Charged with Battery

As something of a model aircraft enthusiast, I’ve been hearing scare stories about lithium-ion batteries for over a decade – and they’re not just stories: every once in a while a model flier would leave a battery charger running in their vehicle, and suffer a fire that gutted it.

Any battery will get hot if subjected to an inappropriate regime of charging or discharging, but this kind poses additional hazards due to its chemical properties. I’m going to have to simplify quite a bit here, but basically the chemistry of the common lithium-ion cell leaves it vulnerable to a condition that is euphemistically termed “thermal runaway.”

Inside each cell is a cathode and an anode, separated by an electrolyte and a porous material called the separator.

If a component has a manufacturing defect, if it becomes damaged, if it’s short-circuited or perhaps if it’s made to work too hard, the electrolyte can catch fire – but that’s just the start. In the fire, the decomposition of the cathode and anode commonly release (among other things, if I have understood correctly) oxygen, and hydrogen. The release of oxygen in particular means that the more it burns… the more it burns. Naturally, the heat generated inside the cell means that its neighbours promptly get in on the act and the whole battery burns.

If this occurs in a confined space, such as that formed by the casing of a mobile ’phone, you get a small explosion – plus toxic gases released as the other components in the phone are subjected to extreme heat.

Oh – and lithium reacts with water. It’s not really going to be an issue by the time you notice that Samsung made you a smoke grenade instead of a telephone… but strictly speaking, you ought to use a powder extinguisher on a lithium fire.

In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Lord Henry says that “… there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

But then, Lord Henry never heard of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

Last time I boarded a flight, they were talking about this ’phone:

“For safety reasons we don’t permit any model of the Galaxy Note 7 to be carried on board. If you’re carrying this device, please tell a member of the cabin crew.”

There are signs at check-in. There is coverage in magazines, on websites, on TV and radio. This is the kind of publicity that even Gerald Ratner would choke on.

Detail from the Emirates airline website

Detail from the front page at Emirates.com – the wrong kind of publicity

Launched on August 19th 2016, the Galaxy Note 7 was Samsung’s flagship mobile, and its specifications were impressive. Just five days later came news of a Galaxy Note 7 exploding, in South Korea. By the end of the month they had delayed shipments to South Korean carriers, although the next day the product launched in China. (Presumably this reflects a belief that the bad batteries were all to be found in a particular batch, rather than any belief that Chinese customers are inherently more fireproof or more expendable than Korean ones.)

Just a day later, Samsung announced the global recall of 2½ million ’phones, although at this stage it was voluntary. On October 6th a Southwest Airlines flight was evacuated due to smoke from a Galaxy Note 7, prompting the Federal Aviation Administration to instruct passengers not to turn on or charge the ill-fated ’phone – nor to stow it in cargo. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urged Galaxy Note 7 users to cease using their phones, and carriers including AT&T and T-Mobile withdrew them from sale.

After a series of fires in replacement devices – those that had been subjected to additional inspections and quality control measures – Samsung finally threw in the towel, suspending production of the product and then announcing its end. The withdrawal of the Galaxy Note 7 left a highly unusual gap in the market because Samsung’s rivals commonly avoid bringing out competitor products at the same time of year, so customers who received a refund had relatively few options to spend their money on. Meanwhile, Apple’s share price surged, despite a recent lukewarm reception for their latest iPhone – a device most notable for the unpopular decision to remove the headphone socket.

Part of the problem here is the very personal nature of mobile ’phones: you put a lot of personal information on them including passwords and banking details; you store photos of your loved ones; you expect people to be able to reach you; you learn your way around the quirky operating system. Nobody wants to have to delete all their personal information and preferences, and give them up. Your ’phone is closer to you, for longer, than your loved ones – and you probably sleep with it on the nightstand. The idea that it might have harmed you, and that it will be taken from you – not because you broke it or lost it but because it’s no good – that feels like a betrayal. It seems that Samsung will continue to feel the effects of this problem for a long time to come.

