For Jens Uhl, reman is a fine source of revenue and job creation – but perhaps most importantly, it helps conserve resources for the generations which follow us. Adam Hill finds out more.
Jens Uhl has an eye on the future. As a boy, he did not dream of a career in reman – but the head of remanufacturing & repair at ZF Services is glad that this is where he landed five years ago. “It excites and motivates me to work in a business which covers in combination three aspects: to deliver requested products for the market, to secure jobs with the continuously growing business and to take care for our environmental protection for our next generation,” he says.
He has been with ZF for nearly a quarter of a century now, in a variety of different functions in several international locations. Uhl got to know ZF during a voluntary half year internship in the US, where he was studying production engineering. He even did some work at the edges of reman all that time ago, making an academic study of the recycling and disassembly of washing machines “It was a great opportunity to start with ZF’s international trainee programme because I could rotate through several business areas,” he recalls now.
Before moving into the aftermarket, he was responsible for the industrialisation of hydraulic pumps and electric motors for steering pumps and was leading volume production, making more than four million units per year. This set him thinking. “When you have children and, with that, take over additional social responsibility for another generation, you start to think more and more about sustainable management and growth,” he says. This explains why Uhl is so proud of his company’s efforts to preserve resources for future generations.
“This commitment to sustainable environmental protection is anchored in ZF’s Corporate Principles and is the basis for our work,” he explains. “We design our processes and products to be as energy- and resource-efficient as possible. We reduce our environmental impacts - such as CO2 emissions – continuously by improving our standards and with that being a role model when it comes to environmental protection.” Non-profit projects, under the ‘ZF hilft’ banner, are also a big part of ZF’s mission, supporting numerous national and global projects on education, social affairs, culture, environmental protection and sport.
But reman itself is a really good example of industry doing its best to be ‘green’, he goes on: “With remanufactured components, manufacturers and users can contribute to better environmental protection. The impact is even stronger than that of recycling, although the proportion of recyclable materials in new ZF products amounts to around 95%. When remanufacturing a used unit, 50-90% less material is required in comparison to the manufacturing of a new product.” These are the sort of figures which should be more widely known by the public.
He also points to initiatives within the European Union to reduce CO2 emissions and ensure sustainability, such as the commitment by G7 members at their summit in 2015 to support the circular economy and remanufacturing. “China for example has integrated remanufacturing as part of their five-year plan,” he adds.
There are still challenges to meet, he acknowledges, with trade barriers in countries such as Brazil, Turkey, Russia and China, for instance. “The local authorities and markets are not experienced to deal with core deposit systems and ownership of cores,” Uhl goes on. “In addition trans boundary restrictions of these countries still handicap dealing with cores or remanufactured products across the borders. Here we need support by the governments via our associations.”
However, all in all, the concept of the circular economy – and reman’s part in it – has become better understood in recent years, with the lobbying efforts of associations doing great work in pushing the reman sector’s contribution. “But of course, the whole sector needs even more advancement,” he says. At present, remanufactured components - mainly transmissions, axles, steering systems and clutches - form a tiny percentage of ZF’s sales but Uhl expects this to grow. “We have already in some product lines a significant business with remanufactured products,” he says. “We assume that, due to technical reasons but also due to reasons of future legislation, the demand will grow.
For transmissions or axles - particularly for CVs, buses or off highway vehicles - reman complements our repair service in our worldwide service network perfectly, depending on individual customer demands.” As products become smarter and more complex in the future – for example, by integrating mechatronic components together with tricky software – this need will increase.
Of course, the rise in the proportion of electrical components in vehicle systems seems to present a real challenge for reman companies. “For us, as Tier 1 supplier, it is an opportunity,” he confirms. “The more we step into our own production of mechatronics in the future, the easier it is for us to set up our own suitable reman processes.” ZF itself has undergone a significant change recently, with the TRW transaction and creation of one ZF Aftermarket organisation. “With TRW we enlarge our product portfolio in general with the target to be a one-stop shop for our customers as well as we also extend our product portfolio for remanufactured calipers and steerings,” he explains. It also increases the global footprint of ZF’s reman production locations. “TRW is very advanced in remanufacturing for calipers and steerings in Europe,” he says. “And we can improve core management together by using one enhanced system for commodities, which will simplify the process for our customers.”
Putting these things in place is made a great deal easier if companies’ top management is supportive, and Uhl has been lucky in this regard: he speaks with some fondness about his mentors. “Alois Ludwig, the former CEO of ZF Services, and Hans-Peter Bach, in the ZF Services Board once responsible for reman globally, supported me by giving me the scope to form our worldwide reman approach and activities, including core management,” he says.
“For such a strategic approach you need support, the power and the network too for getting strategic decisions quickly.” And what about Uhls himself? He sounds like the sort of senior executive who supports his staff and enjoys giving them the credit wherever he can. “I’m not a loud manager,” he laughs. “The business and the customer’s satisfaction are what’s important, and it is my job to bring that alive. The best possible result counts, not who made it.”
‘We still need to improve the core return’
The idea of the core is one to which Jens Uhl of ZF Services returns more than once: it is one of his frustrations that the core is not taken seriously enough. For commodity parts, ZF uses the core collection network CoremanNet of Circular Economy Solutions, “to provide the customers a system as simple as possible for them”. Reman-friendly design is also important in the early stage of product design, he adds. “We still need to improve the core return,” he says firmly. “There has to be an understanding that, without core return, there is no reman.
Everybody in the whole distribution channel down to the workshop and consumer needs to understand that the core is the basis and a value that needs to be returned as we all have learned in principle to do with bottles – and still money drives to return an unbroken bottle, to refill it again in this circular economy. Everybody has to be aware about it and finally to support this requirement. Of course, this needs an additional effort, the acceptance to deal with deposits or core surcharges via the entire distribution channel and also the right systems.”