The way a product or component is designed and manufactured can have an impact on how easy — and how costly — it will be to remanufacture, and even if it can be remanufactured at all. Traditionally, engineers typically only looked at the first use of a product and designed it to fulfill the performance and durability goals of the first user. However, remanufacturers would like to be brought into the product design process to give input on design changes that could eliminate challenges when it ends up at the remanufacturing center.
Design for remanufacturing is a term that has been around for quite a while in many industries, but not in the automotive industry, says Ian Buxcey, global remanufacturing manager at Borg Warner.
“One of the reasons for that is that the main purpose of the design engineer is to get a product into a production environment so it can be made as inexpensively and competitively as possible, and [the concerns] about reman are probably at the bottom of the design engineer’s list [of things to consider] — if it is on the list at all,” he says.
Abe Aon, regional aftermarket sales leader, North America, for Wabco, says companies have “an obligation to our customers and to our environment to reduce our impact on the environment, and remanufacturing is a key component to that. But ultimately we have to have a product that works and is durable, so there is a little bit of push and pull. From the remanufacturing perspective, we want it to be easy to remanufacture, but from a first-fit perspective, we want to make sure it is durable.”
One of the issues with designing for remanufacturing is the inherent difference between manufacturing and remanufacturing.
“For years engineers have been designing for assembly,” says Carl Fletcher, leader, remanufacturing and aftersales development at Navistar. “They design for how things can readily be put together on an assembly line. Reman is exactly the opposite. We have a mindset of designing for disassembly.”
It’s almost like two different languages, explains Joe Mejaly, senior vice president, Denso Products and Services Americas. “The designer for the new products has a singular focus on the efficiency of the product, the weight of the product, the longevity of the product for use in a new vehicle.”
On the other hand, “the remanufacturer wants to have a design that has more material so it can potentially be reused, and that goes against what the original product designer is trying to do,” says Josh Stahl, president and CEO of Reviva.
Fortunately, the two sides can be brought closer together.
“My advice is to always involve the company’s remanufacturing centers in the early design stages of a new product,” says Gene Evans, site manager, Meritor Aftermarket Remanufacturing. “Engineers from reman facilities can help with design recommendations that will assure future aftermarket remanufacturing needs are taken into consideration.”
The single most important thing a designer can do is work with the remanufacturing experts to establish the reman strategy for each part at the beginning, says Todd Wieland, director, research and technology, new and ReCon parts, Cummins. “There will typically be product performance, high-volume manufacturing and initial cost considerations that drive choices that complicate remanufacturing. Sometimes a total lifecycle cost analysis may reverse those, but oftentimes not.”
How companies are changing their design thinking
Bendix is one of the companies that has begun exploring design for remanufacturing. “We are in the early infancy of it,” says Henry Foxx, director of remanufacturing at Bendix. “We are at least asking questions up front about if there is an opportunity to remanufacture a product. We are looking at how to work along with design engineers to make sure that we have things like attachments that make componentry accessible when it comes to remanufacturing.”
Patrick Muldoon, chief engineer, remanufacturing at Axle Tech, which was recently acquired by Meritor, says he is seeing more involvement of remanufacturing in initial product design. “The next generation of folks that are coming up are very aware of the environment and our impact on it both as consumers and as engineers.
“They have a conscience about how we design products and if we design in such a way that it can be remanufactured, because there is a great energy reduction and carbon footprint reduction with reman because you do not have to remake a lot of parts.”
“Design engineers should go through reuse criteria to understand if there are design changes that could improve the yield of reused parts,” says Tim Bauer, vice president of Eaton’s aftermarket business, and they “should look at how current products fail to learn how to make new products better.”
Adding mechatronics to the picture
The growth of mechatronics — the combining of electronic and mechanical systems into one component — helps make the case for including remanufacturing’s voice in the initial design. Adding electronic components to mechanical ones complicates the remanufacturing process.
“When you start talking about mechatronics, it adds a certain level of complication and complexity into the whole system of remanufacturing,” Aon says.
Richard Marcus, business development manager, Detroit Reman, says, “Electronics create a new challenge. They don’t like heat, they don’t like debris and they don’t like a lot of the things that traditional mechanical parts do.”
The processes used to remanufacture mechanical parts and electronics components are different. Something as simple as cleaning a part — traditionally the first step in the reman process — may need to be altered, according to Wieland, if the electronics are still part of the assembly when cleaning occurs.
“When we look at our mechanical products, we have a certain way to salvage them, whether it be washing, blasting and things of that nature,” Foxx says. “In a lot of cases that happens in a ‘dirty’ environment. For mechatronics, because of the electronic portion, it needs to be salvaged in a different, cleaner environment.”
Fletcher says customers, dealers and remanufacturers all need to be more deliberate in the way they handle and manage mechatronic components. “Electronics are more vulnerable to shock and more vulnerable to heat, contamination and vibration. You have to consider all of those things, because otherwise it is very easy to destroy the value of the core.”
If he could talk to a design engineer, Buxcey says he would ask them to look at how electronics controls are sealed. “The last thing [the design engineer] wants is for water to get into the control modules, and so the cases are well glued together or friction welded, which can make them hard to open. If you manage to get them open the case is probably beyond reuse.”
Sam Saia, senior development engineer for Detroit Reman, agrees. “If you are going to talk about electronic control modules, if we don’t have to destroy an external casing to get in to internal components, that is an easier solution for us,” he says. “Any time we have to destroy something in order to recover it, our job becomes significantly harder. It can also be problematic dealing with potting, gels or glues, because they take extra steps to remove. If we can avoid those during the design phase, then our job [remanufacturing] will be a little bit easier.”
Fletcher says that in recent years engineers have wanted to bond electronic control modules together with “a sort of permanence to them. Then inside the control module they want to use all sorts of epoxy material for potting in order to protect the components from damage.” That can make it almost impossible to remanufacture. He would like engineers to “think about taking it apart and using replaceable gaskets rather than bonded seals.” He also would like to see potting compounds that can be easily removed or dissolved, “so we can work on the printed circuit boards and repot new components.”
Marcus says it is easy to make the electronic components so they can’t be remanufactured. “Envision a circuit board with all the chips on it and then picture it with epoxy poured all over it. You won’t be able to see a thing and you can’t get to it.”
Aon adds, “If you fully pot an ECU, it becomes more difficult to remanufacture.” He would like to see the use of other types of technologies to ensure corrosion resistance and long-term durability on the electronic component without necessarily doing full-on potting.
Back to the parts assembly question, Aon points out that sometimes things are welded together, when they could be put together using mechanical fastening devices such as clips or screws.
Then there’s where those fasteners are located.
“Of paramount importance is access to get at some of the fastening,” Buxcey says. “Some of them are put in awkward places, and that extends the amount of time you need to take things apart. If they have been in service on the vehicle for a number of years, they are not the easiest things to move. If we end up snapping a bolt off and it is in an inaccessible place, it becomes difficult to decide if it is worth recovering.”
Wieland would like to see design engineers “think through how the product will wear or otherwise degrade with use. In remanufacturing we correct those modes and re-establish the capability for the next use cycle. The designer will have a good sense of what has to be done to make that [possible], and the reman engineer will have the understanding of possible how methods to do that.”
Ultimately Foxx says, “We need to understand the useful life of a product or component so that when it comes back for remanufacturing, given the cycles it has gone through, given the number of years or miles on the truck, we can determine the available life left in that component so we can safely put out a quality product via remanufacturing.”