Glasgow conference raises profile of remanufacturing
Academics and industry experts from around the world are set to take part in the first international conference on remanufacturing in Glasgow.
The event, organised by Strathclyde University, will focus on remanufacturing research and practice.
The Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse estimates the industry is already worth £5bn a year to the UK economy.
But conference organisers hope to encourage wider interest in what some believe is an "unsung" industry.
Delegates from as far afield as Japan, USA, Australia, Sweden, South Korea and Uruguay will take part in workshops on remanufacturing and the environment and future technology.
Remanufacturing has been defined by the British Standards Institution (BSI) as "returning a used product to at least its original performance with a warranty that is equivalent to or better than that of the newly manufactured product".
Proponents argue remanufacturing could not only improve the bottom line for industry, but enable businesses to better meet increasingly stringent environmental legislation.
Conference organiser Dr Winifred Ijomah, who drew up the BSI definition of remanufacturing, said: "Over the last 50 years, the expanding population means that we can't cope with the amount of waste being produced - raw material and landfill space are increasingly scarce and hence more expensive.
"The increasing pace of industrialisation and the power of modern technology has increased global competition. Organisations must reduce costs whilst maintaining quality and speed of delivery to have a chance of competing."
Dr Ijomah is based at Strathclyde University's department of design, manufacture and engineering management, which boasts the largest group of remanufacturers of any institution in the UK.
The department has 13 active researchers and more than 30 industrial partners, including large companies like Rolls-Royce, Caterpillar and Ford.
Caterpillar is one of the UK's largest remanufacturing companies, with its subsidiaries Cat Reman and Progress Rail together handling more than £2.7bn worth of end-of-life products a year.
Much of Caterpillar's work involves remanufacturing engines for large plant and rolling stock. Customers include the MoD, to whom it has supplied - among other things - remanufactured transmissions and engines for the Warrior infantry fighting vehicle.
But many companies - big and small, at home and abroad - remain largely unaware of remanufacturing and its benefits.
To that end, Strathclyde University is looking to widen ties with countries around the world interested in the process.
The university has attracted major funding aimed at transferring remanufacturing research between the EU and China as part of Dr Ijomah's work to extend the global strategic research agenda.
Dr Ijamah said: "At Strathclyde, we are aiming to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes being used in remanufacturing.
"Our real strength lies in our wide-ranging approach to look at all of the aspects that influence remanufacturing - providing the opportunity to effect change in practice and theory in the field."
However, as things stand, a relatively small range of products are remanufactured in the UK.
They include products like machine tools, car and truck engines, office photocopiers, computer and telecoms equipment, air conditioning units and rolling stock.
Further development has been hampered by low-cost imports of improving quality goods from abroad, which has, to some extent, driven remanufacturers towards higher-value products.
The perception of remanufactured goods as "second hand" is also an issue which experts say has held back progress.
Ben Walsh, from the privately-funded Centre for Remanufacturing and Reuse, said the problem could be tackled in several ways.
He said: "One way is to develop standards that show remanufactured products are as good as new ones, and we are in the middle of developing a certification process to that end.
"The other way is for companies to adapt their business models so they can lease or rent out products without the consumer even needing to know that they are remanufactured."
Proponents of remanufacturing hope to propel the concept of remanufacturing into the public consciousness.
Dr Ijomah added: "It is important that we find solutions that are cost-effective and have a wider benefit for society.
"The relatively straight-forward nature of some of the skills required would mean that an increase in remanufacturing would provide employment opportunities for a greater number of people."
Meanwhile, Strathclyde is also researching other reuse processes in order to find new ways to improve industrial productivity and waste management.
Dr Ijomah said: "Remanufacturing is not a panacea so there will always be instances when it is not the most economic and/or environmentally beneficial approach. Our idea is to use the whole waste reduction spectrum as applicable."
The remanufacturing conference will run at Strathclyde University from 27 to 29 July.