Dell's Concept Laptop Is a 'Design for Disassembly' Win

Why is this a concept and not reality?

Concept luna removing keyboard


Years ago, when Dell started taking back computers for recycling, it found it had a problem: the devices were almost impossible to take apart. Designed for ease of assembly, they were glued and screwed together, so disassembly was difficult. So Dell changed the way its computers were put together.

Back in 2016, Scott O’Connell, Dell’s director of environmental affairs, described how the company was looking at modularity and making products easier to disassemble. “Even something that may seem simple like removing the number of screws on the bottom of a laptop,” O’Connell said. “If we can reduce it from 10 to five, we can make it easier to repair, reuse and close it back up.”

Concept Luna demonstration


Today they might say, "Screws? That's so 2016." Dell recently announced the latest version of Concept Luna, eliminating the need for adhesives and cables and minimizing the use of screws, and making it even easier to take apart a computer.

"It can take recycling partners more than an hour to disassemble a PC with today’s technology, held together with screws, glues, and various soldered components," said Glenn Robson, Dell's chief technology officer. "With our evolved Concept Luna design, we’ve reduced disassembly time to mere minutes. We even commissioned a micro-factory to guide our design team, resulting in a device that robots can quickly and easily take apart."

Humans doing dell


Humans can do it, too. In a recent demonstration, it took 45 seconds for a Dell technician to take the computer apart.

It's what's known as "design for disassembly" or DfD. It started with architecture and building, but DfD is finding its way into everything from sneakers to stereos to snowboards. According to Courier, "Utah-based snowboard brand Niche has created a way to dissolve the bio-resins it uses for its boards, ensuring that none of the components used in manufacturing end up in landfill."

It seems so logical. You pop off the top and all the components inside are slotted onto pins, so when you take out the first component, the next can slide off its pins, and then the next, until you have an empty aluminum shell.

This makes so much sense in the notebook era. Back in the day when we had desktop computers, you could spill coffee on your keyboard, which cost you 20 bucks for a new one. All the components were separate so that you could change them easily, and you could open the box to do upgrades or repairs. It didn't matter if parts aged at different rates.

That's not true with notebooks, as Robson explained:

"Because the way customers use their technology varies, not all components reach end-of-life at the same time. People working from home, for example, may use external components, such as keyboards and monitors. The laptop’s keyboard and monitor have barely been used, even when the motherboard is ready to be replaced. Our Concept Luna evolution can equip and connect individual components to telemetry to optimize their lifespans. At its simplest, it’s akin to how we maintain our vehicles: we don’t throw away the entire car when we need new tires or brakes."
Luna lifting a motherboard
Luna lifting a motherboard from computer.


The robots make it even faster and easier. "The exciting addition of robotics and automation serve as a catalyst to accelerate efficient device disassembly, measure component health and remaining usability, and better understand which components can be reused, refurbished or recycled—so nothing goes to waste."

What's not to love about Concept Luna? Robson said it's “just a concept right now; it is a long-term vision for how we achieve an even greater business and societal impact through circular design practices." But to paraphrase economist John Maynard Keynes, in the long term we are all dead. What is keeping Dell from doing this now, with or without robots?

The Framework computer is designed from the ground up around these principles, and it doesn't need a robot. Any consumer can open up the machine and replace any part as needed.

opening up computer


DfD should be considered for everything we make, but it is particularly relevant for computers, which have high value and, as Robson noted, have parts that age at different rates. Of course, I have been preaching this for years while I guiltily type away on my MacBook Pro that has an Ifixit repairability score of 1. The Dell XPS comes in at 7; the Framework at 10.

Forget the long-term vision. Dell could and should do this now. Give everyone that magic screwdriver—it's easy when you design for disassembly.