In2tec’s Sustainable Flexible Electronics
In2tec is a UK company headquartered in Kettering that specialises in sustainable electronics technology. The company was spun out of C&K Components following a management buyout in 2001. It has extensive experience in manufacturing rigid, semi-flex, and fully flexible printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs). Since its founding, In2tec has been an innovator in flexible electronics dedicated to the development of PCBAs that can be fully recycled at end of life. This article is based on an interview with In2tec’s Commercial and Sustainable Electronics Director, Emma Armstrong.
In2tec – Pioneers in sustainable electronics
With over 55 million tonnes of electronic waste produced every year, the risk of harm to human and animal health as well as the environment is substantial. There is also considerable value squandered in discarded electronics. It is estimated that $60 billion worth of raw materials are lost every year as precious metals and re-useable materials are disposed of in landfill or incinerated. There is a lot of opportunity for the electronics industry to both reduce its environmental impact and economise on material expenditure through high volume recovery, reuse and recycling schemes.
Dating back to its origins in 2001, sustainability has been at the heart of In2tec’s technology. The company has developed its impressive, patented technology ‘ReUSE®’ – to provide material, models and process technology to deliver sustainable printed circuit board assemblies. Using proprietary electronics design and manufacturing techniques along with patented ReUSE® conductive adhesives, inter-layer adhesives, printed inks and dielectrics, In2tec can deliver printed circuit assemblies with 100% recyclability. This, together with ‘ReCYCLE™’ – In2tec’s patent-pending low-energy electronic component process and modules detachment process delivers fully reusable and undamaged components and materials for use in second-life. ReUSE® and ReCYCLE™ can deliver 100 % material recycling of its printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs). This contrasts sharply with typical PCBA material recycling of just 3-5 %.
In2tec has made its sustainability mission compatible with a wide range of substrate materials, so as well as a focus on developing biodegradable solutions, it offers polyimide, PET, and PEN substrates, all of these providing for recyclability and reusability in the circular economy.
In2tec estimates that 2.4 billion tonnes of CO2e could be spared if just 2.5% of the world’s annual PCBA production were to be manufactured using its ReUSE® technology. As a case study, In2tec compared the CO2e emissions produced from the manufacturing of a PCBA for a typical lightbar with those produced using In2tec’s ReUSE®. The results of the study showed that the emissions could be reduced from 0.3147 kg CO2e per PCBA to just 0.1181 kg CO2e in the manufacture of the first-life of the same Lightbar PCBA, equivalent to 62.5% reduction. The estimate for the second-life build of the same Lightbar PCBA, in ReUSE®, utilising Zero GHG production of materials/ PCBA is just 0.001kg CO2e in its manufacture.
In2tec’s ReUSE® and ReCYCLE™ technology encompassing materials, models and process is critical to the reduction of emissions by the electronics industry, but it also provides a solution to supply shortages. The approach enables recyclers to recover electronic components and contribute to the burgeoning market of second-life components. Amid ongoing global supply chain disruptions, the second-life component market is expected to become increasingly attractive to manufacturers.
Using a highly automated manufacturing process, In2tec is able to customise its PCBA design to the needs of its customers. In2tec’s in-house manufacturing centres in the UK and Shenzhen, China are aligned, manufacturing to the most exacting standards.
Belonging to an industry that is only just awakening to its enormous environmental impact, In2tec is miles ahead of the game. Having prioritised sustainability over 20 years ago, it has demonstrated commercial success can be achieved through innovative manufacturing, reuse and recycling methods. To discover more about the future of sustainable electronics, access IDTechEx’s report, Sustainable Electronics Manufacturing: 2023-2033.
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