AA or AAA alkaline batteries, and not a single one has gone into a new camera. We consulted with two battery experts, and asked their opinion on what Kodak can do about its battery problem.
"The issue for Kodak today is that it can't say with confidence how many flashes it can get out of a used battery if it's put into a new camera. So Kodak has created this huge pool of batteries it then has to get rid of," says Francis Clay McMichael, a professor of environmental engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who has been studying the environmental impact of batteries since 1989. "One option for Kodak is smart battery technology, similar to the indicator that you see on some battery packs today that tells you whether or not the battery is good. In fact, there are companies out there today who argue that big users of batteries should have a battery monitoring system in place. The question for Kodak is, "How costly are these systems and are they good enough today to meet its specs?'"
Donald R. Sadoway, a professor of materials science and engineering at MIT who is currently working on research directed at development of solid-state lithium battery technology, has a different take: "It's rather hypocritical that Kodak is still using a disposal battery-the battery technology with the most negative environmental impact-in the single-use camera, given the company's no-landfill policy. Today, there is an ample number of rechargeable battery technologies to choose from-nickel cadmium and lithium ion, to name two, that are quite economical if one divides their cost by the number of cycles. Kodak has the perfect closed-loop system in place to recapture these batteries and recharge them. If Kodak could push the lifetime of the batteries to something like 200-300 cycles, just imagine the positive environmental impact it would have."
Kodak insists that any alternative to a disposable battery is cost prohibitive today. "In a high-volume business like this, a rechargeable battery is not practical from a cost or operational standpoint," says Fischmann. "Besides, if we put too much value in the camera, we run the risk of disrupting our closed-loop recycling. In the meantime, we're looking at ways to make a battery that could be used more than once economically."
Since introducing its own single-use camera, the PopShot, in late 1998, Polaroid appears to be following in Kodak's footsteps with regard to green design. In March of this year, the company started up its first camera recycling line in China. According to mechanical engineer John T. Reimels, program manager for the PopShot Camera, the current plan is to reuse approximately 90% of the camera's components up to three times in new cameras. "From the very beginning, we designed the entire camera with recycling in mind," says Reimels. To simplify recycling, says Reimels, the internal portion of the camera, aka "the guts," is designed as a standalone unit that is cleaned, inspected, and assembled into a new camera. Similar to Kodak's camera design, the polystyrene outer shell simply pops off, is ground up into pellets, and remade into new parts. The film pack uses a standard alkaline battery that is removed before shipment to China for recycling. Reimels says Polaroid is evaluating whether or not the battery could be reused in a new camera.
Currently Polaroid receives back in the vicinity of 15 to 20% of the cameras it sells, and hopes to grow that figure to 30% in the future. The fact that enough cameras are returned to justify a recycling line is all the more remarkable when you consider that the camera does not need to be taken in to a film processor for development. So unlike Kodak, Polaroid has no easy way to close the recycling loop. The company encourages customers to return used cameras by including a postage-paid envelope that fits into a normal post office box.