Remanufacturing at ZF: Making Used Parts as Good as New

ZF industrially recycles old components and breathes new life into them. This saves on materials, energy and costs. The company has now received a sustainability award in recognition of its efforts.

Saving one Eiffel Tower every year – that could be the motto at the ZF Bielefeld location. That’s about how much steel the location saves every year thanks to industrial remanufacturing. In fact, it’s almost enough to weld together a replica of France’s most famous tourist attraction annually. Roughly 50 tons of cores are delivered, sorted and processed here daily. The cores primarily include clutches and torque converters that would otherwise have to be scrapped, but are given a fresh lease on life in Bielefeld. The location’s sustainable product recycling work was recently honored by the California Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute with a gold certificate for outstanding environmental strategies.

Bielefeld is one of only 15 ZF locations that have industrial remanufacturing operations that save valuable raw materials and power. Around the world, the company operates locations in which the most diverse product groups are recycled or remanufactured. They range from passenger car steering systems to transmissions for construction machinery.

The components that come in are professionally disassembled.

Spare parts with a past life

“We call this process remanufacturing to emphasize that this is an industrial standard and not a shop repair job,” explains Thorsten Krug, technical manager at the Bielefeld location. But at least the first phase of remanufacturing starts in the shop, which is the disassembly of cores. From the shop, it is sent to one of the remanufacturing locations via a collection point. Once it arrives, knowledgeable specialists examine and assess the newly arrived cores. Afterwards, the cores are disassembled and cleaned. In the process, technicians sort out the damaged individual components, dispose of them in an environmentally-friendly manner or take them to recycling. During the assembly process, ZF experts replace the defective and missing parts with OEM-quality spare parts and also replace worn parts. If necessary, the software is also updated. In the process, there are only deviations from the original volume-production product if the current technology is more advanced than when the original equipment was made. If this is the case, remanufacturing also includes a technical upgrade. As the last step, the part, along with a new warranty, goes back on the market where it awaits its next deployment as a spare part.

Roughly nine out of ten units can be remanufactured in this way. This also lengthens the service life of many vehicles which are no longer being mass-produced. Ultimately, nothing compares in quality to volume-produced components that have successfully undergone remanufacturing. This process closes the gap between increasingly shorter product innovation cycles and the increasingly longer product life cycles.

The advantage for vehicle owners, auto repair shops and distributors is that remanufactured products are less expensive, the waiting time for spare parts is reduced and, best of all, they lower one's personal CO2 footprint.

Remanufacturing of torque converters.

A benefit for the environment, customers and the company

ZF has been operating this premium recycling business in Bielefeld since way back in 1963, but the significance of the process has grown exponentially in the 21st century.

“Raw materials are becoming increasingly expensive and harder to come by. For some materials, experts are already forecasting that in just a few decades the prices will increase dramatically due to lack of resources. That’s why remanufacturing is playing an increasingly important role,” explains Jörg Witthöft, the location manager.

The numbers speak for themselves. From São Paulo to Shanghai, remanufacturing products saves from 50 and 90 percent of raw materials compared to producing brand new parts. Remanufacturing additionally consumes only one-tenth of the energy is required for normal production. In the meantime, one in ten spare parts in Germany have enjoyed a past life. According to estimates by the U.S. research institute Global Industry Analysis (GIA), the global remanufacturing market in the automotive industry will grow to about $140 billion by 2020. Remanufacturing therefore not only benefits the environment and customers, but also the company.

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