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Expanding sector of remanufacturing contributes to sustainability

Shared from the 3/16/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Ellen Rosen © The New York Times Co.

Welcome to the expanding sector of remanufacturing. The practice essentially involves taking products or components, whether in disrepair or at the end of their useful lives, to a like-new condition. Accomplished through a variety of processes and advanced by new technologies such as 3-D printing, products as small as a coffee maker and as large as a medical imaging machine can now be upgraded. Rather than recycling or merely refurbishing the item to its original state, the process also enhances the product to make it comport with the latest technology.

While at first glance it seems similar to refurbishing, the results differ. A refurbished engine, for example, might be equivalent to one in excellent working condition but has already been in service for 30,000 miles, while a re-manufactured engine should be equivalent to one that has not yet been in service, so it is like new, said Nabil Nasr, the director of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at the Rochester Institute of Technology. While still a relatively small subset of manufacturing, its use is likely to grow as a result of recent technical advances such as additive manufacturing, data analytics and the “internet of things.” And it is an integral part of the circular economy that strives to keep materials in the economy and out of landfills.

“Remanufacturing is a smart way to continue to advance without creating a lot of waste. The development of new technology is allowing remanufacturing to grow stronger,” Nasr said. “Most of the emission and waste from manufacturing comes from material mining and processing.”

From an environmental standpoint, the process is superior to recycling, which captures materials, but loses the labor used in initial manufacturing and uses significant amounts of energy, Nasr said.

While remanufacturing does not have a glamorous connotation, companies involved are on the cutting edge of both manufacturing and data privacy.

CoreCentric Solutions, for example, processes close to 2 million pieces of core — or components — each year for use in both industrial and consumer products, said Tom Healy, the company’s president and chief executive. CoreCentric’s remanufacturing process identifies the parts that have already failed, and with an intricate propriety database, it can predict which parts “are highly likely to fail.” The company, based in Carol Stream, Ill., identifies and replaces the broken parts, and replaces components that have a high probability of failing.

But technology also creates new issues. The refrigerator with the touch screen that allows you to send notes home as well as order food? It can store personal data. That smart sous-vide machine that you got as a gift? It can access your devices for recipes. And the robotic vacuum cleaner that spares your back? It not only remembers furniture placement, but also uploads a map of your home to the cloud.

When those products break, remanufacturing requires another layer because of the inherent privacy risks. CoreCentric, as a result, needs to ensure not only that the smaller appliances are physically cleaned, “but these devices need to be cleared and the data removed from the cloud before it can be remanufactured and resold,” Healy said. A growing trend for companies is to plan for remanufacturing in the initial design of a product.

“The circular economy starts at the design phase — you can’t remanufacture a product if it’s not designed to be recycled,” said Zoe Bezpalko, a manager of sustainable strategy at Autodesk, which makes both industrial design and consumer software products and is based in San Rafael, Calif. “For example, gluing can prevent recycling. Even black plastic can interfere, because it’s not recognized by machines at the waste management facility.”

 

While Gaddis of Henderson Timber suggested remanufacturing to John Deere for his machinery, the company actually began remanufacturing in 1996, said Jena Holtberg-Benge, who oversees the company’s global remanufacturing.

 

“We quickly realized that it’s a wonderful opportunity for dealers because the remanufactured parts improve their capabilities,” Holtberg-Benge said.

 

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