What’s old can be new again

Re­man­u­fac­tur­ing, bring­ing prod­ucts back to like-new con­di­tion, ex­pand­ing

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - BUSINESS - By Ellen Rosen

Der­rick Gad­dis knew his equip­ment was near­ing the end of its use­ful life. Two of his log­ging skid­ders — the heavy-duty ma­chines that haul cut tim­ber — needed to be re­placed. But most man­u­fac­tur­ers at the time had shifted gears to big­ger and heav­ier mod­els, he said, and no longer made the size of skid­ders re­quired for what is known as se­lec­tive har­vest­ing, the type of log­ging his com­pany does.

He and his co-own­ers of Hen­der­son Tim­ber Inc., in Sigel, Illi­nois, de­vised a so­lu­tion: What if John Deere, the orig­i­nal man­u­fac­turer, could re­man­u­fac­ture the skid­der to re­pair and up­grade it, com­port­ing with cur­rent tech­nol­ogy? Deere, which al­ready had re­man­u­fac­tured some of its prod­ucts, was re­cep­tive. A beta test in the woods was in the works.

“When you take a puz­zle apart with that many pieces, I thought there would be some­thing wrong. But that was not the case,” Gad­dis said.

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 3D 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 re­man­u­fac­tured 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.

Re­man­u­fac­tur­ing is an in­te­gral part of the cir­cu­lar econ­omy that strives to keep ma­te­ri­als in the econ­omy and out of land­fills. 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 man­u­fac­tur­ing and data pri­vacy. CoreCen­tric So­lu­tions, for ex­am­ple, pro­cesses close to 2 mil­lion pieces of core — or com­po­nents — each year for use in 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 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.

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 at Au­todesk, which makes in­dus­trial de­sign and con­sumer soft­ware prod­ucts in San Rafael, Cal­i­for­nia. “For ex­am­ple, glu­ing can pre­vent re­cy­cling. Even black plas­tic can in­ter­fere be­cause it’s not rec­og­nized by ma­chines at the waste man­age­ment fa­cil­ity.”

WHITTEN SABATINI/THE NEW YORK TIMES

An em­ployee works to re­man­u­fac­ture a cof­fee ma­chine at CoreCen­tric So­lu­tions in Carol Stream.

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