CIRC4Life Interoperability Layer developed
14 June 2020
Imagine a future where a user or buyer of a product can access close to all of the vital information: environmental and social impacts of the products production and use, support resources such as manuals, learning materials, systems for feedback and collaboration and knowledge support for effective recycling/ repair/ refurbishment through one integrating user interface. Imagine a future where a company can compile all relevant information on a product’s content and impact from different and distributed sources – regardless of the type of information and data. Imagine a procurement office that can evaluate a product from many more aspects than price: total product environmental and social impacts, availability of future re-use markets, future potential for effective recycling/ re-use/ repair/ refurbishment and future efficiency in closing the resource loops. These contexts expose ICT solutions to extensive challenges in the forms of data complexities, demands on performance, IP management and data/ transmission volumes.
The interoperability layer / product / escrow system as part of the CIRC4Life ICT platform was developed as a first approach to support such effective information exchange and storage for the future circular economy environment. Not only will the information connected to a product needs to cover the whole lifecycle of the product but also has to support the information flow when the product is disassembled, its components / resources are re-used/ recycled in completely new products demanding access to repair/ servicing and refurbishment histories. As it can be clearly understood, the amount of data and its complexity can grow significantly for even simpler products during their extensive resource loops. It also became clear that the types of information managed over time cannot fully be understood today – the overall environment must be adaptable for future demands not foreseen today. Examples of such types of information can cover interoperability with Artificial Intelligence/ Deep Learning solutions for remaining useful life (RUL) and calculations of advanced equipment.
All of the above illustrated types of information and processes will demand unique data and tools for management, often adapted for different user groups and demands. One option can be to separate the storage and management of all these types of information into specialised systems, but this will create fragmentation and challenges when gathering the different information to create unified approaches for searches and management of the data and information – a challenge that exists today. Thus, the selected approach was to create a unified database model capable of handling a large number of information types and prepare the support of large-scale deployment by a Peer-to-Peer (P2P) architecture. The P2P approach is important due to performance, resilience and IP aspects simplifying future large-scale, and an eventual global implementation.
Getting the technical aspects out of the way – a solution based on PostgreSQL database (www.postgres.org ) was used for data storage. The first version of the CIRC4Life interoperability layer uses web services (computer-to-computer communication) for communications and the first simple storage architecture is using JSON storage format. Future versions will use more advanced composite approaches for data storage. To speed up development and testing, Omnis Studio (www.omnis.net) was chosen to handle communications, database logic management and end-user interface via web browsers.
The end-user of the system uses the interface below to add different types of information to a selected product / resource/ process / method. The types of information that have been developed for a product in the CIRC4Life context are basic product data from GS1 Repository, LCA (Life cycle assessment) calculation base data, data on lifespan and categories for WEEE, multimedia information types and results from Eco-point calculations. These different information types have their own structure and contents but are still managed within one integrating user interface shown below. There are no limits on the number of information entries or types connected to the product. The information types can cover information from all of the areas described in the illustration above.
Since the solution is prepared for P2P implementation, it allows individual companies and actors to use the system as a complex repository for their products but also for their processes, methodologies and knowledge management solutions. This approach also allows for strong protection of the company’s IP.
The overall solution can also be implemented as a centralised system for functions such as escrow and centralised products databases optimised for products and resource markets through services. This allows the customer to evaluate a product from a large number of perspectives and also allows the producer to tag their product with very detailed data for qualified searches on recycled building materials and refurbished electronics etc. These functions can be supported by specialised information types dedicated to simplify very advanced and specialised searches.
The simpler approach developed in CIRC4Life forms the foundation for future project proposals and development. Information and resource types evaluated during the CIRC4Life are also investigated for future projects and developments. Amongst them are search meta-data information types for specialised sectors used in recycled materials markets, management of LCA(s) / Product Environmental Footprint data and results up-stream flows in procurement processes and more effective integration of knowledge resources / best practices into the products overall information context.