What Lean Opportunities Exist in Remanufacturing?


Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized Magazine. She has over three years experience writing industrial topics for the manufacturing, energy, and supply chain industries.


Lean principles are widely applied throughout the manufacturing sector. Taking this approach enables continuous improvement, waste reduction and other benefits. It’s not yet as common to use Lean in remanufacturing. However, compelling reasons exist to do so. Here are some practical ways to explore Lean remanufacturing strategies and succeed with them.

Take Inspiration From Previous Research


The authors of an academic paper from a Swedish university recognized that Lean is already an established method at manufacturing plants and explored how remanufacturing facilities could successfully apply some of the same approaches. They began by pinpointing the associated constraints of remanufacturing that could hinder Lean progress. The authors came up with three: inventory levels, product quality and process lead time.


Compared to manufacturers, remanufacturing specialists are less likely to successfully forecast the quantities of components they’ll have on hand before they arrive. Relatedly, they probably won’t know the condition of those parts and how much work will be required to get them in a like-new state. However, the authors stressed that these complications don’t make it impossible to use Lean in a remanufacturing setting.


They then conducted a literature review of 69 papers that mentioned Lean Manufacturing and extracted some key takeaways. One author discussed using the drum-buffer-rope method to set and enforce a pace in the factory.


Another suggested using customer pull as a production signal. This approach would embrace the waste management aspect of Lean by matching remanufacturing output with the frequency of customer needs. Another option mentioned was adjusting the types of Lean tools used depending on the type and volume of parts in a remanufacturing facility.


These examples highlight why remanufacturers should not assume Lean is not a viable approach for them. Even though it’s not as commonly applied as in manufacturing facilities, there are still actionable ways to make it pay off.

Apply Lean Principles When Pursuing Quality Certifications


Remanufactured parts offer heavy equipment owners and others a practical way to keep their machines running for longer without the resource usage required when building new pieces from scratch. Customers are more likely to see the benefits of remanufactured items if they feel confident in their quality. That’s why some remanufacturers test components to the same standards as new parts.


Improving the remanufacturing strategies in your organization may mean earning a certification that tells the public your company takes quality seriously. For example, the Motor & Equipment Remanufacturers Association (MERA) has a Manufactured Again certification that relates to ISO 9001 and IATF 16949, two internationally recognized quality standards.


It allows remanufacturers to certify their processes meet the quality standards generally adhered to by general manufacturers. Diesel Forward, which remanufacturers diesel engine fuel systems and technical components, got the Manufactured Again certification. The company also backs its products with full warranties. Representatives say their parts are 30%-60% less expensive than new ones, with no decrease in quality.


Since continuous improvement is a foundational part of Lean, it makes sense for remanufacturers to consider how they might use the principles when working toward a quality certification and ensuring they keep standards high after receiving it.

Consider How Robots and Other Advanced Technologies Uphold Lean Principles


Waste reduction in Lean does not only apply to physical materials. It also involves ensuring team members make the best use of their time. One way to do that is to move away from manual reporting tasks toward using automation and smart sensors to capture data.


This option supports ongoing workflow improvements. It also reduces the chances of errors. If the data comes directly from a connected sensor and goes into a computer system, there’s no possibility of an employee recording the information incorrectly when doing so by hand.


During a July 2021 interview, David Fitzsimons, director of the European Remanufacturing Council, gave input on the current state of the remanufacturing industry and areas for growth.  “Robotics and digital technologies have great potential; they could vastly expand possibilities across the sector,” he said.


Fitzsimons also advocates for better data collection, saying, “Currently, I see so much data being lost during products’ life cycle, data that do not make it to the manufacturer but that would be vital in extending the life span of products if they were shared.”


He then highlighted the shortcomings present in after-sale data, saying, “During the manufacturing process and up to the point of sale, all possible techniques are implemented to obtain even the smallest added value, even if often the work involves tiny margins for improvement.


He continued, “After the sale, meanwhile, products’ loss of value is catastrophic, and the potential to preserve or restore this value over time is huge. I think that those who will start to look to digital technologies in this sense will gain a major competitive advantage.”


Although Fitzsimons didn’t specifically bring up Lean principles, it’s easy to see how his suggestions align with them. After all, remanufacturing companies can’t see where room for improvement exists without data as a guide. Plus, robots could reduce or eliminate the waiting time and other process slowdowns that often occur during a workday.

Remanufacturing Strategies Made Better With Lean


The examples explored here give you some compelling ideas for how a remanufacturing facility could apply Lean principles. Interested parties should remember that the best ways to use them will vary based on a specific factory’s operations, current challenges and more. Conducting a thorough assessment of how Lean principles could provide the most significant benefits is a smart way to move forward from here.

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