Remanufacturing no longer a ‘niche’ business model, says Innovate UK

EXCLUSIVE: Remanufacturing has a "crucial role" to play in every large-scale heavy industry business approach, the lead technologist resource efficiency at Innovate UK told an audience of sustainability professionals at edie Live.

Speaking exclusively to edie during an action-packed second day of the event (18 May), Nick Cliffe said that resource-heavy industries should embrace remanufacturing as a way of creating more resilient business models and advancing the shift towards a global circular economy.

“Remanufacturing can, could and should play a big part in every large-scale heavy industry approach to how they do business,” Cliffe said. “Where you operate in the UK, you have strengths and weaknesses. Personally I feel that for us to compete globally in terms of businesses related to raw materials, we have to be smarter.

“We have to capitalise on the technology we have available. The academic rigour and expertise that we can bring to bear on developing new business models and new processes to help keep us competitive and keep improving productivity.”

Market barriers

Earlier this month an Oxford University economist told edie that Tata Steel’s Port Talbot production plant could embrace remanufacturing as a way of securing a more sustainable future. These sentiments were echoed by Cliffe, who revealed that Innovate UK is supporting Tata Steel through several projects relating to the remanufacturing of torpedo axels.

Cliffe admitted that many barriers need to be overcome to ensure the UK can move towards remanufacturing-based business models, suggesting that a lack of specific technologies and standards around remanufacturing has increased uncertainty in the national and global market.

“Within the UK, I think we need to think carefully about how we might fund businesses to move to the remanufacturing model, how we might empower them to do it,” Cliffe said. “I definitely think we need to work on our basic skills and make sure that the right workforce capabilities are there to support the development of these businesses.

“Where Innovate UK comes in, there’s definitely the need for specific technologies to be developed to facilitate these high value manufacturing approaches.”

Attitude shift

Nevertheless, Cliffe remained confident that the adoption of a positive change in both thinking and business models will enable firms, particularly in resource-intensive sectors such as manufacturing, to overcome the present technical and financial challenges.

“What’s most important is that remanufacturing is no longer being viewed as niche,” Cliffe said. “You’ve got start-up companies who are building their whole business around remanufacturing. You also have giant global multinational companies that are delivering, developing and utilising remanufacturing as part of their overall product.

“For me the biggest change is the fact that everyone from the smallest SME to the biggest multinational is recognising the possibility. Attitude shift is the key thing, the technology will follow.”

Earlier in the day, Cliffe participated in a panel discussion which examined how embedding positive business approaches to end-of-life products could represent a step change in resource efficiency.

Throughout the session, Cliffe outlined the business opportunities offered by remanufacturing, highlighting that the total global market value could be as high as £70bn for remanufactured products – while the European sector could triple by 2030.

“Through using innovative business models like retaining and reusing the materials within the product supplied, businesses can strengthen their market position and fend off competition from bigger, better funded and just as technically astute competitors,” Cliffe concluded.

Cliffe provided his thoughts on remanufacturing as part of a podcast series based on interviews with edie Live speakers, due to be launched on edie later this week.

George Ogleby

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