Reman – a powerful voice for the environment

Author:
William Schwarck
Date:
23/01/2020

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Twenty years ago, the writer of these lines took up the position of editor of a magazine dedicated to remanufacturing. “Dedicated to what?” was my initial question when the idea first came up. By and large, remanufacturing turned out to be about converting rusty car parts to new components sold at a sizable discount to motorists – sometimes at half the price of new and usually coming with the same warranties as “new”. A real bargain in those days.

However, as someone coming from the newspaper industry, it did not require much insight to realise that “reman”, the industry jargon for remanufacturing, was about more than obsolete spare parts. In fact, “reman” provided important answers to the growing concerns of the age: global warming, CO2 emissions, and the preservation of earths dwindling resources and much more.

These are all issues that today drive global interest in “the circular economy.”

Somewhat surprising to me at the time, remanufacturers did not see it that way. In fact, when suggesting that the green wave provided new opportunities for remanufacturing, the response would generally be like: “For our customers, only one thing counts. Price!”

Top of the agenda
What a difference a decade makes. Although there is still important work to do, today, “circularity” – encompassing remanufacturing – today occupies a position near the top of the global agenda. Take the World Economic Forum in Davos, where world leaders mostly agree on the importance of sustainability. Take China, where the government is steadily moving forward on “reman.” Look at how some of the world’s largest industrial companies emphasise remanufacturing’s environmental benefits. See how the media focus on sustainability issues across the world.

And, perhaps as important as any other recent development, listen to what Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, told the European Parliament ahead of her confirmation last month. Describing the circular economy as Europe’s „future economic model“ she set out a five-year action plan focusing on sustainable resources, “especially in resource-intensive and high impact sectors such as textiles and construction” and „measures to reduce plastic waste.“ The stated goal is to dedicate  at least 50% of the European Investment Bank’s funds  to “green and sustainable” financing by 2025.

“We will invest record amounts in cutting-edge research and innovation, using the full flexibility of the next EU budget to focus on the areas with the greatest potential,” she said about the ambition to make Europe “a world leader in circular economy and clean technologies.”

Concurrently the United Nation’s Environmental Panel (UNEP) is working to promote a broader understanding of the importance of sustainability among its member countries Not always in full view of the public, these efforts and many others are now supported by companies, academic institutions, public bodies, and governments. Once described as “a sleeping giant,” reman has indeed woken up.

CO2 savings
No less importantly, in terms of environmental impact, remanufacturing uses fewer material resources than new products. In turn, this reduces the need for landfill deposits, a huge advance. As reman does not require new material extraction, manufacturing processes and assembly, it saves energy, thus reducing CO2 emissions.

As pointed out in a pioneering new book edited by Dr. Nabil Nasr of the Golisano Institute for Sustainability in Rochester, New York, a further crucial advantage of remanufacturing lies in how it handles hazardous materials. Otherwise many of these would end up in forests and landfill. Reman means that instead such materials can be reused and put back on the market.

“Remanufacturing thus creates significant environmental benefits by avoiding direct CO2 emissions and diverting large number of products away from landfill – remanufactured products typically contain up to 80 percent of their material content,” the book “Remanufacturing in the Circular Economy” emphasises.

Benefits
Meanwhile, a recent academic study, “European Remanufacturing Impacts”, concludes that the environmental benefits generated by reman amount to 8.3. million metric tons of CO2 savings and 2,3 million metric tons of avoided landfill material. Distributed across the industrial sectors Aerospace, Automotive, EEE, Furniture, Heavy Duty and Off Road Equipment, Machinery, Medical Equipment and Rail, the figures thus draw a dramatic picture. One that underlines how remanufacturing (originally described by Professor Rolf Steinhilper of Germany’s University of Bayreuth as “the Ultimate form of Recycling,”) is a key component in the battle for the environment.

A number of the globes’s largest manufacturers have long since reached the same conclusion.

Bosch, the world’s leading automotive component supplier, has for several years been promoting its remanufacturing offer under its xChange program, which contributes considerably to the group’s sustainability effort. Bosch describes the program like this: “The remanufacturing system of used Bosch vehicle technology not only saves materials and energy, its (accumulated environment benefits) is the equivalent of those coming from 55 football pitches full of solar panels!”

Commercial & Passenger vehicles OEMs position
Another of Germany’s industrial giants, Daimler, boasts a similar commitment to remanufacturing – as does BMW in Munich and VW in Wolfsburg.

In a conversation with its in-house magazine Andreas Jörg, Head of Daimler’s After Sales and Value Parts at Daimler, recently emphasized the company’s contribution to the conservation of resources saying:

“By reprocessing and reusing materials, we make our contribution to an environmentally friendly lifecycle. Our aim is to avoid waste and the unnecessary consumption of raw materials and energy wherever possible. This is why we carry parts such as engines and transmissions over into a second lifecycle. In future this will also be important for HV batteries. The more we succeed in reusing components, the fewer resources we will consume during the entire process. “

Andreas Jörg refers to an illustrative lifecycle assessment study undertaken by Germany’s independent certification institute, TÜV. When measuring one remanufactured G281 truck transmission, TÜV concluded that remanufacturing one G281 unit resulted in savings of 445 kg of carbon dioxide and 7300 megajoules of energy compared with production of a new unit.

By comparison it would take eleven trees ten years to convert the CO2 saved by remanufacturing!

Caterpillar
In the US another global giant, Caterpillar, has over many years turned itself into the world’s largest supplier of remanufactured components. Caterpillar processes more than two million units per year – recycling in excess of 100 million pounds of remanufactured products annually. To illustrate the sustainability of remanufacturing Caterpillar claims, for instance, that compaed to “new” a remanufactured cylinder head creates 61 per cent less greenhouse gasses, 93 per cent less water consumption, saves 86 per cent energy and up to 99 material use. Moreover, reman, according to Caterpillar, takes up 99 per cent less space in landfills.

The next step
Emphasizing at one and the same time, the challenges and opportunities for the environment, “Remanufacturing in the Circular Economy” sums up the situation in this way:

In today’s increasingly globalized and growing industrial economy, traditional linear models of production and consumption, are insufficient. They allow the materials, components, and value of products to be lost from the industrial system, most notably at the end of life. As a result, these production models require continuously high levels of resource input and production activity to avoid negative environmental impacts – emissions, waste generation, and water consumption.

Quoting the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, the authors declare:

“It is becoming increasingly clear that take­make­use­dispose models of industrial production are incompatible with the sustainable development to which global communities aspire.”

Hard to argue with.

Today, the facts, the science, the environmental, societal and industrial benefits are there for all to see. Going forward, it’s all about who takes on the next step – and when and how.

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