Bringing Hard Drives Back to Life

The Circular Economy – the practice of maximising the lifecycles for products and materials – is a key concern for us at Techbuyer. Our goal is to embed circular practices into our entire business to ensure that we minimise waste at every opportunity. Some of the tech components that we deal with, however, make this difficult, as they can be hard to reuse, remanufacture, or recycle.

That’s where people like Nick Hayhurst come in. As our RMA Stock Controller and a member of our Sustainability Committee, he’s created a new process to repair hard drives. In this blog, we have a chat with him about his work and the impact it could have.  

Why did you develop this process?

We noticed that hard-disk drives (HDDs) and solid-state drives (SDDs) were the items most commonly coming back to us with faults, and we wanted to do something about it.

On a personal level, I was really interested in learning more about this, so I attended a seminar on the material composition of devices. After discovering that recycling rarely recovers rare earth elements or waste electrical and electronic equipment from HDDs and SSDs, I wanted to see if we could find a way of stopping these materials from going to waste. In short, I wanted to avoid the recycling process altogether by recovering failed drives and returning them to sellable conditions.

What is the repairs method you’ve developed?

In short, it’s based on Genesis, a tool created by our customer and partner UltraTest. Genesis can detect and correct defects within hard drives that would usually lead to failed drives and a huge waste of resources.

How does it work?

Genesis starts at the fundamentals, looking to see whether it can impact the device’s S.M.A.R.T. attributes (which are essentially lists of device-specific parameters relating to disk performance and history) using intelligent scripts that remap “grown” defects that have developed after production. After this, it reinitialises and reformats the hard drive so it’s ready to be used again. It then conducts another loop of defect scanning to check if there are any faults; if there are, it goes through the repair process again to address them.

What has the impact been?

This project is creating value across each pillar of the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit.

The biggest impact is on the planet. So far, we have saved just over 40% of the 681 drives that have come through the programme, which equates to 279 kgs of waste material saved from going to waste. It’s difficult to know the exact materials that are being saved here, but we’re currently working with CEDaCI to estimate the specific compositions of these drives, so watch this space for more info!

The project has also had a significant financial impact, as we’re turning waste into useful products. Our work so far has enabled us to salvage over £7,500 of viable stock. It also enables us to catch and fix errors that would usually cause a drive failure when we wipe the drives, which means we’ll continue to save more materials, resources, and money as we scale the programme. One of the biggest impacts, however, are the learnings that we’re picking up through these intricate repairs, which will help us in all sorts of areas. For instance, because we now know what causes common device failures, we can look out for warning signs in our testing teams, so we can spot potential issues before they even happen.

From a people perspective, this has been incredibly rewarding work for both me and my colleague Craig, one of our Drive Technicians. Joining the Sustainability Committee really bolstered my passion for this; after hearing many facts and stats from the Committee, I wanted to do my part where possible. Fortunately, Techbuyer adopts the “give-it-a-go” ethos on new and interesting ideas, which meant I was given the freedom to demo, assess and analyse with the full backing from the Ops Team, who have been pleased with the results so far!

Where could this go next?

My point above about integrating learnings from the process is key here. Every time we find a new fix, we learn something, and this all gets inputted back into our systems through a centralised Wiki page that I manage. This growing pool of information is a gold mine to help us create efficiencies and reduce return rates.

One of the main areas I want to explore is catching drives with errors before they go to testing. Our testing process takes several drives at once, but we can’t remove one drive during a test if it fails, so test slots are often taken up with dead drives. As a result, if we can flag drives that are likely to fail before they go into testing, we can make the process significantly more efficient and get through the drives much faster!


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