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To manufacture or remanufacture

Consuming significantly less energy, labor and natural resources, and reducing waste.

To manufacture or remanufacture by Beth Stafford

It’s a simple fact of business: If you can’t sell a product for more than it costs to manufacture, you won’t make a profit. But when a product needs to be remanufactured, the equation becomes much more complicated.

“Companies invest heavily in design, manufacturing and marketing. But when a product fails, it impacts every aspect of the supply chain,” says Anthony Ross, Rockwell Automation Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management in the Lubar School of Business.

“Our students are engaged in studying and proposing solutions for real-world problems in a way that is academically rigorous and timely for business.”

Anthony Ross, Rockwell Automation Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management

Rockwell Automation approached a group of UWM researchers with specific questions about design, quality and reliability expectations of remanufactured products.
Faculty members from the Lubar School and the College of Engineering & Applied Science (CEAS) responded to these concerns with a study funded by the UWM Research Growth Initiative. Ross and Wilkistar Otieno, assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, are co-principal investigators.

Ph.D. students Osman Aydas from the Lubar School and Thomas Omwando from CEAS are part of the research team. “Our students are engaged in studying and proposing solutions for real-world problems in a way that is academically rigorous and timely for business,” says Ross.

The researchers were asked to answer two questions. The first was how to decide, when a failed machine is returned, whether it is worth the cost and labor to repair it. Otieno is directing that phase by creating a remanufacturability index applicable to a variety of product families.

“We will be able to determine whether a product is worthy of remanufacture, the proportion of components that should be replaced with new components and, most important, the number of useful lives (cycles of remanufacture) a product has before it is retired,” Otieno says.

The second phase, led by Ross, uses quantitative models to examine work-process and labor-assignment improvements when manufacturing and remanufacturing happen alongside each other. These decisions have environmental and economic implications for supporting customers.

“Remanufacture and repair may cost less and preserve customer satisfaction when compared to providing a new item,” says Ross. Remanufacturing also consumes significantly less energy, labor and natural resources, as well as drastically reducing the amount of material put into the waste stream over the life cycle of a product.