On Supply Chain Radio they said that the times we live in magnify Samsung’s woes, because of the perils of social media. Certainly, there have been some great jokes about Samsung’s plight (see below) but I think our interconnected age actually makes it much simpler to handle a problem of this kind. For one thing, all Galaxy Note 7 users are online, by definition: they could be reached with a message about a product recall. Contrast that with the old days, when the manufacturer of a defective car would have to take out advertisements in newspapers, to tell the world how crappy their cars were. The new approach is free, and it’s accurately targeted: it need not scare off potential customers.

Unboxing the Galaxy Note 7

Unboxing the Galaxy Note 7 [twitter user Marcianotech]

There is also the option of a software patch, delivered over the airwaves, to fix problems. Samsung tried a patch that would limit charging to 60% of capacity… but their ’phones kept on melting down, all the same.

Even when a fix can’t be achieved remotely, at least the connected nature of the surviving Galaxy Note 7’s offers a way to ensure compliance with the recall: presumably it would be simple enough to send out a software update that forces a shutdown – and once your smartphone has become a novelty paperweight (warning: keeping it near paper is probably a mistake) most users will be persuaded to swap it for something that works.

So, are all those defective telephones going to be remanufactured? No. Samsung has announded they will destroy all the returned ’phones. Given that the device sold for something like US$850, that’s an awful waste, but we’re now looking at a product that must be treated as hazardous. It can no longer be transported by air, or carried in the post. This leaves returned Galaxy Note 7’s scattered, rendering remanufacture uneconomical. Presumably, some recycling can still take place, if only to  salvage some of the more valuable metals – but almost all of the effort that went into making these ingenious devices is wasted.

Samsung Galaxy S7, burnt

Nothing beats that new gadget smell…

When Apple laptops were found to have hazardous batteries in 2006, they were quick to point out that the batteries in question had been made by Sony. Samsung has no such luxury: the Korean giant’s batteries were made by a subsidiary. Also, the remedy for Apple’s older laptops was relatively simple because the battery was removable. Samsung only recently switched over to a sealed in battery – presumably for reasons of waterproofing – and this has magnified their pain.

According to Credit Suisse, Samsung will have have lost nearly US$17 billion in revenue as a result of these problems.

Efforts to pack still more energy into a smaller, lighter devices continue.

Almost as Good as New

I broke my iPad a little while ago. I wouldn’t have broken it if I hadn’t been trying so hard to protect it: I put it in the boot (some say, ‘trunk’) of the car, so it wouldn’t be seen by an opportunist thief, and I didn’t want it to get battered by sliding around in there, so I wrapped it in a jumper… and that’s how I came to drop it: it slipped out of the folds of the jumper when I picked it up. It only fell about two feet, but onto concrete that was enough. The case didn’t protect it sufficiently (thanks, Belkin…) and I was left with an iPad with an ugly dent on one corner, and cracks in the glass surface.

iPad screen with damage at the corner

I didn’t take a picture of the damage to mine, but it looked something like this. Ouch!

 

This caused me to experience at first hand some of the best remanufacturing I’ve seen.

If you want an example of a product with no user-serviceable parts, look no further than the iPad: the whole thing is about as seamless as the mysterious black slab in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ (Only thinner, of course: Sir Jony Ive and his obsession with thinness…)

I’d never needed to put Apple’s service department to the test before, and it had been a long, long time since I visited an Apple Centre. The experience was a bit confusing because the shop was crowded with people and there didn’t seem to be anything resembling a queue. (Who are all these people? I was an Apple user before it was cool…) Eventually I managed to seize a member of staff, who briefly patronised me because I’d mistakenly said I needed to get my iPad repaired. No, no, no… I could swap it for an exchange unit, I was told. This was what I meant (I can read) but to do that, it seemed I had to make an appointment with a “genius”.

