Things they didn't teach you in school

  • September 13, 2018
  • ReMaTec
  • Business

John Disharoon has spent a distinguished career working for Caterpillar. He talks to Adam Hill about education – and about watering the seeds sown in this year’s first Reman Day

“It exceeded our expectations,” says John Disharoon, chairman of the Remanufacturing Industries Council (RIC). He is talking, of course, about the first Reman Day – the global celebration of remanufacturing which took place in April.

The idea, Disharoon says, stemmed from a discussion during a meeting of the executive committee of the RIC. Luminaries such as past RIC chair William Davies and Golisano Institute of Sustainability director Nabil Nasr were talking about the previous October’s Manufacturing Day – now a fixture on the industrial calendar. “Bill Davies said: ‘Hey, what about Remanufacturing Day?’ We batted it about. Nabil Nasr said: ‘I think we can pull this off’.”

Sustainable resources

If the first Reman Day was a good start (see One Day in Your Life, ReMaTecNews June/July), there are a number of events celebrating the idea of sustainable resources. Among the best-known of these is Earth Day – which is supported by MERA (now rebranded The Association for Sustainable Manufacturing) – and which also takes place in April. Leaving aside the idea that this could represent a dilution of reman’s effort to make itself better known, anything that takes reman nearer to the mainstream, into the public consciousness, is by definition a good thing. In addition to his RIC role, Disharoon’s day job is director of market access at Caterpillar, and he saw a response from the company’s customers on Reman Day. “At Caterpillar we got people calling us up,” Disharoon says. “It really caught on. I’m looking forward to growing it.”

For all that, reman does have something of an identity problem with the wider public: it tends to float under the radar. “Well, it’s not a consumer product,” reasons Disharoon. “It’s a service option, an aftermarket opportunity. It’s a very important part of the economy but it’s not sexy – not like the latest iPhone or TV programme. It’s tougher because people like the latest, the fastest.” Many people, if asked to choose between paying $400 to fix their phone screen, or paying $250 to buy a reman unit, would take the first option. But Disharoon thinks that wider social movements offer some optimism for the remanufacturing industry. “The next generations are becoming more socially aware,” he says. People increasingly understand that the earth has limited resources and that everything we do to the planet has a significant effect on the environment.

Disposable economy

“We grew up in a disposable economy,” he muses. “But now you can’t put your telly by the curb.” A good thing too, of course, and part of the reason for that is that local authorities won’t tolerate it. Law makers tend to create laws which either reflect changing public attitudes or which are intended to change those attitudes more quickly. This means that legislation is one part of making reman more widely attractive – by eradicating barriers to core movement, for example - but education is crucial here, too. Children whose parents work in remanufacturing are already exposed to the advantages of ‘making new again’. But that still leaves all the rest, who don’t have a clue why it makes sense to be purchasing, say, a reman iPhone rather than a new one.

This is the message which must be put out there while children are receptive to the possibilities that reman offers – not just when they are in technical or high schools, says Disharoon, but to infant pupils too. In other words, start ‘em young! “The problem is the reach,” he says. “But the sooner we can get to kids, the better off we’re going to be.”

While the reman industry undoubtedly has a lower profile than would be ideal, Disharoon thinks that the inaugural Reman Day was a success in part because there is already a shift in attitudes. “We caught some wind in our sales,” he says. “It was only five or six years ago that Manufacturing Day was officially recognised and it’s now phenomenally successful. We’re working to expand coverage.”

Range of experience

Disharoon is a ‘lifer’ at Caterpillar, with his experience ranging from technical writing to marketing, public affairs, sustainability, mining and market access. His first exposure to reman came 30 years ago at a factory tour in Mississippi when he was in the marketing training programme at Caterpillar, learning about the company, the dealers and products. “I thought: ‘This has got to be one of the best-kept secrets in the world!’” he recalls.

Cat Reman is undoubtedly now one of the best-know remanufacturing brands in the world. But as he points out, you would struggle to sell the idea to customers – despite its green advantages - unless there was a strong economic argument. “You can talk about the environmental attributes but it has to make business sense for them – and for Caterpillar,” he says. “When Cat started remanufacturing 45 years ago we were satisfying a customer need.” Companies could not wait a week for a rebuild so it made sense to have a stock of cheaper options available instantly. “There was a hesitation there,” says Disharoon. “Are we cannibalising new sales?” However, buying habits are deeply ingrained. His own uncle, for instance, would never get his Cadillac repaired anywhere but his own dealer, despite cheaper options always being available. In much the same way, there will always be people who would never consider reman.

Sky’s the limit

“Some customers are always going to buy new,” Disharoon continues. “We’re more than willing to sell a new part. You also have a whole bunch who don’t want to pay for new but want to be sure of quality. What reman does is give us a price point between a new part and an aftermarket part, which can be 40-50-60% less than new.”

This opens up opportunities. “Is there a limit to reman? The sky’s the limit,” he insists. “We’re up to 7,000 to 8,000 unique parts now. It’s going to continue to grow, with the world’s resources under constraint.” And as everyone knows, the remanufacturing industry is undergoing significant upheaval as innovations such as electric vehicles become more prevalent. “That changes the dynamic of the autoparts industry,” he says. “You don’t need sparkplugs if you’ve got an electric drive.

Next year’s Global Reman Day takes place on 11 April. “We’re talking about it,” says Disharoon. “RIC represents more sectors so we may expand the scope.” However RIC decides to go, it is important to “water the seeds” so that the event grows, he concludes.

Disharoon is comfortable with where things are, but knows better than most that there is much more to do.