Sourcing Innovation has been promoting sustainability since the beginning and design for recycle since the very early days, which is essentially what you are doing if you are designing for remanufacturing, which is taking way too long to take hold in the manufacturing sector, with even fashion poised to overtake it (considering H&M and Zara are not only taking back clothes, but working on technology to create fabrics that can be more easily reused in the future).
When you think about the average complexity of today’s consumer products, especially in electronics, it becomes clear that when a product breaks, it is typically only one component that is broken and a replacement of that component makes the product useable again. That’s why a lot of computer, tablet, and phone manufacturers have entered the refurbishment business — once the damaged or defective part in a product that was returned under warranty or reclaimed upon disposal by a customer, it can be reused and, more importantly, resold.
But the concept doesn’t end with electronics, and doesn’t end with refurbishment. Electronics can be designed more modularly with re-manufacture in mind, so that parts can be upgraded en-masse when the products are returned en-masse in a regular upgrade cycle. For example, if laptops were designed for easy replacement of not only memory and drives, but processors and peripheral connectors (in anticipation of USB 4, Thunderbolt 2, etc.), the previous generation models could become the next generation models and resold as either lower-end offerings in the same market or new offerings in a foreign, emerging market.
And automotive suppliers, who not only know that parts wear out, but when parts are likely to wear out, and which parts wear out together, could not only design their engines to make it easy to replace parts, such as spark plugs, batteries, belts, filters, and pumps that wear out quickly, but also the engine block as a whole, that is going to wear out in 7 to 15 years, depending on the average annual mileage, if the rust-proof frame can last for 15 to 30 years. Given the choice, many people on a fixed income (who don’t live by the ocean and have rust to worry about) would rather replace the engine for 3,000 to 5,000 and keep the car for another 7-10 years if the frame is fine than pay 25,000 or 30,000 for a new car. And while this may not look as attractive from a bottom line perspective to a manufacturer, it significantly reduces the chance of the customer migrating to a different car company, which is very common if a competitor is offering a significantly better deal on a comparable car.
Plus, if the components are themselves designed for remanufacturing, it will be relatively easy for the manufacturer to reclaim the raw materials from the damaged or defective components, which is where a lot of the cost comes in, especially if we are talking rare earth metals. For example, the price of praseodymium-neodymium oxide exceed 1.70 an ounce and prices of terbium oxide (a semi-conductor that is used as an activator for green phospors in colour TV tubes) exceeded 112.00 an ounce this summer, and it keeps rising! Gold, a metal used in many electronics products, is now hovering around $1500 an ounce. And while there is not much gold in a single laptop, when you put fifty of them together, you’d likely get an ounce. And given that there are roughly 100 Million PC laptops and computers sold a year, that’s close to 2 Million ounces of gold that need to be reclaimed!
And, as per a now classic green & clean article, remanufactured products offer cost savings in the 45% to 60% range! So if doing the right thing isn’t enough, that should be enough of a justification to invest in remanufacturing! This goes double if you are in electronics (for some of the reasons given above) or automotive, where the global market for remanufactured auto parts is projected to reach $91 Billion by 2026. (Source:
Persistence Market Research)
So, regardless of what you want to call it, it’s time to do it. It’s not just good environmental stewardship, it’s good economics.