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Potential of Life Cycle Assessment for Product Development, Design, and Optimization
Over the past few decades, the demands and awareness for a more careful handling of natural resources have changed dramatically. In particular, resource efficiency is gaining in importance against the background of critical and scarce resources, and globally linked supply chains. As a result, looking at the full lifecycles of products and businesses is gaining more and more attention from manufacturers and consumers. Life-cycle thinking is about going beyond the traditional focus on production locations and manufacturing processes to include the environmental, social and economic impact of a product over its entire lifecycle. While Life Cycle Thinking is a philosophy, Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a scientific method that enables this mind-set by quantitatively assessing the environmental impact of a product over its entire lifecycle - from raw material extraction to disposal. The process of product development has a very large impact on potential environmental impacts in the individual lifecycle phases. It defines the function, mode of action, design and material as well as decisions on technical, economic and ecological product properties - and thus on manufacturing processes or recycling processes. In addition, about 85% of the manufacturing costs are already set in this stage. Comprehensive ecological assessments of existing products or processes can be used to uncover "hotspots" and thus be used for improvement measures in future product developments. This controls both manufacturing processes and resource consumption, usage and end-of-life. Last but not least, hidden environmental costs and losses in production and after-treatment can be uncovered and entire supply chains can be influenced. In the context of life cycle analyzes for products or product systems as well as for processes, a practical procedure is proposed, which is compliant with the specifications of ISO 14040 for life cycle assessment and supports the strategies of the VDI 4800 guidelines. The approach is a useful instrument for different industries, where the results of the LCA can be used for the decision-making regarding actions related to product design or in the field of material and energy management.