Communication within companies improves remanufacture

The remanufacture of products is made easier if the design is adapted right from the start such that the product can be manufactured several times. However, a new thesis presented at LiU has investigated several companies, and shows that collaboration between the departments for
remanufacture and design is deficient.

Louise Lindkvist Haziri. Louise Lindkvist Haziri at Canpus Valla, Linköping University. Photo credit: Mikael Sönne

Vital to circular economy

The process of remanufacturing involves a product being restored to its condition when new instead of being discarded, which saves both energy and materials. In order to be suitable for remanufacture, products should consist of standard components, and they should be simple to clean, disassemble and reassemble. Overall, remanufacturing is an important part of a circular economy in which materials and energy are conserved in the best manner.

Finally a doctor graduate!

In her thesis Improving Design for Remanufacturing Through Feedback from Remanufacturing to Design, Louise Lindkvist Haziri investigates, among other things, the extent to which three companies use knowledge and information from the remanufacturing process in the development of new products. She shows that companies can save both time and money when using a process known as design for remanufacturing, DfREM. This makes remanufacturing easier.

The results presented in the thesis are unambiguous. There is pretty much no feedback between remanufacturing and design.

“That’s right. In these companies there was essentially none at all. There was one occasion when someone working with remanufacturing rang someone in the design department about a design fault, but that was the only time. Otherwise, no one requested feedback, and there were no guidelines in place to provide it”, says Louise Lindkvist Haziri.

Were you surprised?

“I was and I wasn’t. Previous studies have shown that it’s uncommon, but not that it is non-existent. So the extent surprised me. And I suspect that my study was also an eye-opener for the companies.”

Lack iof incentives

Two of the companies examined in the thesis manufacture machines, while the third produces office furniture. Two of them carry out remanufacturing under their own auspices, while one subcontracts it to an external company. All of them have worked with remanufacturing for at least ten years.

Louise Lindkvist Haziri believes that there are several explanations why the feedback between remanufacturing and design is deficient. Knowledge about remanufacturing is often rather basic – it may be seen as a form of service – and communication channels to feed information back are lacking. The departments may be located far from each other in the organisation, even if physically close to each other.

And incentives may be lacking, in any case economic incentives.

“The profit margins may be larger for remanufactured products, but they still account for only a small fraction of a company’s net sales. And it’s easy to continue doing things the way you’ve always done them.”

Can make big difference

The feedback from remanufacturing to product development could, for example, relate to how remanufacture of the product can work, how it can be adapted for remanufacture, and how many life cycles it can be expected to pass through. This is extensive and important information for the product development.

Louise Lindkvist Haziri believes even so that several factors can lead to increased collaboration and more extensive exchange of knowledge in the future. These factors, known as “enablers”, are such things as customer wishes, new legislation and regulations, and potential commercial possibilities. The trend towards functional sales – in which manufacturers retain ownership of the product, which is instead rented out – may also increase the will to make remanufacturing more efficient.

In the thesis, Louise Lindkvist Haziri also presents a framework for companies that want to use DfREM, design for remanufacturing, and increase the feedback within the company. It includes suggestions for practical measures, such as allowing designers to go and inspect the remanufacturing, and joint discussions about different design solutions. The framework has been given the name RIFF, the Remanufacturing Information Feedback Framework.

Translated by George Farrants