July 15, 2017

COE-ASM at the World Remanufacturing Conference:

Dr. Mark Krystofik on Adaptability in remanufacturing

Remanufacturing has been a viable means to preserve value and reduce costs since its evolution in the late 1940s. After decades of development in technologies, processes, and best practices, the remanufacturing industry is still commonly faced with one major problem: restoring a product to a condition equivalent to when it was new still leaves it behind the contemporary market. Put simply, a ten year old product remanufactured to new-equivalence is most competitive in a market of customers searching for ten year old technology; a small and likely shrinking market in an age of advanced technology development. While this discrepancy is manageable in some markets where the slow advance of core technology systems keeps older products competitive, it creates a real business challenge in industries with rapid evolution in functional technology and stylistic preferences, as incompatibility and obsolescence—and thus non-competitiveness—set in quickly.

Some have addressed this issue by advocating design for upgradability, a strategy whereby products are designed to accept new technologies (things like new sensors and higher performance motors) not available at the original product’s inception. While important to the success of remanufacturing moving forward, simply upgrading older products with modern technologies treats the symptoms rather than the whole underlying issue—that today’s market offerings are fundamentally different products.

To tackle this issue, Senior Program Manager at the COE-ASM Dr. Mark Krystofik addressed a group of industry leaders at the 2017 World Remanufacturing Conference on what he calls “adaptive remanufacturing.” Rather than simply designing for upgradability in effort to provide new capabilities in an older product, adaptive remanufacturing is a concept wherein end-of-use (EOU) product cores are adapted during remanufacturing to provide a different product, similar—but not identical—to the original.

To illustrate the concept, Dr. Krystofik highlighted COE-ASM’s work with Davies Office Furniture as a case study. In a project with Davies, the COE-ASM used Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) methodology to compare the environmental impacts of remanufacturing a complete office workspace furniture system against the impacts of manufacturing a virgin (new) system at the OEM. As a part of this study, COE-ASM assessed Davies’ adaptive remanufacturing process whereby incoming cores from one product family were adapted to fit modern industry trends and even provide customization. By changing core characteristics such as size, color, and configuration, Davies provides a product that is altogether different than the original, but still provides the same function for the same purpose. Importantly, this adaptive process did not create any significant increase in environmental impacts compared to traditional remanufacturing.

Ultimately, adaptive remanufacturing allows companies the versatility to achieve true contemporary market equivalence while still preserving the embodied value of product cores. This means that not only can adaptively remanufactured products compete more closely with new markets (i.e. attract higher prices), but also, as the COE-ASM’s LCA study suggests, that they can be adapted multiple times as market preferences evolve without increasing economic or environmental costs. This allows companies to extend product life even further, simultaneously reducing overall environmental impacts and maximizing the value that can be realized from a single product well beyond what is traditionally possible.