Regeneration through remanufacture

Posted on 3 Feb 2010 by The Manufacturer

Products today are commonly easier to replace than repair, so remanufacturing offers an alternative to unnecessary wastage. Tim Brown reports.

The perception that used products are of little economic value is one that is certain to change. From truck tyres to refrigerators to jet engines, many manufactured goods are enjoying longer revitalised lives thanks to the process of remanufacturing.

The Centre for Sustainable Design at the University of the Creative Arts in Surrey published a report in 2008 concluding that the promotion of remanufacture had the potential to raise demand for technical skills, research and development. According to the report: “Remanufacture can offer a business model for sustainable prosperity, with reputed double profit margins alongside a significant reduction in carbon emissions and only 15% of the energy required in manufacture. Remanufacture also diverts material from landfill and creates a market for skilled employment.”

Also in 2008, the draft British Standard 8887-2 on remanufacturing was developed in conjunction with The Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse (CRR). It defined remanufacturing as a process “returning a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than that of the newly manufactured product”. In essence, this is taking end-of-life goods and re-engineering them back to as-new or better condition. The standard is scheduled to come in to force in the first part of this year.

CRR is managed by Oakdene Hollins, a clean technology and resource management consultancy in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. Kerry Mashford, director of business development at CRR, says that in many cases a remanufactured product can exceed an item’s original performance through the use of superior components or added functions. In addition, the requirement for the provision of a warranty matching or surpassing the standards of the original product provides customer confidence and demonstrates the reliability of remanufacturing.

There are some similarities between remanufacturing, recycling and repair, but the definition is clear. Recycling is focused on the reclaiming of materials, where remanufacturing is essentially about the recovery of products. Indeed, Mashford points out that remanufacturing is “higher up the waste hierarchy” as it is a more direct process. The clarification between remanufacturing and repair is that repair simply focuses on the component area that has failed. Remanufacture involves a full disassembly, inspection and reassembly process.

Remanufactured products range from highend aircraft and military equipment right through to small electronic goods. Remanufacturing is generally undertaken either by an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) or a company offering remanufacturing as a service. In the service capacity, remanufacture is performed either for a specific customer or as an independent business which purchases end-of-life products for remanufacture and sale.

The benefits of remanufacture
Generally, OEM companies adopt a remanufacturing process for a perceived economic benefit. Often this benefit is discovered through peripheral activities, such as customer repair, from which, for example, a component salvage operation might develop. Recovering such components can greatly reduce a company’s costs in terms of energy use and input materials. This might then form the basis for the development of a more substantial remanufacturing operation.

A reduction in costs is a clear benefit of remanufacturing, but improved customer loyalty is another potential windfall. By offering to reclaim products for remanufacture while also selling remanufactured products at a discounted price, companies can ensure that both their goods and customers are “reused”. Some companies such as Rolls-Royce and even Michelin Tyres take this even further by leasing their products.

By maintaining ownership of manufactured products and leasing them to customers, companies can build customer loyalty. Furthermore, leasing allows for products to be reclaimed on a planned schedule that suits the manufacturer, rather than a more bespoke service at the whim of the customer. Mashford says: “This allows the manufacturer to smooth their production activities and maintain products in service that are not obsolete, meaning that they no longer need to keep old components in stock to service old products.

The manufacturer can then provide ongoing functionality for the customer while also achieving a much smoother revenue stream.” Such agreements have proven popular during the economic downturn, as leasing does not require customers to provide a large capital outlay for a new product. Planned cycles also mean customers get regular performance upgrades without worrying about a plethora of EU legislation regarding the disposal of end-of-life equipment.

Another benefit for OEMs offering remanufacturing is material security. Certain materials can be difficult to obtain, or are sometimes subject to high price fluctuations. By adopting remanufacturing as a source of materials, manufacturers can protect themselves from supply chain disruptions or price variations. This feature is likely to become more important as developing economies compete harder for raw materials. This has already become apparent in, for example, the manufacture of high performance alloys.

