When Integra Systems announced a new partnership with Dutch manufacturer Brink Industrial last December, it was a momentous step for the Broadmeadows-based manufacturer on a number of levels.

As well as providing a boost to business development and new business opportunities for Australian and Dutch co-manufacturing, the partnership also provided a platform for Integra to demonstrate its commitment to the development and growth of the circular economy as a fundamental design principle in manufacturing in Australia.

Speaking at the announcement, Dai Forterre, Senior Policy Officer for Economic Affairs with the Netherlands Embassy in Canberra, explained that while developing business opportunities for Dutch manufacturers in overseas markets is a prime focus of his responsibilities, an equally important part is identifying companies that share his and the Embassy’s vision for creating sustainable ways of doing business.

“Sustainability is an important part of [the Dutch government’s] economic, as well as our foreign policy, more broadly,” remarked Forterre. “I spend my time not just in what you would call economic diplomacy but what I call ‘green diplomacy’ and that’s where this really important collaboration meets – it’s a balance between economic innovation and development, and the adoption of sustainability ideas. Circularity has been an important agenda point, so it’s really wonderful for us to see entrepreneurs taking up the mantle and using it to drive innovative business models.”

With words and phrases like ‘circularity’, ‘circular design’ and ‘circular economies’ being used more frequently, it’s worth taking a moment to explain what it actually meant by circularity or the relatively new concept in Australia: Circularity by Design.

An introduction to circularity

Circularity is a remarkably broad term. It can best be described as a framework for an economy that is restorative and regenerative by design. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation is one of the world’s leading advocates for the advancement of circular economies, and expands on the notion of circularity in the following terms:

“Looking beyond the current take-make-waste extractive model, a circular economy aims to redefine growth, focusing on positive society-wide benefits. Underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources, the circular model … is based on three principles: design out waste and pollution; keep products and materials in use; and regenerate natural systems.”

In essence, a circular economy aims to keep resources in use for as long as possible and then, at the end of their operating life, find ways to recover and regenerate those products and materials. From a circular design perspective, it means designing products that are versatile, and using environmentally friendly processes and materials that have the functionality to be incorporated and repurposed on multiple occasions in the future.

Integra’s commitment to circularity

Integra has always embraced circular design – or Circularity by Design – in many practical, achievable ways. Interestingly enough, the company’s processes didn’t fit a ‘slogan’, yet circular design was naturally imbued in its ethos. Only now has the concept come to be known it as ‘circularity’. Take, for instance, the following examples.

Many of the products which Integra produces are designed in modular or kit form for flat-packed transportation. Kits can be assembled and disassembled on-site. Due to more efficient use of haulage space, this reduces transportation costs and waste, which subsequently results in reduced carbon emissions.

In the manufacturing process, Integra applies its knowledge of metals to select the most suitable material for its customers’ projects. The company does this to not only ensure the right product fit, but also the correct strength and durability, which leads to minimal defects and waste from product failure.

Integra’s engineering space relies on ‘smart’ machine technology, which includes servo electric press brakes that automatically shut down when not being used, reducing energy consumption with the use of Punch IT coil lines. Integra’s fibre optic laser and compass technology utilises the highest speed laser head available, delivering the fastest cutting speed at maximum efficiency. All metal off-cuts and scrap are systematically collected and sent to an accredited recycling specialist.

Circularity has always been a focus of product designs at Integra, and the company plans to continue making it more prominent in everything it does in the future: designing with an eye to waste reduction; employing modularity to maximise the scope for reuse or redeployment; and seeking possibilities to manufacture with recycled materials wherever possible.

Reduce, reuse, remake, redeploy and recycle. That is circularity.