14 February 2024

LiU students get to collaborate with Ikea, the global furniture giant. The students document possibility of repairing, replacing and reusing the parts in the products they first have to disassemble.

Two female student, dissasembling an Ikea product.
Masters students in technical design, Julia Magnusson Björk och Emmy Helltegen, disassembling an Ikea produkt. Ulrik Svedin

It's growing dark outside, on a late afternoon at Campus Valla in Linköping. The students are making their way home.

But not Julia Magnusson Björk and Emmy Helltegen.

They are studying Design and Product Development, with a Master’s specialisation in technical design. And now they are in the workshop in A Building, busy taking apart a combined lamp and bluetooth speaker from Ikea. Emmy Helltegen reads from the research documentation:

“A joining piece that cannot be removed and put back. Soldering that breaks after lifting the LED ramp a few times, glueing that makes it difficult for the user to replace the part...”

And so it continues, the documentation of a single product becomes a long and extensive list. They are working on two different models of lamp speakers from Ikea. They have almost finished with one of them. Its parts are spread out on a large tray on the workbench. And each piece is numbered.

“We have been careful to document everything during the work process. We’ve used completely ordinary tools such as pliers and a screwdriver. It’s meant to be quite easy for a user to change parts,” says Julia Magnusson Björk.

How has Ikea assisted your work?
“We can ask Ikea about most things. They’re very interested in these issues themselves. They know the components of these products. But they’re not as sure about how they are assembled. It feels like we can add something there,” says Emmy Helltegen.

Vinnova-funded research

The background to the project is Vinnova-funded research on the evaluation of circular product standards and the development of future ISO standardisation. Circular means that the components of the product can be reused or, if not, modified and reused, and finally recycled.
Erik Sundin, professor in ecodesign, leads the project in which the master’s students contribute with their work. He has long worked on product standards.

“The demands on both manufacturers and consumers are increasing. Circular product standards and legislation are coming to Europe. This puts pressure on manufacturers to put together products in a way that makes the components easy to reuse or remanufacture,” says Erik Sundin.

Maintaining value

Remanufacturing is a term for when the manufacturer has a system to take back the item, replace parts, possibly give it a new surface layer and then get it back on the market. The idea of a circular economy is to maintain the value of the components over time, with recycling as a final step.

“It’s a circular method that will become more common in the future as the regulatory framework becomes clearer. The truck manufacturer Toyota Material Handling is an example where they have some remanufacturing activity.”

Final report

Back at the LiU workshop, the students continue to disassemble the Ikea products piece by piece. Their work will conclude with a report to Ikea.

“It feels great to work with such a large company as Ikea, because they can actually make a difference in the market with their products,” says Emmy Helltegen.


Facts: New standard for remanufacturing

The European Committee for Electrotechnical Standardisation (CENELEC) is responsible for drawing up and determining European standards in the area of electrical engineering.

Professor Erik Sundin has participated in the design of a new standard, the "General method for the assessment of the ability to remanufacture energy-related products" (SS-EN 45553). It entered into force in July 2020 and describes the basis for assessing the feasibility of remanufacturing of electrical products.
Remanufacturing refers here to the industrial process of restoring a used product to its condition when new or better.
Currently, the researchers are working both on new circular standardisation and on how the existing standards are applied in the industry. They are also investigating how the products can become more circular according to these product standards.

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