LONDON, — Car manufacturers should design engines for remanufacture rather than disposal in order to meet guidelines on producer responsibility, new research says.

Researchers found that the factors that push up the cost of re-manufacturing are mostly related to the way in which new products are designed and marketed. They conclude that a full 'cradle-to-grave' approach is needed in which product design, manufacture, logistics and re-manufacturing are all treated as integrated components of a total system.

The study, by Margarete Seitz and Professor Ken Peattie, of the ESRC's Centre for Business Relationships, Accountability, Sustainability and Society (BRASS), University of Cardiff, set out to find what practical problems there are in remanufacturing car parts and whether there were any lessons to be learned for other sectors.

They found that, without fanfare, car manufacturers, their suppliers and independent engineering companies have been rebuilding and reusing old engines for many years to keep ageing or cherished cars on the road, and to provide replacements under warranty.

To reflect this, the researchers conducted in-depth work with a major European car manufacturer that has operated a dedicated engine re-manufacturing plant for over 15 years.

The researchers found that achieving 'take back' through existing channels had proved surprisingly straightforward; that it is cheaper to replace a defunct engine with a remanufactured one than to produce a new engine; and proved that 'closed-loop' systems can work for manufacturers.

"The operation we worked with represents a mature blueprint from which other companies and industries can learn," said Margarete Seitz. "However, their experience reveals that there's more to establishing a successful closed-loop system than just mastering reverse logistics. Also, the original engine manufacturers face competition from some very flexible independent operators."

The study found that car manufacturers face challenges from: competition from independent re-manufacturers for the most popular models; securing enough old engines as raw material for the process; being able to recruit enough skilled engineers for very labour intensive processes and problems over the supply of components to rebuild old engines.

However, they found that many of the problems were self-induced, reflecting the low priority managers give to remanufacturing compared to new car production. Despite the pressure of new European laws on producer responsibility, new engine designs are not being geared up to make re-manufacturing any easier.

Simple changes like modular design to simplify engine disassembly would make re-manufacture far easier, the researchers found.