Does anybody else find this immodest term a bit ridiculous, or is it just me? (A quick Google search reveals an ITworld article entitled ‘Does anyone else want to punch the “Apple Genius” guy in the face?’ so perhaps it’s not just me being a curmudgeon, on this occasion.) Perhaps Apple’s corporate-speak just doesn’t translate very well into English. Either that or accepting a broken iPad from a customer, recording their personal details and putting it into a padded envelope is something that only their finest can do.

The “genius” in question would be free in a little over an hour, it appeared: I decided not to wait.

At the weekend, I visited an authorised reseller (thanks, KRCS) and had a much better experience. No wait required, and nobody feeling sufficiently like Oscar Wild as to declare their genius. It turned out there was some moderately clever work to be done as we had to go through the process by which the “find my iPad” functionality is switched off, since I would otherwise be tracking the location of an iPad I no longer owned. I also did a factory reset that wiped all my personal information from the device.

And so, goodbye DLXM31CVFH12 … we hardly knew you.

Now here’s the interesting thing: you might well worry that your exchanged iPad will be swapped with one that’s had a hard life. The reseller said my iPad was probably in the best condition he’d ever seen (give or take a single brief bounce on a piece of South East London pavement). What if the ‘new’ one hadn’t led such a pampered existence? No problem: the device gets not only a new screen, but a new back casing, and Apple replace all the parts that are subjected to wear and tear as well. All the buttons are replaced with new components, and the battery too.

You never really notice the memory effect in rechargeable batteries, until you replace them. The gradual decline in capacity that is inevitable with virtually every battery technology had affected my iPad, too, despite only occasional usage. At £179, my “screen replacement” really gave my mini iPad a whole new lease of life. Not only was the battery much better than I remembered, but the unit came wrapped in protective film, just as it had when it left the factory the first time. No blemishes at all; not so much as a fingerprint on it. The ‘new gadget experience’ and even the ‘new gadget’ smell, all over again. This is what remanufacturing should be: a process yielding products that are as good as new, with a guarantee to prove it.

The hardware side of the experience was superb; the software side, less so. The replacement iPad came with firmware in place that I couldn’t dislodge with a full restore. Thus, I am forced to live with iOS 9 from now on. I’d kept my iPad on iOS7 because I don’t like Apple’s more recent efforts at user interface design. I find the new, minimalist graphics rather childish.

Regardless of my wishes in this regard, that era is over for me: I have no choice but to accept the results of Apple’s fanatical yet curiously selective war on skeuomorphism. Worst of all, an iPad with an up-to-date operating system demanded an up-to-date installation of iTunes on my computer, a piece of software that has steadily deteriorated in usability as it’s been made to do more and more over the last fifteen years. Perhaps I expect too much: perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect smooth scrolling through a list of tunes when you’ve only got four processor cores and 16GB of RAM? It seems so, but if discovering the answer involves asking a “genius”, I think I’ll pass.

In ‘White Suit Economics’ I discussed how products can now be designed so as to perform well for a known period of time, but then be made to degrade artificially, so as to force the user to replace them at a time chosen by the manufacturer and not the owner. I now have an iPad that responds only sluggishly when I start typing out a message, and it informs me daily that a still newer version of its operating system is now available. Newer software is designed to run on newer hardware, of course, and this is progress: if it ain’t broke, keep on fixing it until it is.

Daily Apple update message.

A daily hard sell: install now, or later… “no thanks” is not an option.

In a world where artificial intelligence is a hot topic, Apple’s software doesn’t display much in the way of smarts. It seems incapable of recognising that when I refuse to upgrade my software fifty days in a row, I’m unlikely to have changed my mind on day 51. Or day 52.

But how about day 53?

Perhaps this is artificial intelligence after all, and Apple has reincarnated Talkie Toaster.

