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The Circular Economy in Action - Meet Our IT Repairs Team

Astrid Wynne, Sustainability Lead Sep 29, 2020

Our repairs team – otherwise known as the circular economy in action – is adding more and more products to the list of salvageable items, turning IT equipment that would have previously gone to recycling or external repair into valuable component parts. We went to talk to the experts to see how far the project has come and where it is headed next. Meet Tony Lischke, Nick Hayhurst and Eugene Melega in the department where creativity, expertise and determination collide!

Why they do what they do

“For me the value in the repairs system lies in the research and development made when attempting repairs,” Nick Hayhurst explains. “Even when we don’t make a successful repair, the information and knowledge gained by trying could help in future endeavours. I would say we are frequenting the Recycling Bin daily now in the hope that we can learn from the failures we are seeing. I love that feeling when a broken part comes alive, due to a fix we have learned through just having a go!”

First team member Tony Lischke, who has over 30 years’ experience as a process engineer, agrees. For him job satisfaction comes from “seeing IT parts work after repair, especially when we embark onto ventures. The role is made easy as we have the full backing and support from the company.”

Our latest addition Eugene Melega says this was one of the motivations for taking the role. “New ideas are born here every day and the company is always open to try new solutions,” he enthuses. “The things that attracted me here are the industry itself, the open-minded people I am very lucky to work with and a really strong team spirit.”

Precision engineering

Tony began repairing CPUs for Techbuyer about three years ago in the Return Merchandise Authorisation (RMA) department. In the early days, most of the repairs involved precise engineering – manipulating pins back into position. However, he and the then RMA Manager, Dom Cottrill realised that there was scope to do much more.

“We both embarked on training courses on soldering and fault finding in electronics. We also began plucking information from Google and YouTube,” he explains. “Repairs has evolved considerably since those days. With the addition of Nick and Eugene, we have become a powerhouse for repairs. Working to resolve issues from every stage of the process – faulty incoming goods, returns and urgent repairs requested by goods out – now almost anything is repaired.”

Expanding scope

From the beginning work with CPUs, the team began to tackle server memory in January with Dual Inline Memory Modules (DIMMs). Also known as RAM sticks, these components are responsible for the speed of read/ write operations in a server.

“Seeing so many go to the recycling bin was painful,” says Nick Hayhurst, the second member of the repair team, who admits to jumping around the mezzanine when the first repair was completed. “All it took was a bit of research and we were able to repair the first set of errors – on the SPD chips that contain information about the specification. We are now working on the next set of errors, DataBit, with the aid of technical drawings which we managed to find. Exciting stuff!”

The team also began working with Tape Drives with great success; removing debris from the interior to restore functionality. The most recent challenge has been MSA Controllers, which improve reliability, connectivity and storage performance in the servers by managing the data from disk drives. The components contain a number of precious and rare materials so keeping them in use is important in the wider scheme of things too. However, it was the addition of hard disk drives onto the list of possible repairs that really accelerated material savings.

Specialised equipment

“There were a lot of hard drives scrapped,” says Tony, “After a lot of research online and I realised that these parts can be repaired in a dust free cabinet, so that the rotating platters are not contaminated when the drives are opened up. It was probably a week’s worth of work making it, spread out over 2 months. When it was finished it wasn’t easy to hand my baby over, but our newest team member Eugene has executed it really well!”

Eugene developed the dust free unit further with 3D printed adapters and extractions systems.  

“I was lucky that 3D printing was one of my biggest passions, so once I heard about this idea, I couldn't wait for the project to start!” says Eugene.

Where next?

However satisfying the work so far has been for the team, all are agreed that it is what happens next that will be most interesting. There has already been significant work reducing the one percent of components going to recycling in the main facility. However, the team is ambitious to do more in this regard and reduce waste to as close to 0% as they can get it. Underpinning all this is a reliance on data. Nick has been working on this with an internal software solution called Ultima. Once finalised, it will enable the repairs department to track the success rate of individual component repairs and provide information about which parts most commonly fail and in what way.

“Hard drive repairs could almost be a role on its own and pay for itself along the way,” says Tony. “Incorporating this with drive test would be what I would like to see happen.” Eugene is keen to develop the range of 3D printed parts so that Techbuyer could prototype new solutions and make equipment on site. Whatever happens next is guaranteed to be exciting. Keep watching this space for the next instalment!

Techbuyer is a sustainable IT provider. Our global team buys, data erases, tests, repairs and refurbishes an extensive range of IT parts and systems, which maximises IT budgets and ensures equipment is kept in circulation. Check out our IT equipment online, or get in touch for any enquiries.

We are delighted with our recent award win - 'Circular Economy Business of the Year' at the IEMA Awards - which is thanks to the ongoing effort of our refurbishment specialists. Circularity is at the core of our business and we contribute to a range of  industry-leading research including the energy efficiency of servers, and the material make-up of IT hardware.