What’s old can be new again
Remanufacturing, bringing products back to like-new condition, expanding
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.”
An employee works to remanufacture a coffee machine at CoreCentric Solutions in Carol Stream.