The Theory of Waste Prevention

Virtually everybody would accept the idea that causing waste is a bad idea. When we waste resources, it costs us money. Even if the resource in question is cheap and plentiful where you live, it won’t always be cheap, if you waste it. The post on ‘Recycling: the Elephant in the Room’ got some attention, so I thought I’d follow up with some of the formal theory behind the views expressed there. Being ‘green’ isn’t just something for ‘tree-huggers’ – it can make good, hard-headed business sense as well.

Government initiatives attempt to address the problem of waste (for example, Directive 2008/98/EC) and they generally set out the principle of a waste prevention hierarchy. I wouldn’t recommend reading the full document unless this is the subject of your thesis or something – it’s very dry – but we can summarise. If you learn nothing else about the Waste Framework Directive, remember the idea that it’s setting out a series of stages at which the harm caused by a product or service can be reduced. It’s illustrated in a variety of ways, often with pyramids, inverted pyramids, cones, bar charts… all with the same basic principle:

The Waste Framework Directive has done nothing to halt the proliferation of visual aids, it seems.

The Waste Framework Directive has done nothing to halt the proliferation of visual aids, it seems.

I’m part of the problem here, having created my own graphic to illustrate the hierarchy…

waste prevention hierarchy

The waste prevention hierarchy

Basically, what we have here is an eight-step model showing opportunities to limit environmental damage. Some authors show it as a five- or six-step model, but I’ve tried to be as detailed as possible. (And if you can think of more stages, please let me know, via the comments…)

1. Prevention of Waste: First off, we have the chance of preventing waste outright. This might mean avoiding over-production, or making a process more reliable, such that its yield improves. It might mean not packaging your product; some things don’t need it. If your customers don’t value something… find out, and stop doing it.

Bananas

Some products are packaged enough already.


2. Minimisation of Waste:
If you can’t prevent waste, can you minimise it? For example, a retailer might demand that your product is packaged for a number of reasons, or conditions within the supply chain might make it necessary (for more on the eight purposes of packaging, see this post) but can you use less of it? Can you make the box smaller, or use a lighter gauge of cardboard? This tends to reduce wastage.

Original iPod mini packaging

For this ‘mini’ product, Apple used an awfully large box…


3. Reuse of the Product:
For some products there are good reasons not to consider reuse (such as hypodermic syringes, where the health benefit of a disposable outweighs the environmental harm of the single use product)… but elsewhere a product can be of use to other people, or in other roles – if it’s appropriately designed. Consider the Danish success with drinks containers, since Carlsberg introduced the world’s first refillable plastic bottle (in polyethylene napthalate) in 1999; a tremendous improvement in resource efficiency.

4. Reuse of Components: This is another good, common-sense strategy that has been the norm in some industries for decades. When a product as a whole is no longer viable, salvage what parts you can from it, and make them serve again. The talk I did with Dr Joe provides an example of one strategy here; that of remanufacturing.

5. Material Recovery: Good old recycling just makes it into the top five… which isn’t all that great, to be honest. If you’re clever, or if you come from a country with very low labour costs, you can pick materials out of the waste stream, and reuse them. Of course, some materials are more recyclable than others (for example, you can’t melt down a thermosetting polymer for reuse) and some materials are likely to degrade from one use to the next.

Note that material recovery might actually involve an organic process rather than a technical one; composting of vegetable wastes is a valid strategy.

6. Energy Recovery: If recycling isn’t possible for technical or economic reasons, combustion might remain an option. For example, if you have no economically viable way to recover material from a waste stream of mixed plastics, or if you have oil contamination, you might send the whole lot into a power station, and at least get some energy back. This is not without problems, as hazardous dioxins are released if the conditions in the furnace aren’t right… but it’s probably better than leaving end-of-life materials blowing around on the street, or bobbing around on the sea.

Advocates claim that energy recovery is a valuable strategy, and to some extent this is true: weight for weight, burning polystyrene releases twice as much heat as coal… but that doesn’t make it a ‘green’ solution. With an appropriately managed waste stream, that polymer might have been made into something more useful, instead of momentarily feeding our appetite for electricity.

