Remanufacturing experts meet at LiU

“Remanufacture must become the normal and natural way of handling products.” These are the words of David Fitzsimons, head of the Conseil Européen de Remanufacture, and invited keynote speaker at the ICoR 2017 conference.

David Fitzsimons and Rodney CopperbottomDavid Fitzsimons and Rodney Copperbottom Photo credit: Erik SundinRemanufacturing is a relatively new concept: research in the field started approximately 30 years ago in the US, and only 18 years ago in Sweden. The Third International Conference on Remanufacturing, ICoR, has just finished, arranged by researchers at LiU led by Erik Sundin, and the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow.

It is predicted that the industry will grow rapidly in coming years, one reason for which is that remanufacturing has been included as an element of the Chinese five-year and ten-year plans.

“Their initiatives will generate the largest wave of investment for decades,” says David Fitzsimons, whose Conseil Européen de Remanufacture believes that an agreement concerning collaboration between China and Europe can be signed within a year.

Big potential

Iris Karvonen, VTT FinlandIris Karvonen, VTT Finland Photo credit: Monica Westman“There is a potential to triple remanufacturing in Europe between now and 2030, and reach a turnover approaching EUR 100 billion. This is a key strategy for creating a sustainable society,” says Iris Karvonen of the VTT Technical Research Center in Finland.

She was participatingin aHorizon 2020 project called ERN (European Remanufacturing Network), where one task was to not only to identify obstacles to increased remanufacturing but also to provide firm recommendations for how the industry can grow.

Iris Karvonen and her research group identified as many as 300 obstacles, and has examined the measures proposed and given priority to around 10 of them, where each measure reduces or completely removes several obstacles. The recommendations, however, are rather broadly stated at the moment, such as: “Remove the legislation and regulations that prevent or hinder remanufacturing”, or the industry-directed proposal: “Collaborate more closely along the complete chain of value to develop more sustainable products”.

The research has been carried out in collaboration with several industrial stakeholders, and the group is currently waiting for feedback on the results. The scientists plan subsequently to proceed with industry-specific aspects of their recommendations. (The report and other reports from the ERN project can be downloaded from www.remanufacturing.eu.)

Important research issues

David Fitzsimons asked the participants from the academic world and from industry to define important research issues that the EU should concentrate on in the future. One issue raised was how to handle IPR when working with remanufacturing where a subcontractor owns a patent that prevents the use of a product being changed.
A record or form must accompany each product with information about its manufacture, who has used it, for what, how long, whether it has undergone repair, etc.
Another issue raised was the amounts of data that are available: it should be possible to use these for reverse logistics, but this is not done.

“Huge possibilities are available here through investments made by manufacturing industry under the general term ‘Industry 4.0’. The problem, however, is not a lack of data, rather to collect the right data – data that we can use,” Mats Björkman, professor at Manufacturing Engineering, LiU, stated.

Erik Pettersson, sustainability manager at the Swedish remanufacturing company Inrego, agreed wholeheartedly.
Ou Tang, professor LiUOu Tang, professor LiU Photo credit: Monica Westman“Large amounts of data are collected, but it is completely useless for us who work with remanufacturing,” he said.

What is also missing is an efficient collection system and incitements for the general public to return an old mobile phone when buying a new one. We tend to forget the old workhorse in a drawer somewhere, until it becomes too old for remanufacture.

Ou Tang, professor of production economics at LiU, pointed out that obstacles to sharing knowledge and data among companies must be removed. There must be a willingness from the management to consider remanufacturing, and a realisation that there’s money to be made from it. New business models also require internal education.

“Who will take the lead? Someone in the organisation must step out, take a risk and have the courage to fail,” David Fitzsimons stated.

Erik Academic advisor

Erik Sundin, ass professorErik Sundin, ass professor Photo credit: Monica WestmanAt the end of the conference, he congratulated Erik Sundin, associate professor in sustainable manufacturing at LiU, on his nomination as academic advisor to companies within the Conseil Européen de Remanufacture. The appointment will be made public at a members’ meeting of the organisation in Paris on 27 November.

Erik Sundin and LiU are pioneers in the field of remanufacturing and Erik Sundin is author of the scientific definition of the term.

Briefly, “remanufacturing” involves dismantling a product, cleaning the parts and exchanging any that are worn, upgrading the software (if relevant), and then reselling the product. The product is to be as good or better than it was when new. Remanufacture is carried out with, for example, computers, mobile phones, photocopy machines, toner cassettes, car parts, industrial vehicles, furniture, large machines, and many other products.

“Increasing numbers of companies in Europe and Sweden are interested in starting to remanufacture products, since profit margins are higher than those offered by manufacturing new products. In addition, customers are requesting remanufactured products more often,” says Erik Sundin.

Rodney Copperbottom

Rodney Copperbottom at ICoR2017

David Fitzsimons plans to spread knowledge about remanufacturing with the aid of the little robot Rodney Copperbottom, who is also a hero in a children’s film in which he saves his father using various spare parts. Erik Sundin

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