Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – Interview with Head of Product Management
September 2022 | 5 minute read
At Yunex Traffic, we provide a wide range of innovative traffic management solutions to meet the needs of cities, highway authorities and mobility providers, with the objective of providing cleaner, healthier, safer and more sustainable environments to live and work in, and to visit. In this interview, our Head of Product Management, Martin Andrews explains how sustainability is integral to our processes.
How do you make sure that Yunex Traffic supplies customers with sustainable solutions?
To meet our customers environmental goals, sustainability is embedded in everything we do across our business. Of course, that statement is easy to say, but it’s one which we can substantiate through our approaches to both our operations and the products we develop. Sustainability really is deeply ingrained in our thinking.
This is particularly evident in our product development process. Our product management teams are responsible for taking products though their complete lifecycle, from concept design to end of life disposal. All products pass through a number of development milestones before being launched, with material selection, use and end-of-life recyclability crucial considerations at every stage. Throughout the process, the teams also focus on how the product can help customers achieve their net zero goals, for example by driving decarbonisation, reducing emissions or improving air quality.
Going beyond product launch, this development programme takes into account ongoing product service, support and management (which can then allow for redesigns, component changes, software updates etc), and then the final stage which is product decommissioning, recycling and reuse. Considering these key elements early on and throughout the entire development process has a key bearing on product design and material choice as our teams are thinking about how the product will be handled to when its life expires from the first concept stages – which unlike typical consumer products, can be thirty years or more into the future.
Can you give some examples of these sustainable products?
Our focus on sustainability in product design and manufacture stretches back many years. For example, we led the development in LED traffic signal technology to replace traditional, energy-efficient halogen bulbs to drive reductions in carbon emissions and energy bills and extend the life of on-street equipment.
Using LED technology, these new traffic signals require around 75% less power than traditional bulbs, but not only do they deliver significant cost savings, they also require significantly fewer routine maintenance visits to replace and clean lamps (again generating cost savings and reducing carbon emissions). With some local authorities reporting energy costs rising by as much as 300%, the benefits of using LED technology are enormous, with payback periods for a typical LED retrofit solution typically being just a few years.
We have already undertaken signal retrofit work across the UK, including extensive programmes in London and Manchester, with energy and maintenance cost savings of £1 million achieved in Manchester alone in the first two years after the retrofit programme was completed.
Does the choice of materials also impact on product design?
Yes it does. And while our LED retrofit solution is driving operational, efficiency and sustainability improvements, we also look closely at the materials we use and their ability to be recycled when decommissioned. Quite simply, if a material can’t be recycled, we are looking to take it out of our process completely where possible. A recent example of this drive is the launch of our new aluminium traffic signal pole, developed to replace traditional plastic-coated steel products.
Because bonded materials (like plastic coated metals) are difficult and costly to recycle, our development team were tasked to find a way to completely remove plastic from the product (rather than simply reducing the amount used). The solution was to use a completely new material, which offers the benefits of lightness and strength, but which doesn’t need to be plastic coated. Aluminium can also be continually recycled – with more than 75% of all the aluminium produced since the 1880s still in use today.
Having addressed the traffic signal lamps and poles in these two examples, our signal heads provide an example of recycled materials in use, with all our signal head bodies being manufactured from 100% reground plastic.
How else are you able to drive sustainability for customers?
Just completing the traffic signal example, our new Plus+ solution represents the first new approach to traffic signal control for decades. The result of many years of research, development, and testing by our team, the system enables the large number of copper signal cables that would have been used in a traditional system to be replaced with a much simpler and reduced cabling network.
The environmental and cost benefits of this are significant compared to a traditional traffic signal system. For each typical road junction signal scheme, Plus+ can virtually eliminate disruptive civil construction work and save over 5 kilometres, or one tonne, of copper cable having to be mined, refined, transported and buried beneath the road and preventing over 4.5 tonnes of embedded CO2 from entering the atmosphere. And by reducing the cost and time of installation, there’s much less disruption for road users, less congestion and reduced vehicle emissions.
These solutions show in different ways how through smart design and innovative thinking we can drive sustainability, cost and performance benefits for our customers and ultimately for the people who live, work, study in and visit our towns and cities.
Are there any other examples you would like to share?
Of course, I’ve talked about just a few examples, but there are countless others including a new smartmicro multi-lane radar detector which negates the need for traditional induction loops to be cut into our roads, as well as our clean air and low emission zone solutions which are already proving to drive environmental, health and safety benefits and creating cleaner, greener environments in London, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Newcastle, with more schemes to follow.
Through our Global Repair Centre, we also use our manufacturing experience and expert knowledge to repair and extend the life of equipment where appropriate, rather than it having to be replaced.
These examples all demonstrate both the importance and significant advantages that can be delivered by ensuring environmental and sustainability considerations are baked into the very core of the business and in particular, its development processes. Rethinking approaches to traffic management with a focus on material use, recycling and reuse is very much part of what we do.