Refurbishing an engine saves the equivalent of around 37 kilograms of CO2 compared to manufacturing a new one. A starter motor alone saves nine, a turbo charger 23 kilograms. These figures were all calculated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation. Remanufacturing, i.e. the refurbishment of used spare parts, is a long-established practice in the automotive industry, but one that is becoming increasingly relevant thanks to the climate debate. In comparison to manufacturing new parts, remanufacturing requires on average almost 90 per cent less material, reduces CO2 emissions by over 70 per cent and requires less than half the energy. Globally, this saves millions of tonnes of CO2 and valuable resources every year.
Full quality at half the price
‘Remanufacturing is essential for the environment. And also for the automotive industry and its customers’, says Prof. Rolf Steinhilper. He has been championing remanufacturing for decades and has been regarded as a remanufacturing guru ever since the publication of his reference text ‘Remanufacturing: The Ultimate Form of Recycling“ in 1998. ‘Numerous older vehicle models are still being driven on the roads that regularly require spare parts’, he explains. ‘However, manufacturers and their suppliers have long since stopped producing these parts. Any spare parts needed for earlier model generations have had to be produced in special series, which held up operations and led to high costs. This is where remanufacturing, or as I also like to call it, refabrication, is an ideal solution’.
Furthermore, a refurbished engine costs around half the amount of a new one at the same or mostly even higher quality because known product weaknesses are often eliminated during refurbishment. In short: for customers, remanufacturing means full quality at half the price, and for manufacturers, it means all the technology at half the costs. And it is also a big plus for the environment. However, the climate-friendly aspect of remanufacturing has barely driven demand for such products in the automotive segment up to now, according to Steinhilper. ‘It is mostly still cost that is the determining factor.’
There is no alternative to sustainability
Costs are a decisive factor if remanufacturing is to be employed not just in repair and maintenance, but also in vehicle development. ‘One of the most important aspects of remanufacturing is that it saves more resources and is more sustainable. But if it is to be widely used in vehicle development, it must also pay off economically, says Dr Petra Fröhlich, Project Manager in the Innovation division at development service provider EDAG. ‘But I believe it will actually soon become more expensive for companies not to be sustainable. Raw materials are becoming scarcer and more expensive and both politicians and customers are increasingly demanding that companies be more sustainable. All of this means that a rethink needs to take place soon’, says Fröhlich.
EDAG has set itself the aim of developing solutions for complex challenges together with its partners. The engineering company recently presented a reusable vehicle platform. It comprises carbon fibre-reinforced plastics (CFRP) that are themselves made from recycled composite materials. This means that components can be used across the lifetime of several vehicles. The result? The vehicle platform is designed to last a million kilometres (instead of the average 200,000 kilometres).
Downcycling instead of shredding
Dr Stefan Caba is Head of the EDAG Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Vehicle Development and was one of the main players involved in the development of the vehicle platform. The idea of producing reusable structures made from recycled material has been around for a while. ‘We asked ourselves what should be done with composite materials such as carbon fibre and glass fibres after use. We didn’t want to just shred the material, but instead downcycle it and reuse it’.
The platform manufactured in this way is designed to be easily removed from the vehicle. Connectors can be detached, design and worn parts replaced and the vehicle got back on the road quickly. This is ideal for car sharing providers, for example, whose vehicles tend to cover far more kilometres than private ones.
Electrification and remanufacturing
Remanufacturing is a growing industry, as proven by Remanufacturing Day at Automechanika Frankfurt Digital Plus 2021, which the trade fair organised together with the association APRA.
And car manufacturers are also following suit. BMW has just presented a vehicle that is made entirely from recycled materials. In future, the car manufacturer wants to manufacture up to 50 per cent of its volume from sustainable materials. Up to now, it has been 30 per cent.
At the same time, car manufacturers and suppliers have been on the lookout for new biomaterials and sustainable material combinations to further improve the CO2 footprint of their vehicles. One example is Volkswagen and the Technical University of Braunschweig, who are working on a method whereby vehicle parts can be evaluated for their environmental compatibility even as early as the concept phase. And just like the sector as a whole, remanufacturing will soon be confronted with electrification of vehicles. This offers huge opportunities as well as considerable challenges for the industry, with the sector having to transform itself once again.
Quotes from the industry
Dr. Daniel C. F. Köhler, Chairman APRA Europe
‘Remanufacturing is often the only way to offer an alternative to new products in the aftermarket for complex, expensive products. It also makes a significant contribution to protecting the environment because it saves a huge amount of resources. However, there is a risk for many classic remanufactured parts that the market will collapse because reproductions can now be produced. However, the proportion of electronics is increasing in all products, which makes reproducing them difficult, thus offering an opportunity for remanufacturing.’
Thomas Meyer, Head of TruckServices Remanufacturing & Resale EMEA; Knorr-Bremse Systeme für Nutzfahrzeuge
‘The trend towards remanufacturing in the lorry market is still experiencing strong growth on a par with the car market. At our remanufacturing factory in Liberec in the Czech Republic, we refurbished a total of 130,000 end-of-life products last year. This proves that there is a high demand for the industrial remanufacturing of old products. In 2020, Liberec was able to save not only 1.6 million kilograms of CO2, but also 8.3 million kilowatt hours of energy and a good half a million kilograms of material.’
Lars Hardt, Werkleiter STP-Parts
‘We have one of the biggest product ranges in the used parts segment and see the reconditioning of used parts as an important way to protect the environment and guarantee the continuance of affordable car parts in OEM quality. Remanufacturing has long been a focus of OEMs, meaning that refurbishment is already taken into account in current development projects. The next big development step in the remanufacturing segment will surely be the electrification of vehicles.’
Lorenzo Gaspari, New Business Development Manager CPI
‘Remanufacturing serves a lot of advantages, both for our customers and for the environment. Looking at the automotive technologies, we can observe mainly three trends: electrification of powertrain, autonomous driving and car connectivity. They will further impact the remanufacturing business in the next years, as the products have already started to be different in terms of components, very often embedding electronics.’