The Circular Economy and the Motor Repair Industry

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Writing on behalf of the Association of Electrical and Mechanical Trades (AEMT), Dr. Hugh Falkner looks into how the repair industry is central to the Circular Economy.

According to a 2016 report by McKinsey, the average European uses 16 tonnes of resources a year, of which only 40% is recycled. This is clearly not sustainable, so the idea of the Circular Economy was born to develop new business models that will help us to move away from this situation.

When we look back at the history of motor efficiency regulation, what emerges is an unexpected story of how the motor repair industry turns out to be a leading example of how the Circular Economy can work in practice.

Product Eco-design Regulations

In Europe, the Minimum Energy Performance Standards (MEPS) are called the Eco-design regulations, but when you look carefully at the methods for assessing just how far it is justifiable to push legislation, the Eco bit is not quite complete. This is because while the financial lifetime costs of ownership to the user – and the environmental emissions to water and air – are taken into consideration, it is now recognised that the Eco-design analysis doesn’t adequately address the important question of product durability and the need to reduce material consumption.

The Circular Economy

This Circular Economy aims to ‘minimise waste through reusing, repairing, refurbishing and recycling existing materials and products’. What this brings is more of a focus on material use, which compliments the traditional focus on product energy consumption that the motor repair sector has supported. It is fundamentally different to the linear take-make-dispose economy that underpins most material use.

In practice, reducing global material consumption might be about making things that use less material, last longer, use less premium materials, or are simply easier to repair or recycle.

As an example, Figure 1 shows how a bottle might travel around several loops between first use and eventual landfill. In one sense, all that we have achieved is to extend the time between a product’s raw materials being dug out of one hole, used, and then put back into another hole. But it does reduce the amount of raw material that needs extracting and processing, and so conserves resources for future generations. This resource life extension is the best that can be hoped for from most manmade systems. This is what industrial equipment repairers have always done with the repair sector sitting in the second smallest loop.

The motor repair sector is a very good example of what is possible, and can demonstrate the value of these benefits to the economy. However, it will be important to moderate the Circular Economy ambition to what is best overall for both the motor user and the environment. The European Committee of Manufacturers of Electrical Machines and Power Electronics (CEMEP) is similarly positive about the Circular Economy, but equally cautious that any new regulation must take account of the advances in motor technology, and maintain a balance between energy efficiency and material use considerations.

The Motor Repair Industry emerges as Industry leader

In a report by the Ellen MacArthur foundation on how Scotland might benefit from the Circular Economy, six diagnostics were given to show the different aspects of the Circular Economy as they might appear in practice. When the motor repair industry is tested against the same diagnostics, it can demonstrate how it qualifies to call itself part of the Circular Economy:

1. Circular product design and innovation – product re-design promotes standardisation and modularisation so that they can be easily disassembled, and the value of resources is retained within tight reverse circles.

  • A commonality of designs means that it is possible to keep replacing motors from many different suppliers.
  • There is the capability to manufacture spare components in order to keep obsolete or unusual models working.
  • Valuable materials like copper and permanent magnets are extracted from DC brushless motors for re-use.

2. Product re-use, repair and remanufacturing – ensuring longevity of use requires manufacturers to enable the re-use and remanufacture of products in the system for as long as possible.

  • Repair of products is what the industry does.
  • There is an underlying philosophy of stretching life and reliability, avoiding obsolescence.
  • Many repairers offer condition monitoring services to support preemptive maintenance.

3. Innovative business models – creating value-adding business propositions around better-designed, long-lasting products.

  • ‘Keep you running services’ are already offered.
  • Advise on reasons for failure is shared to enable operational changes to be made to extend lifetimes.

4. Renewable energy and materials substitution – while circular systems help optimise efficient resource use, they also avoid unnecessary exploitation of resources in the first place.

  • While the sector is not involved in design, it is careful to keep products as close as possible to their original design by avoiding unnecessary substitution of inferior parts.

5. Effective supply chain and cross-sectoral collaboration – a circular economy demands changes at all levels of the economy to drive collaborative solutions.

  • A highly developed infrastructure provides local 24hour service.
  • Rapid turnaround times reduce the financial and environmental costs of motor failures.
  • Suppliers of new motors work hand-in-hand with motor repairers.
  • The AEMT, with EASA, has led the way on defining best practice in repair, giving user confidence in the conforming repairers.

6. Re-use of waste, heat and energy – treating otherwise wasted outputs of business processes as the inputs for new processes reduces costs, boosts productivity and opens up new commercial opportunities.

  • The repair sector is not involved in the use phase of motors but its work supports this area.

Positioning the sector as a leader in the Circular Economy

From this initial look at the Circular Economy, the motor repair sector in the broadest sense – which includes pumps, fans, and compressors – emerges as being ahead of the pack in many ways. Going forward there are three challenges that should be embraced to make the most of this lead position:

1. How to share the sector knowledge and experiences with other sectors.

2. How to engage with other existing bodies so that the repair sector can learn to do even better.

3. How to promote a position of leadership in the industrial circular economy.

This could just be a fascinating time for the repair industry to raise its profile, and show leadership in helping the economy to meet one of the biggest challenges facing our futures.

The AEMT conference, which takes place in Coventry on Thursday 29 November, will focus on how industry is looking for ways to keep resources for as long as possible, extract the maximum value from them whilst in use, then recover and regenerate products and materials at the end of each service life.

www.aemt.co.uk

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