How Remanufacturing Can Offer Brighter Future

By Vinayak Ramachandra Adkoli

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Compared with manufacturing, remanufacturing (different from recycling) uses as little as ten per cent energy and raw materials, while lowering carbon-dioxide emissions by more than eighty per cent.

In 1991, AloTech was founded to remanufacture residential power meter housings for ABB. AloTech is the largest clutch manufacturer in North America. It processes 1500 to 2000 clutches per week, which includes dismantling, sorting, segregating, blasting, cleaning, machining, balancing, recycling and returning components for the customer’s remanufactured assembly line.

Xerox in its UK factory returns old photocopiers to an as-new product condition. Through a series of industrial processes in a factory environment, a discarded product is completely disassembled, and usable parts are cleaned, rebuilt and put into inventory. Then the product is reassembled from old parts to produce a unit fully equivalent to the original photo copier. Xerox has made a large profitable business from remanufacturing.

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Ninety per cent of materials used to build Townhall Brummen are recyclable. At the end of the building’s life, little material will go into the landfill, while most of the materials will be reused for other building projects.

These are just a few examples of remanufacturing industries. Remanufacturing is not the same as recycling or repairing. According to the remanufacturing industries council, remanufacturing is a comprehensive and rigorous industrial process by which previously sold, worn or non-functional products or components are returned like new or in better-than-new condition, and a warranty card is given with regards to performance level and quality.

What is special about remanufacturing

Today, the world is facing such problems as limited natural resources, sustainability, industrial pollution, environmental issues and so on. As a result, remanufacturing is becoming necessary in the industrial scenario and is slowly gaining importance in the US, China and Europe.

Manufacturers are now interested in learning how to reuse materials. One increasingly popular option is remanufacturing, which is the process of dis-assembling, cleaning and repairing components so that products can be reassembled for sale. Remanufacturing technology is predominantly used in aerospace and automotive sectors. Remanufacturing is a thorough process that returns the engine to its original specification, whereas a reconditioned engine may still contain some damaged components.

The remanufacturing sector has a European Union (EU) market potential of ninety billion euros by 2030, cementing its important role in future manufacturing. Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse (CRR) has been established to promote the technique across Europe.

Remanufacturing is a sizable industry. For example, in the US, there are more than 73,000 companies engaged in remanufacturing. These companies employ 350,000 people and have a turnover totalling 53 billion dollars.

A report by Global Industry Analysts (GIA) says that the global remanufacturing market reached US$ 104.8 billion by 2015. In Singapore, such sectors as aerospace, oil and gas, automotive and machinery have undertaken a number of remanufacturing activities, with aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul being the biggest contributor.

Advanced Remanufacturing and Technology Centre (ARTC), Asia’s first centre for testing and developing remanufacturing technologies, was set up in Singapore in 2012. It has a public-private collaboration and aims to fill technological gaps to develop advanced remanufacturing processes. “Through this unique collaborative model, like-minded companies come together at ARTC to provide real industry requirements, spark new ideas, catalyst new opportunities and accelerate deployment of remanufacturing capabilities in a faster, better and cheaper way, than doing it alone,” says David Low, chief executive officer, ARTC.

A remanufactured product consumes the lowest manufacturing time and, hence, lowers manufacturing costs. Further, product manufacturing by remanufacturing is easy to dis-assemble and rebuild. Investment in entirely new equipment is expensive and often unnecessary. Manufacturers can greatly benefit from remanufactured parts and components.

Remanufacturing saves Xerox time and money
Remanufacturing saves Xerox time and money (Credit: www.pierceindustries.com)

Remanufacturing helps achieve the following:

  • Sustainable manufacturing
  • Promotes conservation and more comprehensive utilisation of resources
  • Drives the business and society to gain a circular economy

The world industry is currently shifting from a linear model to a circular one. The circular model helps recover products at the end of their lifecycle. Remanufacturing is one of the main cornerstones of this emerging circular manufacturing model. Indeed, value of remanufacturing in the UK is already 2.4 billion pounds, and it will increase to 5.6 billion pounds in the near future.

Remanufacturing spans a number of industries. It has higher chances of success in sectors where:

  • Products are durable and usually contain high-value materials.
  • Technology cycle is stable and longer than useful life cycle.
  • Restoration technologies are available.
  • Products have the potential to be leased and delivered as service rather than as hardware.

Automation is the future of the remanufacturing industry

Due to the arrival of Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber-physical systems, cloud manufacturing and so on, remanufacturing is undergoing significant transformation, and becoming more intelligent and automated.

