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Re-manufacturing – an important tool for a circular economy

We will have difficulty achieving sustainability goals if we continue to pursue a linear economy. Circular and sharing economies are the paths to a sustainable society. New business models will focus more on services than product delivery and as such, product centres will need to take greater responsibility for ensuring that their products have a longer life. This is where re-manufacturing comes in.

Regardless of whether it is a screwdriver, car or sweater, sooner or later, a product simply breaks. It is, however, possible to delay the point when a product is beyond repair and by doing so, you create a more sustainable economy.

– “Nowadays, a manufacturer’s responsibility ends as soon as the product is sold. But, with the transition from products to services, they must take greater responsibility, ensuring that the product lasts longer and can be reused, over and over again,” explains Johan Dahlström, Senior Project Manger and Researcher in industrial sustainability.

The market consumes resources as if they were infinite

On average, a screwdriver is used 15-20 minutes during its lifetime. How is that possible?

– “Well, it’s because we’re quite spoiled. We behave rather like kings, with free access to energy via oil and nuclear power. In many parts of the world, we live beyond our means, over-consuming resources and using them as if they were infinite. It can be compared to getting an SMS loan, with no repayment plan,” explains Johan Dahlström.

In the past, people were more conscientious of resource consumption than we are now.

– “When we were poor, we mended our socks and repaired the cart when it broke. We were careful with our resources. In countries like Iran, for example, those traditions continue. Consuming resources with a throw-away mentality is a first-world problem that we simply no longer can afford. The market is using resources as if they were infinite. What we’re mining and consuming today simply won’t be available to the next generation. And, the ecosystem is becoming damaged by our short-term behaviour. What we need to do instead is maximize the use and benefits of all products that we manufacture,” says Johan Dahlström.

It will be necessary to industrialise the remanufacturing process

Service instead of product

New business models will focus more on selling functions, such as services, rather than delivering products. And, the one selling the service will shoulder the cost if the product breaks.

– “In a circular economy, for example, the car manufacturer would earn more when the car breaks down less and runs as long as possible. And, they would also be responsible for keeping track of when the car needs service and maintenance. Those tasks, too, would be performed at the optimal time, which means not too early and not too late. Service would be done on cars with the appropriate level of wear and tear. Furthermore, parts would only be replaced or re-manufactured so that function is restored. And, the components could be taken from other cars that have reached the end of their useful life, but still have salvageable parts,” explains Johan Dahlström.

Remanufacturing will be industrialised

In a circular economy, re-manufacturing will be a key factor. In all likelihood, car manufacturers will need to develop cost-effective assembly line technology for their re-manufacturing activities. Each component that goes through the remanufacturing process will have its own unique story, marked by wear and tear that is also unique. As such, agile and adaptive processes will be required for restoring them to the required level of quality.

– “A lot of development will be required to achieve that. Manually using a screwdriver to remove and attach components won’t be feasible, if we are to meet the demand and be profitable. And, as we make this transition from products to services, it will be necessary to industrialise the remanufacturing process. It might even be possible to do that in the same factories where new manufacturing currently takes place,” says Johan Dahlström.

Other attributes will become relevant

With the new business models, fewer products will be required for meeting customer demand, which will impact entire industries. Subcontractors will need to adapt. At present, suppliers earn money on the number of units they sell. But, with a transition to service business models, they will need to find other sales attributes.

Factories will need to be equipped for many types of components and materials

RISE is helping companies make the transition by, for example, developing adaptive, agile analysis systems. RISE is also involved in designing production facilities for reuse and re-manufacturing. At present, components are being manufactured at a variety of factories. But, with the new business models, a factory may need to work with re-manufacturing of components that both they and their competitors have made. It will likely require quite a bit of necessary standardisation of components and products.

– “At RISE, we have cutting-edge expertise in a variety of areas, such as business development, production, technical aspects, materials, measurement methods, sensor development, data interpretation and more. And, because we have all of that expertise under one roof, it makes RISE an excellent partner for companies wanting to move in the direction of re-manufacturing. The car industry is currently trying to cope with this transition from products to services that will help make them both sustainable and resource-efficient. But re-manufacturing is going to be critical to all manufacturing sectors when product sales are replaced by the sale of functions and services,” concludes Johan Dahlström.