Rethinking Remanufacture

A fun and interesting academic survey opens much needed discussion about remanufacture and extensive refurbishment.

Refurbishment is more than just a business for both me and for Techbuyer. Finding better solutions to used hardware is something we support as much as we can, not only in our sector, but in others too. At Techbuyer we support research into more sustainable solutions for IT waste with industry studies, legislation and academic research. Recently, we had an invitation from Mostafa Sabbaghi, Visiting Assistant Professor at Penn State Smeal College of Business, to take part in a study looking at how managers might make remanufacturing decisions.

The study is fun and engaging. The ten minute questionnaire looks at margins gained and lost when hypothetically buying, remanufacturing, and selling used technology: from grade A products that are expensive but require little work… to lower quality items with a cheaper purchase price that would be expensive to restore to factory conditions.

The case study was mobile phones: the most common and visible form of e-waste. With new models coming out every year, some studies are suggesting there will soon be more of these devices on the planet than there are people. The cost of this to our resources is high; mobile phones contain a variety of critical raw materials and precious metals. Mobile phones are concrete examples of how the ongoing digital revolution is at risk of being curtailed by its own success: the resources they rely upon are running out. Choosing this ubiquitous form of e-waste as the case study is a great way of engaging people in the idea of prolonging the life of electronics and seeing how this would work at scale.

Whilst filling out the questionnaire, one of the things I was thinking was that Techbuyer’s buying decisions differ to the format shown in the survey. If we buy equipment that cannot be sold as it is for whatever reason, then we break it down to component level and recover what we can. Our solution puts these parts back into the global economy as spares and upgrades rather than disregarding them as the survey suggested. 

Supplier relationships are also important to us. Rather than “buying blind” we have a good view on the quality – and saleability - of incoming products that is based on long term experience with different vendors. If we have more faith in one supplier of a certain grade of goods, then this will influence our buying decisions over a less established supplier. This means that we control the quality of our incoming product in the initial stages by establishing the right professional relationships rather than waiting for a view at testing stage.

We also have a longer-term view of the market than that shown in the questionnaire. Secondary market “stock exchanges” have grown up over the years. They make it possible for us to monitor global buying and selling prices, and to see the current trends on full systems and component parts (whilst tracking our own real time stock levels throughout the buying, refurbishment and selling process). Ours is fast becoming an established sector that relies on the latest technology and trusted partnerships with customers and suppliers.  

Try your hand at the survey! It’s an innovative way of furthering the discussion on remanufacture, refurbishment and reuse; and a bit of fun for those who want to take part! As an IT refurbishment specialist, it was really interesting to see how remanufacturing and extensive refurbishment are seen from the outside.

For those of our network that have experience to share, the link to the survey is here: