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Crystal Clear – how do you design the circular products of tomorrow? 

28.07.22|8 min
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A step towards circularity Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Component recovery and repairability to keep products in circulation for longer are the key challenges that our designers faced when coming up with kettle concepts for The Story of One Kettle. Future Lab by Ergodesign exhibition at the Gdynia Design Days (2-10 July 2022).  They all prove that the principles of circular economy can be put into practice to optimize costs instead of wasting more resources.  

Circular, meaning what…?  

A circular economy is an economy in which products, after manufacture, go into circulation and stay there for good. First products, then their components, and finally materials from which they were manufactured are recovered and reused, again and again, and when their repeated life cycles come to an end, they are safely disposed of without any harm to the environment. The key goal of extending and looping a product’s lifecycle is based on the assumption that products should serve their users for as long as possible, and when their useful life ends, raw materials they were made from must become a resource again. In the model sense, this idea is not yet fully implemented in business or industry, but positive practices of innovation leading organizations encourage more and more manufacturers to follow suit.  

What you will learn from this article:  

  • How do we design for circularity? 
  • Why is the Crystal kettle legendary? 
  • What conclusions did we come to after we took the kettle apart?  
  • How does our kettle concept fit into the 3R principle: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle?  
  • What does it mean that the material the Crystal Clear kettle is made from has been made homogeneous? 

How do we design for circularity? 

The thing most commonly neglected by designers developing new products is that they only look at a small slice of product life cycle – production and use. Meanwhile, it does not take much more effort to enhance a product’s ability to function in successive cycles as a complete product, individual components or a recyclable material.  

We have decided to take the next step in the history of design and develop circular product concepts in accordance with a few strategies of circular product development. Inspired by the history of the famous Crystal kettle designed by Ergodesign for Zelmer in 1996, our designers came up with five kettle concepts, each of which is circular in a different way. As a result, a product of the past is becoming a product of tomorrow. The essential elements which can help close the cycle are new materials and services. All the concepts were presented in the “everything circulates” zone at our exhibition, and one of them is described in this article.  

 Just legendary 

The Zelmer Crystal has been in serial production for nearly 30 years and has achieved excellent sales results. Throughout that time, it has won itself the name of a kettle that cannot be broken. It has become legendary, even iconic – it has become an icon of Polish design of the 1990s and found its way to the permanent exhibition of Polish design at the National Museum in Warsaw.  

At the time when it was designed by Ergodesign, no one had even heard about the concept of circular economy or come up with realistic scenarios about the approaching climate catastrophe. The Crystal was just a decent, well-made and honest product, designed and manufactured the way its buyer would have liked it. Its reputation of a product likely to survive an apocalypse inspired us to work on it from a designer’s perspective, to reflect on how we would design it today to make it the product of tomorrow, while keeping all its present advantages.   

Deconstructing a kettle 

The fact that the Crystal works great as a long-lived product does not mean that it fits perfectly into the principles of circular economy. We have decided to try and see how else we could modify its design to make the product more sustainable. We started by taking it apart and assessing which components are redundant, which are most vulnerable to failure, and where we could look for alternative materials.  

From a review of product comparison engines and online forums we learned that the most common fault is leakage (but it usually affects products which have been in use for a very long time). We observed that, due to the kettle’s long life, a private secondary market has developed. You can buy a Crystal second-hand, as well as buy components or spare parts for it.  

Of course, the product has been on the market for so long that it has been optimized to the maximum in terms of   workmanship economy, elimination of design errors and general product properties, but the question of what happens to it after its useful life comes to an end has never been asked. 

3R – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle in practice  

We have adopted a design strategy focused on ease of maintenance and repair, where the key goal is to simplify product design, eliminate components vulnerable to failure and design the product in such a way as to make repair as straightforward as possible. 

The new kettle design introduces significant modifications to the product, making it more circular. In line with the 3R principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – the new version of the kettle is made up of fewer components that can be easily separated, which makes them reusable.  

„Access to components and planning for their repair is a very important aspect of encouraging consumers to fix their products. To ensure that it ‘pays off’ to fix a product rather than buy a new one, this functionality must be provided for and taken into account already at the product design stage, before starting mass production.”  

says Mariusz Ryło, CEO at Fixit.  

For kettles, the most common examples of components that are hard to separate are: 

  • multi-component elements (such as extra injection with a different type of material on the sight glass or the non-slip handle coating), 
  • permanently bonded (e.g. glued) kettle body and bottom heater, 
  • use of metal elements and latches (e.g. spring on kettle lid), 
  • soldered electrical components that prevent separation of a broken element from a functional one. 

Simplicity first  

The material of kettle components in the Crystal Clear has been homogenized too. We gave up snap components made from various materials in favor of just one – transparent polypropylene, which has the highest value in the process of reprocessing into granules which can then be reused for production. The switch has been moved from the handle to the base to simplify the replacement of this heavily used element.  

A minor change, yet significant considering the scale of production, was to abandon pad-printed markings on the water level indicator in favor of grooves in the mold. Unfortunately, recovered kettle bodies cannot be processed into granules to make new kettles, because at present regulations do not allow the use of recycled materials for direct contact with food. Therefore, in this case circularity is about the ability to reuse a high-value raw material to make new products which can be made from recyclate. 

The Crystal Clear kettle we have designed is a redesign concept drawing on the iconic Crystal, which introduces significant changes to the product, making it more circular. In line with the 3R principle – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – the new version of the kettle is made up of fewer components that can be easily separated, which makes them reusable. We propose that the kettle should be made entirely of a transparent material, which has the highest value when it comes to reprocessing into granules.

The described concept was presented as part of The History of One Kettle. Future Lab by Ergodesign exhibition at the Gdynia Design Days (2-10 July 2022).  One of the zones was devoted to concepts of the kettle, each of which is based on a different circular design strategy. Each of those concepts proves that, step by step, you can strive for change in designing towards circularity to expand the know-how in that area and work to popularize such solutions on the market. 

 “We must change how we design, use, and reuse plastics. We cannot simply recycle or reduce our way out of the plastic pollution crisis. If we don’t act now, by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in the oceans.” 

source: https://ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/topics/plastics/overview 

 For more circular economy inspirations check out our podcast

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The partner of our exhibition at the Gdynia Design Days is FIXIT SA – a partner in building the user experience in after-sales service and technical consulting, enabling product life cycle management, recovery and reuse of products and their components. Fixit has a network of branches and partners in Poland (Kraków and Krosno), Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Switzerland. With almost 20 years of experience, the company has gained confidence with the most recognizable manufacturers of consumer electronics, IT equipment and household appliances, as well as a wide range of individual customers. Through its activities, Fixit proves that circular economy is already the present and will be the future.  

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