7. Landfill: This is the worst possible outcome shown on most folks’ pollution prevention hierarchies, and with good reason… but it actually encompasses a set of different outcomes. First off, there’s combustion without energy recovery… burning the waste simply to reduce its bulk. That saves space during transportation and/or in the landfill, and may be encouraged for reasons of sterilisation, or to destroy confidential information… but potentially toxic fumes and residues make this a controversial strategy at best.

Then there’s good old landfill – just push the product into a hole in the ground, and hope that contaminants can’t leech out from the waste and into local watercourses. If your product is particularly toxic, it might be sealed up in containers, and stored far below ground.

Star Wars trash compactor scene

Wait… what? They’ve got spaceships, lasers, antigravity, robots and the Force… and the best they can do with their trash is to squeeze it into cubes and dump them?

For some contaminated waste, a ‘land farm’ may be an option: this involves using natural bacterial action to break down a hazardous substance over time. Basically, you plough the substance into the topsoil, turning it over from time to time to aerate the soil, and let the microbes digest the contaminated soil, sediment or sludge,. Not a nice kind of farm… but it is a present-day strategy for dealing with waste.

8. Uncollected waste: Worst of all, but seldom seen on the pollution prevention hierarchy is the idea that waste never actually gets collected. Instead it simply piles up in poor districts, or it gets pushed into a nearby body of water, or it just blows away. I think we need to include this on the hierarchy, because unless we acknowledge that it is happening, we’ll never tackle the problem. In other words, the worst possible outcome is a little worse than most people think.

When a worn-out ship is scrapped, the thousands of tonnes of steel in its hull are worth reclaiming: the vessel is typically run ashore at high tide on a beach in a developing country, and an army of workers cuts it up for scrap. That’s fine for materials with value such as copper, iron and steel… but what happens to the plastics, the waste engine oil, or the asbestos? It isn’t just the low wage costs that cause ship dismantling to happen in developing countries; it’s the lack of oversight. Much of the waste that has no value goes back into the ocean – and it’s our ocean, too.

Hulk of a half-scrapped ship

Long time no sea: this vessel has all but disappeared… but where did the toxic materials go?

Remanufacturing Simulation

This is the final post in a three-part series arising from the talk that I did with Dr Joe on the subject of remanufacturing. (See also: Motorcycle upcycle, and Recycling: the Elephant in the Room.)

We’ve established that recycling isn’t sufficient… which means we’re going to have to get more utility out of things when they reach the end of their normal life. Perhaps remanufacturing holds the key?

Trouble is… compared to the factory, showroom, or retail environment… things at the end of life are messy. At the end of life, products get treated in unusual ways. Old phones get given to relatives, or left in a drawer; old appliances get taken to the rubbish tip, or pushed into a sinkhole. It seems that old computers are often kept because people aren’t confident about erasing all the personal information they contain. Old cars… they provide a good illustration of the extent of the problem.

You could drive a new car out of the showroom, and wreck it fifteen minutes later. Another owner might avoid accidents, and choose to keep the same model for fifteen years or more. One owner might live by the ocean, and see their pride and joy rust badly enough to ruin it in five years, while another lives in the desert and experiences no corrosion at all (although the paintwork fades, affecting its value quite quickly). Some people like “hard driving” while others seek fuel economy. Some take care to have the vehicle checked out at every servicing interval, while others treat the machine with less respect. Taxi drivers cruise around town all day, while salesmen eat up motorway miles…

Every one of those vehicles is a different prospect at the end of life, and they reach that point for different reasons. The parts that are salvageable, and the appropriate remediation strategies are completely different in each case – as are the timings involved.

Guide [1] summarised the problems as “stochastic product returns, imbalances in return and demand rates, and the unknown condition of returned products.”

What does this mean? It means if you’re a manufacturer and you’re hoping to get things back so that you can recondition them, you don’t know how long you’re going to have to wait. When end-of-life products start coming back, there’s no guarantee that people will still be interested in them when you’ve reconditioned them… and what you get back might be spoilt beyond any possibility of economic repair.

