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Remanufacturing needs support to reach potential, say experts

A joint report from industry and academia argues that the UK is lagging behind other advanced economies in harnessing the economic and environmental value of remanufacturing.

A joint report from industry and academia argues that the UK is lagging behind other advanced economies in harnessing the economic and environmental value of remanufacturing.

Part of the concept of a closed-loop ‘circular economy’, remanufacturing involves returning end-of-life manufactured parts of products to a like-new or better condition guaranteed by warranty, rather than taking it apart for recycling or waste processing. 

It therefore ensures that the value of the original product is extended, rather than just the materials within it, and cuts down on the amount of resources needed for manufacturing new products.

Huge potential

Currently, remanufacturing activity in the UK is worth some £2.4 billion but has the potential to be more than doubled to £5.6 billion, creating thousands of jobs and supporting a more sustainable economy in the process.

The joint report – from the Carbon Trust, Knowledge Transfer Network, High Speed Sustainable Manufacturing Institute, Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, and Coventry University – points to a lack of policy support and industrial design education in the UK as key barriers.

A number of other countries, including the US, China, Japan and Germany, already have established centres of excellence and policies specifically dedicated to supporting the growth of remanufacturing.

‘No brainer’

Aleyn Smith-Gillespie, associate director at the Carbon Trust, called harnessing the potential of remanufacturing “a no brainer”, adding: “Companies are now looking at the lost opportunity of their products disappearing, either going to waste, ground up for recycling, or simply being sold off by intermediaries they have no control over.”

According to the report, opportunities for remanufacturing particularly exist in the automotive, defence, aerospace, medical equipment and electronics manufacturing sectors. 

Mike Hague-Morgan, director of Autocraft Drivetrain Solutions, an SME that remanufactures motor engines, said: “Our customers are large manufacturers that are very concerned about energy and resource costs, as well as the environmental impact of their products.

“Remanufacturing offers them a way to address all these issues. And we know how to produce high quality remanufactured engines and components, which in many cases can be better than the original.”

Reverse logistics

A vital step in supporting a wider transition towards remanufacturing is so-called ‘reverse logistics’, whereby supply chains are reversed to re-gather products for remanufacture. 

Logistics giant, DHL, was last month accepted as a ‘Circular Economy 100’ member of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, to help foster the development of logistics models that will enable suppliers and buyers to be reconnected at end-of-life. 

The Knowledge Transfer Network has also set up an online community dedicated to remanufacturing, which can be found here