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Measuring the carbon footprint of drug delivery devices with LCA

Challenge

Assess the environmental impact of a range of drug delivery devices from a simple syringe to complex auto-injectors.

Approach

Our client, a pharmaceutical company, approached Team Consulting to evaluate the carbon footprint of six of their drug delivery devices. We conducted a systematic Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) of each device. To do this, we used data on the products and their supply chain in combination with carbon footprint statistics from LCA databases and literature.

Outcome

This analysis produced a robust estimation of carbon footprint between the “cradle” and “gate” stages (between material extraction and the factory gates, ahead of distribution). We highlighted factors that caused high emissions in all devices (the units of the analysis were in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, gCO2e). This allowed our client to make data-informed decisions to reduce their environmental impact in areas such as supply chain management. Our analysis also prompted them to modify their packaging elements to further reduce their carbon footprint.

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Measuring environmental impact

The environmental impact of a product can be measured in a number of ways. One of the most common is the carbon footprint, or carbon equivalent emissions generated during the life cycle of the product. With the industry being under increasing pressure to develop medical devices with a low environmental impact, the client decided to understand the impact of a range of drug delivery devices. The company’s aim was to compare the carbon footprint of different approaches to drug delivery and highlight areas for improvement in future devices. They approached us with devices ranging from a simple syringe and vial kit to complex automated systems.

Defining the scope

We spent time understanding which areas of the life cycle our client was interested in analyzing.

Acquiring product characteristics

The project team obtained the bill of materials of the product components, including final packaging.

Defining the supply chain

We created a diagram to layout the processes, transportation routes and methods.

Carbon footprint

The data was summarized for each device which allowed us to make suitable comparisons and helped our client make an impactful change to the production of their devices.

Life Cycle Analysis: defining the project’s scope

When doing an LCA, understanding the level of detail the client is interested in is paramount. For example, a Cradle-to-Grave model would run from material extraction through to production, transportation, device use and disposal. The aim for some products may be to employ a Cradle-to-Cradle model, where the device is recovered or reclaimed by the manufacturer for reuse or repurposing.

Since our client’s products were already on the market, employing a new disposal step would require a fundamental change to the design, so it was not included in our analysis. Our clients were interested in the Cradle-to-Gate stages of the life cycle (between material extraction through to the factory gates, ahead of distribution).

Gathering carbon data on materials and manufacturing

Many of the components in the devices that we examined are injection molded plastic. Carbon data on these were accessible through LCA databases. Our project team also quantified the carbon associated with the manufacture of glass syringes and steel needles.

Using our knowledge about how these parts are made and how much energy goes into their production, we were able to generate a reasonable estimation for their associated carbon footprint.

To get carbon data on the electromechanical elements of the devices under review, our electronics engineers conducted some research to understand what goes into the manufacture of PCBs and other components, including batteries and soldering processes. For example, the chemicals on PCBs make them particularly impactful on the environment. The soldering process also requires high amounts of energy to perform.

Plastic waste is an ongoing problem that needs attention in all products, but the medical device world is much more complex and the highest environmental impacts can be found in unlikely places.

Prem-Sagar Tank, Mechanical Engineer Specialist, Team Consulting

Including the assembly process in the LCA

Carbon data for the devices’ assembly steps are not readily available in LCA databases. This lack of data may leave such processes overlooked when assessing carbon footprint. In some scenarios, these processes may not have a significant impact, but there are more considerations to make for the assembly of medical devices. From our exposure to these processes within this industry, we were able to quickly identify literature that would support our LCA. This helped us establish carbon values that were otherwise unavailable.

person-looking-at-life-cycle-analysis-tool-on-a-computer

We needed to carefully research and consider underlying model inputs such as component packaging configuration, sterilization processes and cleanroom energy burdens.

Nia Stevens, Mechanical Engineer Specialist, Team Consulting

Supply chain logistics

The client provided us with information on the medical devices’ supply chain route and methods, such as road or air transport. We combined this information with readily available data on transport footprint for a given mass. However, it was also important to consider the packaging in which the components and sub-assemblies are transported.

We used our team’s extensive experience with medical device development to make reasonable assumptions on the materials, size and form of the transit packaging elements. For example, we assessed the standard approaches to packaging for syringe transportation. This highlighted the significant impact of transit packaging on the overall footprint of the devices, both related to manufacturing and transportation.

We assessed the standard approaches to packaging for syringe transportation

Outcome

While the industry is catching up with generating LCA data better suited to medical device production, we were able to use our expertise in the field to deliver robust LCA models. Our results were reliable and used by our client to make a positive change to their processes, aligned with their sustainability ambitions.

 

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