Dell's Concept Luna Laptop Rocks Refined Modularity For Smarter Sustainability

concept luna layflat hero
Dell introduced an initiative to bolster the sustainability of its laptops last year. These efforts yielded a prototype laptop dubbed Concept Luna. Concept Luna features a radical change to how Dell builds its laptops, with a focus on making components immediately accessible, replaceable, and reusable. Dell is now showing off its latest refinements to the concept, and the advances are impressive.

The Concept Luna pitch is effectively “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” in action. The prototype laptop features stripped down complexity which uses less materials (particularly for the motherboard) than a traditional laptop design. The components are further modularized, allowing users to swap out portions of the notebook which have reached the end of their useful lifespan without tossing out the entire unit. The modularity also eases the repair and disassembly pipeline to make actual recycling of components more of a reality.

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Concept Luna Laptop - Fully Assembled

Dell shares that its recycling partners currently need about an hour to disassemble a PC using today’s technology. The process is slowed significantly by the need to remove screws, fight through adhesives, and desolder certain components. Concept Luna, by contrast, can be disassembled into its base components in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. This may not make-or-break a repair shop which sees a few of these particular units now and then. However, at the scale of an Enterprise fleet, or for end-of-life reclamation, these efficiencies add up in a hurry.

concept luna components
Concept Luna - Dismantled Components

We were invited to see a demonstration of Concept Luna’s latest refinements for ourselves. Starting with an array of parts on a table, the representative only needed about 45 seconds to assemble and boot the laptop. This is made possible by Dell’s continued iterations of the modular design. Its engineers have focused on eliminating the need for cable runs and adhesives, and further reducing screw counts. The process can simply be reversed for rapid disassembly.

The Concept Luna laptop is effectively toolless, apart from the keystone triggers to begin the disassembly process and to remove the display. Once that is out of the way, the keyboard can slide up for removal, exposing the interior. The remaining modules pop together bit by bit with minimal apparent effort needed. It appears that Dell has incorporated interconnects right into the frame where cable runs would traditionally be used.

concept luna display keystone
Display Keystone Trigger

Dell created a “micro-factory” with robots capable of performing the disassembly quickly. This required further work with the design team to make Concept Luna more robot-friendly in the first place. Robot arms work in tandem to dismantle the laptop onto trays which can then be processed further.

Dismantled modules are not necessarily destined for disposal. Dell says it has incorporated telemetry into these parts to better assess whether a component can be simply reused, needs refurbishment, or if it is time to recycle the raw materials. Dell likens this to vehicle maintenance, noting that “we don’t throw away the entire car when we need new tires or brakes.” Indeed, the motherboard may be past its prime, but the frame, keyboard, and display may remain in good shape. With Concept Luna, these could live on with a new motherboard component, minimizing landfill use.

concept luna micro factory robots
Dell's Micro-Factory For Concept Luna In Action

Of course, this only works if replacement and upgrade modules are available for purchase, and at reasonable costs. The history of laptops is littered with failed attempts at modularization and standardization. These range from NVIDIA’s MXM standard for mobile graphics cards to Dell’s own “upgradeable” Alienware Area-51m, which never saw a next-generation upgrade.

It is all well and good that Dell wants to explore sustainability and expanding repairability, but it needs to put its full commitment behind these efforts when the time comes to commercialize. Consumers have been burned by many companies “greenwashing” products to seem environmentally friendly, only to introduce a monkey’s paw of expensive lock-ins or evaporate entirely.

There's also the issue of getting units back to dismantle and triage parts. For consumer type devices, this will always be difficult without mechanisms like trade-in incentives which are more common in the mobile phone space. Many retail stores like Best Buy or Staples will take used electronics for recycling, but it is difficult to know where these devices ultimately wind up. On the enterprise side, it can be much easier, particularly where many companies prefer to lease fleets of computers. Once the lease expires, the computers can be returned to the manufacturer for processing.

Nevertheless, the continued attention Dell has poured into Concept Luna this year is promising. The company seems to be focusing on getting the experience right, and scalable, before rushing it to market. We probably will not see a wholesale “Concept Luna” product on shelves anytime soon. Rather, Dell will take lessons learned from the process and incorporate them into smaller-scale refinements of existing product lines to start.