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The remanufacturing industry is missing a massive opportunity!

Wednesday, 12 October 2022

The webinar on 27 September titled, “Impact and Opportunities of Electrical Vehicles (EVs) for the Remanufacturing Industry”, moderated by me and Rajiv Ramchandra, founder of Re:CREATe, was very successful. It was very well attended with many people registering pertinent questions. Unfortunately, we did not have time to answer them all. Experts called upon to answer questions were Michael Hague-Morgan of Autocraft Solutions Group, a leading professional remanufacturer, Jan Koller of the Fraunhofer Institute for manufacturing and remanufacturing and Gregor Ohnemüller, Chair of manufacturing and remanufacturing, Bayreuth University.

I may be an expert on remanufacturing but am not, as far as I’m concerned, an expert on electrical vehicle components. However, as an observer and ‘compiler’ of this webinar I learned a lot about this fascinating new technology, along with the audience. Let me summarise and share with you the most important questions raised at the meeting, based on the answers given by the experts.

The new electrical challenges
Before we touch on the challenges of remanufacturing EV components, let us look first at the challenges for the garages, the distributors, and the transport companies. To work on an EV can be dangerous, and the same applies to companies transporting high voltage (HV) batteries. Unfortunately, current legislation is not clear enough and knowledge at garage level is progressing only slowly. The logistics surrounding HV batteries, which represent 40% of the vehicle’s value, may be the biggest challenge to servicing the batteries. Mike Hague-Morgan’s Autocraft Solutions Group has designed and implemented unique solutions for handling batteries, from testing and removing the batteries at installer level to a mobile service for repairing and remanufacturing them.

The discussion about obstacles and challenges to the remanufacture of HV batteries was the next important focus. Already, the disassembling of the battery packs is seen as a challenge: original manufacturers have glued, welded etc. the main components, making the remanufacturer’s life difficult. The question of how to replace the modules or the cells was of great interest. Over time, the cells are ageing and degrading, making replacement necessary. The solution offered is to replace the modules, or the cells which are part of the modules. To remanufacture cells is probably out of the question. Other components of HV batteries like the connectors, relays, electronic controllers etc., may fail not only because of age or usage but because of poor original design. Remanufacturers will be able to fix all of these problems and will benefit from the potential business as a result because to replace an HV battery with a new one is very expensive, and the cost may end up being higher than the value of the vehicle itself.

An interesting question concerned the failure rates of HV batteries and other components. Because we are in the early stages, accurate figures aren’t available but from the early experience of Autocraft Solutions Group, demand for the servicing of HV batteries is already significant. HV batteries are not the only component needing servicing. Other items like electric motors and power supply will follow. These latter items are under a lot of stress and need cooling, in itself a source of potential defects. As to the question about when the remanufacture of these components will start, the answer is ‘now’ for batteries and “possibly soon’ for the other items.

Remanufacturing battery packs is not the only business model for remanufacturers. Their skills will always be in demand when an HV battery needs to be tested and serviced. If the majority of modules/cells are at a level which is, perhaps, not good enough for automotive applications, they can be easily repurposed for other applications or a second life, such as packing the modules together for the storage of electricity generated by a solar-panel installation. This business has already been well established by independent and OEM companies.

The strategy
The question about what strategy the OEMs (vehicle and battery original equipment manufacturers) are following was not easy to answer. Vehicle manufacturers are, we believe, planning for the reman of electrical motors alongside their combustion engine remanufacturing. But for HV batteries, the focus is very much on the recycling of batteries. Vehicle and battery manufacturers are under great pressure legally to recycle HV batteries, at a current rate of at least 50%, rising to 70% by 2030! To recycle an HV battery it must be properly dismantled, a process that can easily be undertaken by a remanufacturer. It can be assumed that OEMs will subcontract some of the remanufacturing to specialised, independent manufacturers in the future.

Regarding recycling Mike Hague-Morgan made the point that the industry is missing a massive opportunity. The trend to recycle batteries is wrong, as repair and remanufacture is 60% better for the environment. Recycling should be the absolute last resort when every kW of power has been extracted from the module or cell. Recycling is an energy intensive process. Remanufacturers need to tell more people about this and encourage politicians to make better decisions to promote remanufacturing of EV batteries as it is the best financial and environmental solution. Indeed, if we believe what we are being told that Li-Fe battery production is the bottleneck slowing down the drive to Net Zero then the ability to extend the life of battery packs by replacing modules is between 300% and 3000% better for the planet than simply just recycling them. We need to keep asking the question why new ones that are in short supply are constantly being fitted if you can reuse modules.

A final discussion, not directly related to reman, focused on future technologies, like hydrogen and fuel cells, and the European network for battery recharging. The view regarding the use of hydrogen in internal combustion engines was that this could be a bridging technology and the next stage for fuel cells after the phasing out of lithium batteries. Regarding the European recharging grid/network, a massive new infrastructure is required but the general view was that this is currently patchy, at best.

In my final statement I remembered again all participants that the remanufacturer’s bread and butter business will still be for a long time the components related to internal combustion engines but I encouraged all to look already now at the new electrical challenges.

By Fernand Weiland. He holds management positions with aftermarket divisions of Bendix Automotive, Lucas Automotive, Magneti Marelli Automotive and TRW Automotive. Fernand Weiland founded the APRA (Automotive Parts Remanufacturer Assoc.) European Division, serving as the division’s first chairman for more than 20 years. He organised a considerable number of forums, workshops, and exhibitions across Europe. A co-founder of the biennial ReMaTec remanufacturing exhibitions in Amsterdam, Fernand Weiland has written numerous articles for the ReMaTecNews magazine as well as editing five books about automotive remanufacturing in Europe.


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