Compare that to the simple, sterile world in which you dig materials out of the ground, and turn them into all-original products as quickly as possible.

Let’s imagine that you do have a product where remanufacturing is appropriate. There are some success stories. For example, most photocopier companies don’t actually sell photocopiers anymore: they lease them, which means that they can expect to get them back at end-of-life. (Why does this work so well for photocopiers? Because the size and shape of a piece of paper isn’t going to change any time soon: the ‘guts’ of a photocopier can be salvaged, checked over and made to serve again, in an improved model with a better user interface, but the same basic core.

Kodak disposable camera

A special case: at the peak, some 92% of the ‘single use camera’ was reused… but obviously, the customer has to return this product, or they never get their pictures.

Just imagine, though, that you’re running a factory that supplies a product, and you’re hoping to do some remanufacturing. What does that mean? Well, at the beginning, you’re not doing much remanufacturing at all, because none of your products have reached the end-of-life phase… so for a while, you’re a pure manufacturer. Later, used products begin to come back, and some useful parts can be saved, and made to serve again.

That means you’re going to need to retrain manufacturing staff to perform a disassembling and checking role. You’re going to need space to store returned products, and reclaimed parts… and you’re going to need to vary the volume in which you buy or make new parts, to take into account the volume of reclaimed parts that you’re getting back… which will vary each month. If you’ve ever heard of an economic order quantity, or economic batch sizing (or if your Enterprise Resource Planning system is predicated upon those concepts) you will recognise the pitfalls that are posed by the return of an unknown quantity of parts at an unknown time, in unknown condition.

Remanufacturing is messy, in every sense of the word.

What was needed was a tool for understanding the complex nature of end-of-life scenarios, and that was the purpose of the simulation model that I originally described at the International Conference on Remanufacturing in Glasgow, back in 2011 [2]. The theory goes something like this: you use a simulation language that’s designed for constructing manufacturing simulations, but instead of simply having workpieces flowing through a factory, being assembled into a product and then quitting the system as finished goods, you send them into a loop, where they continue to circle around a ‘use phase’ submodel.

Every month, the product gets some ‘wear and tear’ assigned to its component parts, and becomes an end-of-life product if the accumulated wear is enough to break it. It’s also checked against a specified chance that it suffers an accident, and there’s a chance that products over a certain age are found to be unwanted, and leave the ‘use phase’ loop. Products then move into an end-of-life submodel where there is a specified probability that they are returned to the manufacturer. If they are, they get disassembled, and the condition of components is assessed. Those that are good enough to serve again go into the queue for component assembly, and cause a corresponding reduction in the orders for brand new components.

Basically, it’s a machine for telling you how much remanufacturing you can expect to be doing, and when… based upon the conditions that you specify. For example, you could explore a leasing-based business model (like the photocopiers) by perhaps specifying a 48-month useful life, after which there is a 90% chance that the product is immediately retired (because it’s specified in the conditions in the leasing contract) with a 100% chance that the product comes back for remanufacturing.

Model inputs spreadsheet

This spreadsheet allows the user to specify whatever model conditions they want to explore – without having to edit the model itself.

Alternatively, if the product that you’re interested in was the engine in a tank, you might say that there’s a 2% chance of accidental damage every period, a fixed 60-month service life, and an 90% chance of the engine coming back for remanufacturing when it reaches end-of-life. (Some are ruined on battlefields, get abandoned, or end up in museums, and so on…)

The result of all this modelling comes in graph form, exported by the simulation tool, to show how much remanufacturing we can expect to be doing. Back in 2007, Geyer et al [3] had predicted that the volume of remanufactured products released over time would be a trapezoidal subset of the whole, and our simulation anticipates the same result, only a little bit messier due to the randomness introduced in an effort to represent the uncertainties of real-world conditions.