Remanufacturing in practice

Sheffield heavy engineering company, DavyMarkham, has overseen the refurbishment and technical upgrading of a Davy 6,000 tonne forging press for Valdunes of Dunkerque, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of railway wheels and axles. The press was originally supplied by the Sheffield works in 1956 and has since produced literally millions of forged wheels, at a rate of around one wheel every minute, eventually necessitating the most extensive overhaul in its history.

Representing perhaps ‘the ultimate 50 year service’, the DavyMarkham refurbishment package cost £500,000 and returned the machine to better than original condition, complete with new columns, bearings and high spec tensioners, thus delivering substantial savings over new capital equipment costs and minimising operational downtime.

In the East Midlands, Michelin UK has an agreement guaranteeing at least 6,000 tonnes of its truck tyres per annum will be used by Newark-based recycling firm Charles Lawrence International to make children’s play and sports surfaces.

The move comes at a time when no UK legislation exists that demand tyre manufacturers take responsibility for their products at the end of their life cycle.

Charles Lawrence International also receives around 200 tonnes of end-of-life and rejected casings a week (10,000 tonnes per annum) from Michelin UK. It also handles materials from Michelin’s Ballymena factory, making the Northern Irish site the first of its kind to have all its factory waste fully recycled. Michelin’s Stoke-on-Trent factory remanufactures bus and truck tyres for the UK market.

Pump manufacturer Edwards decontaminates and remanufactures used vacuum pumps to ‘as-new’ condition. The company remanufactures 30,000 pumps every year. The process reduces raw material and energy use, as well as the amount of material that has to be recycled.

Edwards uses a water-based cleaning process which avoids the creation of any additional environmental problems due to solvent use.

Any contaminants are filtered out and disposed of in an appropriate manner.

Edwards vacuum pumps typically run 24/7 and are reused four to ten times over their 10-20 year lifetime, making them extremely environmentally efficient. According to the company, such an extended life is equivalent to a car travelling around two million miles.

The Electronic Waste Company remanufactures up to 1,000 tonnes of waste electrical and electronic equipment a year. The company collects equipment from schools, the NHS, schools and major businesses. IT equipment is data cleansed, stripped and refurbished, then sold on to businesses and individuals.

The business took off after the introduction of the European Waste Electrical and Equipment Directive, the objective of which is to increase the recycling and/or re-use of such electrical products. Each remanufactured PC contributes to saving the 240kg of fossil fuels, 22kg of chemicals and 1500 litres of water which the UN estimates is required to make a new computer.

TRW Automotive remanufactures safety critical mechatronic (mechanical, electrical and electronic) automotive products at dedicated sites across Europe. TRW has invested heavily in this field in recent years, and in 2007 created a dedicated remanufacturing group, TRW RMG.

Its product portfolio incorporates complete remanufactured systems and mechanical products, as well as the more traditional parts. The company remanufactures a large array of products, including calipers, manual and mechanical steering racks, fully integral (heavy duty) steering boxes, hydraulic vane pumps, electrically powered hydraulic steering and electrically powered steering ‘column drive’.

ICT distribution company Zycko offers fully refurbished networking products for up to 90% less cost than the normal list price.

The company is currently assisting many recession-hit companies, who lack the budget for new hardware, to obtain high quality business equipment. In addition to offering savings of 60%-90%, each item is subjected to a rigorous 28-point check, and is also covered by Zycko’s standard 12- month warranty.

Turbo Technics is a world leader in the development of turbo charging and associated hardware, offering remanufactured turbocharger units to the public and motoring trade. These units are re-manufactured to at least the same quality and tolerances as the original units, but at significantly lower cost. The company has experienced considerable increase in demand in the last 12-18 months as a result of the economic situation. Turbo Technics also designs and manufactures the necessary hardware to service the remanufacturing industry.

Caterpillar has incorporated a comprehensive and successful remanufacturing component into its business structure. When a Caterpillar customer purchases a remanufactured product, the purchase includes a “core deposit” that is refunded to the customer when the core, or end-of-life component, is returned. Upon return of the core, it is inspected and the deposit refunded. Typical remanufactured components are cylinder packs, water pumps and other engine components, hydraulic components and transmissions.