Following the release of a new joint report from the Carbon Trust, Knowledge Transfer Network, High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute, Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse and Coventry University, leading experts from industry and academia have warned that the UK is falling behind other advanced economies in harnessing the value of a rapidly growing remanufacturing industry.
Remanufacturing refers to manufacturing where parts or products at the end of their useful life are returned to like-new or better condition, with warranty-supported quality. Currently, these activities contribute roughly £2.4 billion to the British economy. According to the report, however, with appropriate support this could be increased to £5.6 billion and create thousands of new skilled jobs.
The US, China, Japan, Germany and others have already established centers of excellence or have strong policies specifically to support the growth of remanufacturing. Yet, no equivalent framework of support exists in the UK; a key issue addressed in the coalition’s report.
“High value manufacturing is a real area of strength for the UK economy. It is also the area where the business case for remanufacturing is strongest,” said Aleyn Smith-Gillespie, Associate Director at the Carbon Trust. “There are a number of opportunities for growth in British remanufacturing, particularly in sectors such as automotive, defense, aerospace, medical equipment and electronics.
“Supporting remanufacturing and closed-loop resource use should be a no-brainer. Incorporating remanufacturing into business models and products not only provides economic and environmental benefits, it can also create new opportunities for business growth and employment. ”
The report contains the conclusions from a cross-industry workshop, hosted in association with the University of Birmingham, the University of Strathclyde and UCL. It contains a number of recommendations on how to support the growth of remanufacturing, including the creation of new product quality standards, improving industrial design education, and introducing smarter regulation.
"Recognizing remanufacturing as a considerable innovation opportunity for the UK, the Knowledge Transfer Network set up an inquiry with the All-Party Parliamentary Sustainable Resource Group early last year,” said Ben Peace, Sustainability Lead at the Knowledge Transfer Network. “This, and the second inquiry that followed, indicated major potential benefits for the UK along with some of the barriers and enablers.
“Although it is good news that there is now a Scottish Institute of Remanufacture based at the University of Strathclyde, a wider program for the whole UK is really needed. The event outlined in this report, together with the new online community we've set up, indicate how we're building on this work and helping to bring expert institutions, academics and policy makers together with industry to explore the opportunity and realise the benefits that remanufacturing represents.”
Autocraft Drivetrain Solutions, a business participant in the workshop, has begun testing new methods to remanufacture engines and other automotive components for a number of larger manufacturers, including Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, JCB and Aston Martin. State-of-the-art salvage techniques enable up to 85 percent of an original engine to be recovered and reused, dramatically lowering material costs and the associated environmental impacts.
“As a business we have been around for over 40 years, manufacturing hundreds of thousands of engines. But since 2010, when as a senior management team we bought the company, we have seen a huge upswing in demand for remanufactured products, which gives us a great opportunity for growth,” said Mike Hague-Morgan, Commercial and Engineering Director at Autocraft Drivetrain Solutions.
“Our customers are large manufacturers that are very concerned about energy and resource costs, as well as the environmental impact of their products. Remanufacturing offers them a way to address all these issues. And we know how to produce high quality remanufactured engines and components, which in many cases can be better than the original.
“Today the UK has a global reputation for producing automotive components, but we risk falling behind other countries unless the right support is provided for remanufacturing. There are still some real barriers that need to be overcome, from securing a steady supply of core products to remanufacture, to getting staff with the right skills. But with the right support and policies we could very quickly scale up the business that we do today.”
Another participant, automotive supplier MCT ReMan, described how it was taking advantage of a greater move towards remanufacturing:
“MCT ReMan has longstanding remanufacturing relationships with some of the world’s leading automotive manufacturers,” said Ian Briggs, Director of MCT’s Engineering Technology Services Division. “But as a business we want to expand this competence into other industries, including railways and renewable energy. We are currently developing remanufacturing strategies for the newer high cost products that will help to power the future, such as lithium ion battery packs and hydrogen fuel cells.
“One of the biggest barriers to overcome is that new products are still not being designed with remanufacturing and sustainability in mind. OEMs are driving down the cost of their own manufactured components and putting in place specifications that can affect the profitability of remanufacturers, meaning that it can be cheaper to replace a component rather than apply remanufacturing processes.
“We would like to see the government challenge OEMs to consider in more detail the sustainability of their products at the end of their useful lives, putting in place incentives and obligations that will support the infrastructure needed for a circular supply chain.”
The automotive industry isn’t the only one pushing for remanufacturing. Reusing and remanufacturing mobile devices were reported to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent, while spiking sales. The fashion industry is also embracing remanufactured cloth by closing the loop on supply chains.