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Remanufacturing Print E-mail

FAQ About Remanufacturing

Remanufacturing is not a widely-understood concept. In an effort to help educate interested individuals, The Remanufacturing Institute (TRI) has compiled the following list of questions and answers regarding remanufacturing and TRI. Check back; this page will include new questions and answers periodically. If you have a question which you would like answered and you think it should be included on this page, please let us know by contacting TRI.

Table of Contents

1. What is remanufacturing?
2. What remanufacturing is not?
3. What products are remanufactured?
4. How large is the remanufacturing industry?
5. Why is remanufacturing considered the ultimate form of recycling?
6. Are remanufacturing and demanufacturing the same thing?
7. What are the major issues affecting remanufacturing today?

1. What is remanufacturing?
Simply stated, remanufacturing is the process of disassembly of products during which time parts are cleaned, repaired or replaced then reassembled to sound working condition. A more detailed definition of remanufacturing has been adopted by The Remanufacturing Institute (formerly the Remanufacturing Industries Council International).

A product is considered remanufactured if:

  • Its primary components come from a used product.
  • The used product is dismantled to the extent necessary to determine the condition of its components.
  • The used product's components are thoroughly cleaned and made free from rust and corrosion.
  • All missing, defective, broken or substantially worn parts are either restored to sound, functionally good condition, or they are replaced with new, remanufactured, or sound, functionally good used parts.
  • To put the product in sound working condition, such machining, rewinding, refinishing or other operations are performed as necessary.
  • The product is reassembled and a determination is made that it will operate like a similar new product.

Other terms may be synonymous with remanufacturing in certain specific industry segments. One such term is rebuilt. Rebuilt is synonymous with remanufacturing when used in connection with motor vehicle parts and systems but not the entire vehicle. Recharged is synonymous with remanufacturing when used in connection with imaging products, such as laser toner cartridges. There are numerous other terms in numerous different industries which are synonymous if they utilize the minimum requirements outlined above.

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2. What remanufacturing is not?
The definition above of what remanufacturing is describes a process. If a product goes through this process it can be considered remanufactured. There are many terms which may be confused with remanufacturing; including the following:

  • Recycled - A 'recycled' product may very well meet the minimum remanufacturing requirements; and many legitimate remanufactureres use this term to describe their product. However, many times a recycled product may be, as in the automotive sector, removed from a scrap vehicle and resold with little or no work performed on it. Some recycled products are superficially cleaned, boxed and sold. Obviously, as described, recycled would not be considered remanufactured and its reliability is questionable.
  • Repaired - This is an imprecise term. Essentially it means that the product has had enough work done to it to make it operational again, but this would probably not be considered remanufactured. A holistic root cause analysis is generally not performed in the repair process which means the product may not perform like a new product.
  • Restored/Reconditioned - These are generic terms generally applied to antique or classic goods as opposed to a mass market consumer product.
  • Used - Generally, this is a product that has been subjected to previous use and is not new. Nothing has been done to repair it or correct any problems it may have. Therefore, its useful life is unknown.

In summary, when determining if a product is or is not remanufactured, it is imperative to consider first and foremost the process utilized.

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3. What products are remanufactured?
A quick answer to this question is that any product that can be manufactured can also be remanufactured. However, some products are remanufactured more often than others.

One of the charges of TRI is to determine which industries have remanufacturing activies. So far, TRI is aware of hundreds of distinct products that are being remanufactured. The following is just a short list of some of these products:1. Motor Vehicle Parts 2. Office Furniture 3. Compressors 4.Electrical Apparatus 5. Vending Machines 6. Photo Copiers 7. Laser Toner Cartridges 8. Data Communication Equipment 9. Gaming Machines 10. Musical Instruments 11. Robots 12. Aircraft parts 13. Bakery Equipment 14. Much, Much More

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4. How large is the remanufacturing industry?

See the research section.

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5. Why is remanufacturing considered the ultimate form of recycling?
Remanufacturing’s Environmental Edge
Inherently, remanufacturing has positive environmental ramifications.

In fact, many organizations are now using the concept of remanufacturing, if not the term, in their environmental literature. The American Society of Mechanical Engineer’s position paper on "Designing for the Environment" includes the concept of remanufacturing. Also, the American Automobile Manufacturers Association in their "Key Facts about America’s Car Companies: Environment" includes remanufacturing in the life cycle of an automobile.