If products are better designed to accomplish the goals of the remanufacturing process, massive improvements and efficiencies can be obtained. Adoption of automated information and communication technologies (ICTs) in remanufacturing systems today is helping create more sophisticated cyber-physical production systems (CPPSs).

Expanding computing power and connectivity is allowing manufacturers to think big and develop more ambitious goals and objectives for their work. Further, advanced robotic processes are helping remanufacturers to successfully process a higher percentage of product components and materials.

Robots have already proven their capabilities in remanufacturing under certain conditions with relatively small and simple batches of components that usually involve some significant human inspection. Advanced artificial intelligence (AI) has resulted in new patterns in human-machine interactions.

Industries always aim to improve efficiency, increase productivity and reduce costs. The IoT connectivity and other elements of AI are helping improve predictive maintenance and avoid machine failure during critical phases of production.

One of the significant challenges in remanufacturing is inventory forecasting.

Remanufacturers should be able to predict the demand for returned items. AI technologies can greatly improve existing forecasting models to predict product returns.

Elements of Big Data and machine learning can make real-time analysis of data on sales, product usage and warranty activity. These analyses help predict accurately product life expectancy, rate and timing of return into the remanufacturing process. Thus, automation in remanufacturing is making a good impact on economic and environmental stability.

The remanufacturing industry mainly faces problems of timely, accurate and consistent information of remanufacturing resources.

Recent automation technologies like AI, machine learning, the IoT, etc can be used to solve this problem. Under the IoT, an identification technology for disassembled product parts is designed, and real-time status of remanufacturable resources are monitored. Based on captured remanufacturing information, a real-time production scheduling method is developed. A model is then developed to achieve cost-reduction for dynamic management of manufacturable resources.

With remanufacturing, a machine part, perhaps from an aircraft engine or a mining truck engine, can be restored through an industrial process, potentially using cobots (collaborative robots). In the remanufacturing process, however, shape or geometry of the input part is different each time. When it comes out of service, we do not know how it will look. And with advancements in robotics, combined with latest technologies such as 3D-scanning systems, robots can be tuned to respond according to variations in input conditions.

 

Remanufactured drum unit
Remanufactured drum unit (Credit: https://is.alicdn.com)

This flexibility and adaptability would also mean that robots can now be put to work on smaller batches with high-mix low-volume manufacturing, opening up the option of automation for smaller manufacturers.

Advancements in Industry 4.0 have resulted in the immense potential to unlock the power of remanufacturing. Smart sensors, cloud computing, robotics, machine-to-machine communication, additive manufacturing and others are some of the key contributors to the remanufacturing industry.

Industry 4.0 has improved data transferability by building knowledge/data-sharing platforms through sensors, embedded systems and the IoT. This has greatly benefitted the remanufacturing industry, too. Even smart factories that provide high flexibility and small batch size production seamlessly address these complex matters associated with the remanufacturing process.

Today, Big Data mining, particle swarm optimisation and back propagation neural network algorithms are being utilised to implement cost reduction in remanufacturing processes. Data mining technology can be used to optimise remanufacturing process management, including achieving dimensional accuracy to overcome uncertainties for reassembly dimensions and so on.

What India wants in remanufacturing

The remanufacturing industry is in its infancy in India. The country is mostly unaware of the rapid steps that the remanufacturing industry has put forward across various countries of the world such as the US, the EU countries, Australia, China, Singapore and so on. Moreover, the government of India has not been greatly supportive towards this industry. Import of remanufactured goods is banned as it is considered to be of low quality.

“Given the present low awareness and poor penetration of remanufacturing across India, there is a huge opportunity for growth of remanufacturing. However, we have to improve awareness around remanufacturing and showcase the various benefits it yields to the overall economy and environment,” says Satish Rao, an electrical engineer and supplier-cum-dealer for Caterpillar.

Finally

Compared with manufacturing, remanufacturing uses as little as ten per cent energy and raw materials, while lowering carbon-dioxide emissions by more than eighty per cent.
Today, a broad range of firms, including Caterpillar and GE, are engaged in remanufacturing of products. Earth moving, automotive parts, electronics, medical devices and information technology are major industries in this sector that have made a mark globally.

We are living in the period of global climate change. The remanufacturing industry can reduce carbon-emissions and provide better environmental safety to countries and consumers. For large global consumers, remanufactured products are generally of high quality with similar life expectancy as new goods.

Vinayak Ramachandra Adkoli is BE in industrial production. He has been a lecturer in mechanical department for ten years, in three different polytechnics. He is also a freelance writer and cartoonist

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