GETTING MORE OUT OF THE AFTERLIFE
Material intensity related to product consumption has become part of societal discourse and reducing it has become a priority of some industrial actors. Focusing on product end-of-life (EoL) is one approach that many companies and research entities have taken to identify and enact material intensity reductions. Such efforts have provided evidence of environmental and economic benefits, success stories for reuse and remanufacturing, and strategies for success. The project presented here explores ways in which a large component manufacturer may improve the EoL management of its products. The project was conducted in the format of a case study of a multi-national component manufacturer (the case company) that has committed to the principles of life cycle management (LCM). Although the company remanufactures some of the products sold and knows that its products are generally recycled, it wanted to know more about the downstream material flows and related loss of material, function and value and find improvement potentials. Two contrasting business areas were chosen as study subjects – one Industrial and one Automotive. Eight hypothetical EoL improvement opportunities were identified from literature and evaluated during the course of the project. Using material flow analysis (MFA) and analyses of company sales data from the two areas, snapshots of the company’s downstream (mostly) low-alloyed steel flows were taken. The circumstances of product EoL were evaluated and product liberation from parent products was of particular focus. In addition, remanufacturing potential was evaluated based on existing company preferences. The results from the two cases give indications of what types of expected and unexpected opportunities might be available to a component manufacturer. Results from the Industrial case indicate that that the potential to remanufacture the company’s products is substantial. It appears that many products that meet the company’s remanufacturing size and condition preferences are not currently remanufactured. If all products identified for the case were in proper condition to be remanufactured and if they were remanufactured one time, the potential would represent a 30% reduction of material use for the business area studied. The Automotive case shows that design trends might hinder future repair and recycling of some automotive products. In addition, although the studied products are not remanufactured themselves, the company may have an opportunity to contribute to the quality control of parent product remanufacturing. Many of the products from both cases are liberated at EoL and there appears to be an opportunity to sort and recycle these low-alloyed products to realize more “functional” recycling. However, whether the volumes of the company’s EoL products are sufficient to justify such dedicated material recycling requires additional investigation. These results along with societal interest to increase functional recycling imply the need to further investigate what a recycling program for specific material grades could yield.
Product EoL management