Ready to remanufacture? Why it’s time for (re)Make in India

By René Van Berkel and Rajiv Ramchandra

India is well tuned into recovering the utility and economic value of discarded and/or dysfunctional manufactured products and components. This has traditionally been driven by need or scarcity with an acceptance that recovered products will have lower performance.

Remanufacturing ‘industrialises’ this practice by designing products for multiple product use cycles while ensuring that the remanufactured product or component has equal, if not superior performance compared to new ones. This creates valuable jobs, makes good business sense, and supports the transition to a circular economy – indeed an opportunity worth a concerted effort by industry, government and consumers – as India endeavours to build back better from the current socio-economic crisis.

Given the significant downturn in the Indian economy and labour market due to the pandemic, lockdown and cascading effects, sectors with high job creation potential deserve specific support. Remanufacturing provides a case in point. When compared to regular manufacturing from virgin materials and parts, remanufacturing in principle doubles the labour requirement. This is because remanufacturing requires that products be disassembled and assembled, with rigorous refurbishing and testing in between.

The UK’s Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) estimated that reuse and remanufacturing create 8-20 jobs per thousand tonnes of unwanted products, compared to 5-10 jobs for recycling and as little as 0.1 jobs for waste products sent to landfill. There are no comparable figures for India. Remanufacturing though will require transformation of waste management into resource recovery, providing safer and more dignified jobs for those currently involved in the informal scavenging and recycling activities.

Remanufacturing is based on controlled and replicable processes that achieve and guarantee at least equal performance of the remanufactured product compared to newly manufactured ones. Doing so is already big business globally. The European Remanufacturing Network (ERN) estimated the value of the remanufacturing industry in 2015 at 30 billion EUR in the EU, followed by Japan (3.8 billion EUR), Malaysia (825 million EUR) and South Korea (670 million EUR).

For India, ERN found remanufacturing underdeveloped and repair to be more common. ERN identified almost 30,000 businesses that are reportedly engaged in some form of printer cartridge refilling or remanufacturing. In unregulated markets, quality varies and counterfeiting occurs – only about 70 firms remanufactured printer cartridges under reputable brands. Other known Indian business examples include Volvo, which started remanufacturing construction equipment in Bangalore and Cummins which operates two remanufacturing facilities. Remanufacturing in India is likely to be more common, as to the user, a genuinely remanufactured product is no different from a new one.

Remanufacturing not only recovers materials (as with recycling) but also retains the form, shape, and functionality of products, which when manufactured from either virgin or recycled material, require significant amounts of energy and create waste. Thereby, remanufacturing is a practical approach to achieve resource efficiency and operationalize the circular economy.

Resource use efficiency has been highlighted as a strategic priority for India by NITI Aayog in its 2017 Resource Efficiency Strategy and through the draft Resource Efficiency Policy issued in 2019 by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC).

A circular economy aims at changing the predominantly linear take-make-use-throw economic model into a circular take-make-use-recover-retain model. Contrary to common perceptions, this goes beyond a recycling economy, and involves policy and action for changes in resource selection, greater efficiencies in resource use, and perpetual recovery and recycling. The circular economy offers a contemporary lens to review and innovate the way products and services are designed, manufactured, used and recovered, and indeed already provides a launchpad for cleantech innovators and start-ups in India and elsewhere.

The International Resource Panel (IRP), the global think tank on natural resources convened by the United Nations, hence speaks of nothing less than a ‘manufacturing revolution’ based on value-retention processes (VRPs), comprising remanufacturing, refurbishment, repair and direct reuse. Based on its detailed case studies, IRP found that remanufacturing, relative to new manufacturing, can achieve 80-98% materials savings and 79-99% reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases. Cost advantages of VRPs are conservatively estimated between 15 and 80% of the costs of new products.

Remanufacturing has proven beneficial in diverse industries, such as automotive, aerospace, electronics and machinery. It is not equally applicable to all products to solve their waste generation challenges, climate impacts, and resource use constraints. A modern and forward-looking manufacturing policy recognizes and achieves synergies between manufacturing and remanufacturing. This is an opportunity India cannot afford to miss as the country establishes world class manufacturing hubs, as foreseen through Make in India, and aims to recover towards self-reliance, in accordance with Atmanirbhar Bharat.


René Van Berkel is India Representative of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Rajiv Ramchandra is Founder and Director, Recreate India Research Foundation (Re:CREATe).)

Ready to remanufacture? Why it’s time for (re)Make in India Ready to remanufacture? Why it’s time for (re)Make in India Reviewed by TechCO on 9/23/2020 Rating: 5

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