Last year, John Deere Reman—Deere & Company’s (Deere) remanufacturing division—generated $360 million in revenue and expanded its remanufacturing facilities in Springfield, Missouri, adding 130 new jobs. Behind this tremendous growth is the reman advocate and strategist Jena Holtberg-Benge.
Holtberg-Benge joined Deere in 2000 and has helped the company cross many milestones since then. While based in Pune, India, she established and led Deere’s India Technical Information Authoring Center and served as a project manager in a tractor manufacturing facility there. She then held management roles within two U.S.-based operations before managing the company’s business development activities in Beijing, China. From 2014 until 2017, she was the director of John Deere WorkSight, a data visibility and machine optimization platform.
In 2017, Holtberg-Benge became the general manager of John Deere Reman, where she leads about 700 people to distribute remanufactured goods across the globe. Today, she heads Deere's efforts to increase its remanufacturing revenue by 50 percent by 2030. We sat down with Holtberg-Benge to learn more about why remanufacturing has become such an important pillar of Deere’s business and sustainability strategies.
Interview with Jena Holtberg-Benge
Q: What part have you played in Deere’s remanufacturing story? How does John Deere Reman support the company’s wider business and sustainability goals?
A: John Deere Reman is integral to the company’s Leap Ambitions, our ability to reach our sustainability and financial objectives. By supporting the organization to grow the reman business by 50 percent by 2030, we not only support our customers with high-quality, lower cost alternatives, but we also support the company’s product-circularity objectives. Over the last five years, I have led the John Deere Reman organization and seen substantial changes in the area of reuse, reclamation, and improved business results, which are now enabling the organization to grow.
Q: Deere is one of 35 Tier 2 members of the REMADE Institute, a Manufacturing USA™ institute that was launched in 2017 by the U.S. Department of Energy (U.S. DOE). REMADE’s mission is to accelerate innovation that can reduce the energy use and carbon emissions associated with industrial-scale production, processing, and end-of-life (EOL) disposition of materials. Deere plays an influential role in the institute’s governance and currently is involved in three project partnerships with universities and national labs. How is Deere leveraging REMADE to move forward? What are some ways in which Deere’s current REMADE projects could advance remanufacturing at the wider level?
A: John Deere and John Deere Reman have proposed close to 10 projects, with three currently in process. We are excited about accelerating our design for reman (DfR) and damage detection capabilities, as well as improving our ability to reclaim engine cylinder heads as a result. This is accomplished via collaboration with a variety of partners and by participating in the REMADE institute objectives. We have no shortage of opportunities to further our objectives to grow our remanufacturing capabilities and improve core utilization. We have also actively engaged in REMADE’s workforce development efforts and have heavily leveraged the training it offers.
Q: The COVID-19 pandemic and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have triggered unprecedented supply chain disruptions over the past two years. These events come as businesses and governments are under mounting public and investor pressure to take meaningful steps to slow climate change, resulting in new policies that may also affect trade and resource access. How has John Deere Reman navigated these challenges, given how much it relies on the global trade of cores (components that are collected for remanufacturing) and material supply? Have these challenges shaped or changed your long-term growth strategy for John Deere Reman? If so, how?
A: Like all U.S. companies, we are complying with sanctions related to Russia and Belarus, so our business has been adversely impacted and our customers have been affected in the process. That said, reman plays such an important role in ensuring that our customers all over the world have access to high-quality parts and components, including engines, transmissions, electronics, air-conditioning compressors, axles, etc. If anything, these global challenges have heightened our strategy and desire to accelerate growth in remanufacturing.
Q: A lot of discussion about remanufacturing centers on the need for better technology. But workforce development is just as important—“remanners” have a unique set of skills and understanding of the overall remanufacturing process that the larger manufacturing workforce lacks. What role does workforce training and development play in Deere’s overall remanufacturing strategy? How important would you say workforce readiness is to the future of remanufacturing?
A: Workforce development and future skilling is critical to our success. With unemployment at an all-time low, original equipment manufacturer (OEM) dealerships and customers will desire solutions that solve problems, reduce downtime, and reduce cost. That means leveraging REMADE workforce development efforts as well as internal resources to improve our ability to use smart industrial tools like computer-vision machine-learning (CVML), analytics tools like Alteryx, and reclamation technologies like additive and subtractive capabilities. We work closely with our enterprise resources, REMADE, and our local technical college (Ozark Technical College) to ensure that we have access to training and experiences that help our team grow in our knowledge of remanufacturing.
Q: The U.S. remanufacturing industry is over a century old. Over that time, its use has been limited to very focused industrial sectors that rely on high-value assets, like aerospace or heavy-duty machinery and vehicles. But if remanufacturing is going to fulfill its potential as an enabler of circular economy, it will need to be deployed at a much broader scale. And, for that to happen, long-standing technological, policy, and logistical barriers will need to be overcome. What needs to happen for remanufacturing to become feasible for more businesses, such as manufacturers of consumer products like electronics? What milestones need to be crossed before remanufacturing’s full circular economy potential can be realized?
A: The global regulatory environment is changing rapidly due to environmental concerns and acceleration of the circular economy. The need to feed, clothe, house, and support a growing population while reducing the drain on the environment will be critical and reman plays an important role in reducing the burden. We reduce the energy consumption required to produce new components. Now that we are in an age of microprocessor and semi conductor constraints, remanufacturing of electronics is critical. It is rare for a microprocessor to fail and most consumers desire a low-cost alternative to buying new. Remanufacturing and repair play a part in fulfilling that demand.
Q: Expanding the market reach for remanufacturing goods relies, in part, on how well it’s communicated to the consumers, businesses, and policymakers that are new to it. This has not always been easy: Remanufacturing is often confused with other recovery methods like refurbishment and repair. Though there are similarities, refurbishment and repair don’t result in the “like new or better” quality products that remanufacturers are able to deliver. As a former vice president of the Remanufacturing Industries Council (RIC), you are no stranger to the challenges of explaining the industry’s value to the public. Do you consider yourself a “reman evangelist”? Given your deep expertise in marketing and business communications, what strategies do you use to explain the benefits and value of remanufacturing to people who don’t know what it is?
A: Absolutely, after five years in the remanufacturing business, I am truly a reman believer! Not only are global economic and political changes improving the viability and attractiveness of the remanufacturing industry, but customers of the future will demand products that maximize the reuse of material and reduce the drain on the environment. Reman fulfills that need. We still do a lot of knowledge-leveling, communication, factory tours, and marketing to communicate the benefits of remanufacturing and we are far from done. Thank you for advancing our cause and helping us communicate these benefits more widely.