But why is remanufacturing considered the ultimate form of recycling? First, one must consider the definition of recycling. The term recycling is generally applied to consumable goods; such as newspapers, glass bottles and aluminum cans. However, recycling can also apply to durable goods; such as an engine. Once these goods are consumed, they may be recycled, meaning they are removed from the waste disposal stream, returned to their original raw material form and serve as raw materials for a manufacturing process. The environmental benefits of recycling are easy to comprehend; recycling reduces the quantity of waste headed for landfill space and adds multiple lives for the earth’s raw materials. If an engine were to be recycled, the steel from the item would be saved from the landfill space and could be used to produce another item requiring steel.

However, remanufacturing offers a better alternative. According to an entry by Professor Robert T. Lund of Boston University in the book, The American Edge: Leveraging Manufacturing’s Hidden Assets, remanufacturing differs from recycling because remanufacturing ‘recycles’ the value originally added to the raw material. According to Lund, "Remanufacturing differs from recycling also, most importantly because it makes a much greater economic contribution per unit of product than does recycling. The essential difference arises in the recapture of value added. Value added is the cost of labor, energy, and manufacturing operations that are added to the basic cost of raw materials in the manufacture of a product. For all but the most simple durable goods, value added is by far the largest element of cost. Even in a product as simple as a beer bottle, the cost of the basic raw materials (sand, soda, and lime) is much less than 5 percent of the cost of a finished bottle. The rest is value added. For a product such as an automobile, the value of the raw materials that can be recovered by recycling is only in the order of 1.5 percent of the market value of the new car. Value added is embodied in the product. Recycling destroys that value added, reducing a product to its elemental value - its recoverable raw material constituents. Further, recycling requires added labor, energy, and processing capital to recover the raw materials. When all of the costs of segregation, collection, processing, and refining are taken into account, recycling has significant societal cost. Society undertakes recycling only because, for all nondurable and many durable products, the societal cost of any other disposal alternative is even greater."

Remanufacturing recaptures the value-added to the product when it was first manufactured. In fact, a 1981 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study on the remanufacturing of automobile components indicated that approximately 85% of the energy expended in the manufacture of the original product was preserved in the remanufactured product. This is why remanufacturing is considered the ultimate form of recycling.

Other Environmental Benefits of Remanufacturing
According to studies performed at the Fraunhofer Institute in Stuttgart, Germany, energy savings by remanufacturing world-wide in a year equals the electricity generated by 5 nuclear power plants or 10,744,000 barrels of crude oil which corresponds to a fleet of 233 oil tankers. The Fraunhofer Institute also determined that raw materials saved by remanufacturing worldwide in a year would fill 155,000 railroad cars forming a train 1,100 miles long. Because products that are remanufactured are kept out of the waste stream longer, landfill space is preserved and air pollution is reduced from products that would have had to be resmelted or otherwise reprocessed. A product can always be recycled. Extending product life through remanufacturing is the key to leveraging the earth’s natural resources.

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6. Are remanufacturing and demanufacturing the same thing?
No.  Demanufacturing, essentially, describes a disassembly process. The remanufacturing process, as described in question #1 "What is remanufacturing?", includes disassembly as the first step. Many additional steps are required in remanufacturing, including cleaning and examining components, replacing or remanufacturing those components, and, finally, reassembling the product to operate like a new one. To remanufacturers, disassembly is only the first of many steps. Demanufacturing, or disassembly, are often used for products which will be recycled. For instance, automobiles need to be disassembled so materials, such as steel, aluminum, assorted plastics, etc., are not mixed.

Demanufacturing does provide environmental benefits. However, if a product is only demanufactured and then recycled, society loses the value-added to a product that remanufacturing preserves (see question #5 "Why is remanufacturing considered the ultimate form of recycling?).

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7. What are the major issues affecting remanufacturing today?
There are numerous legal, regulatory, and other issues which affect remanufacturers on a daily basis. The RICI is the watchdog organization for the remanufacturing industry, as well as it's representative to numerous groups. Below is just a sample of issues affecting remanufacturers:

  • Core valuation
  • Intellectual property and anti-trust matters
  • Federal, state and local government recycled-content procurement procedures
  • Design for Remanufacturing
  • Government Economic Incentives

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