Graph showing proportion of remanufacturing occurring

Predicted quantity of reused components, based upon a scenario defined within the model. It’s… kind of trapezoidal!

It suggests that you’ll only ever be able to do some remanufacturing, and will still need a source of virgin components while volume manufacturing continues. On its own, then, remanufacturing doesn’t ‘close the loop’ – and it doesn’t ‘save the planet’, although it helps out a bit. It slows the rate at which we consume resources… at the cost of additional complexity in the supply chain, and in the scheduling of operations.

(The slides from our talk can be seen on slideshare.net)

 

References:

  1. Guide, V.D.R. (2000) Production planning and control for remanufacturing: industry practice and research needs, Journal of Operations Management, Volume 18, Number 4, June 2000, pp. 467–483
  2. Farr, R. and Lohse, N. (2011) Use of Enterprise Simulation to Assess the Impacts of Remanufacturing Operations, Proceedings of the International Conference on Remanufacturing, ICoR 2011, 27–29 July 2011, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. (Link to full paper here.)
  3. Geyer, R., Van Wassenhove, L.N. and Atasu, A. (2007) The Economics of Remanufacturing Under Limited Component Durability and Finite Product Life Cycles, Management Science, 53(1), pp. 88–100

Motorcycle upcycle

My good friend Dr Joe and I gave a talk about remanufacturing recently. I described a simulation model that can be used to predict the rate at which we might expect to get products back at the end-of-life (I’ll describe this in another post), and Dr Joe spoke about his experiences as an importer of remanufactured scooters from India.

The experience with the scooters was interesting because it showed that despite the best efforts of academics, remanufacturing remains difficult to pin down to a single definition, in the real world. I think of remanufactured goods as being returned to ‘good as new’ condition – or better, when the remanufacturing process involves building in some redesigned component or feature that hadn’t been available when the product started its first life.

For Dr Joe, though, remanufacturing had to be approached with scepticism. Some items were great when remanufactured. The cylinder heads, for example, he described as “bomb-proof”. They showed evidence of having been welded up, drilled and tapped to ensure that the spark plug was seated just right, but they never exhibited any problems. The carburettors had been extensively modified to increase the power output of the scooters, making them ‘better than new’ – in fact, the engines on the imports were considerably up-rated from their first life.

Not everything was perfect, however: some components wear significantly, deform, or fatigue during life. Wheel hubs were found to be egg-shaped, rather than round, and new ones had to be procured, there being insufficient material left to permit a machining operation. Some engine casings were found to be modern ‘fakes’ – produced by sand casting rather than the original pressure die casting process, and these were useless. On one of the first imports, an engine mounting sheared off. Some problems such as worn teeth on the kick start mechanism were dealt with by simply adding a shim at the back of the cog, to bring the teeth more fully into contact with the ratchet.

Far too much effort went into creating an item like this to permit it to simply be recycled.

So much effort went into shaping an item like this: reuse is much better than just melting it down for recycling.

An academic would simply say that these are not remanufactured, per the accepted definition of a component being as good as new, or better, with a warranty to prove it. To a businessman, however, this is simply part of the process of doing business. When you’re importing scooters of a kind that are in considerable demand and attract a high price in the UK, you can afford to tolerate a certain amount of variability – if you have the skills and capabilities to cope with the problems. Thus, newly-arrived scooters were checked over and any parts that were clearly found to be inadequate were sent back. Since each scooter required an MOT (the Ministry of Transport test that assesses the roadworthiness of all vehicles more than three years old) this provided a good way to check each machine over. Getting each machine to comply with the terms of the test was “a lot of work” according to Dr Joe.

This tells us that the scooters weren’t remanufactured – not as whole machines, or not well enough – but they contain much that is remanufactured, and even evidence of that rarest of green goals, ‘upcycling’. In increasing the power output of the engines (necessary to make them attractive to the UK market) the imported scooter was actually worth much more than when it began its first life.

(The slides from our presentation can be found here.)