Repair and the circular economy12 November 2020

An EU research project aims to lead the way in the reuse and recycling of industrial equipment. By Toby Clark

What do we mean by ‘The Circular Economy’? The Ellen MacArthur Foundation was set up by Dame Ellen MacArthur in 2009 to promote the idea, which it defines like this: “In contrast to the ‘take-make-waste’ linear model, a circular economy is regenerative by design and aims to gradually decouple growth from the consumption of finite resources.”

The Foundation sees the circular economy as being built on three principles: design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use, regenerate natural systems.

All of these are obviously relevant to engineers responsible for plant and machinery, but the second is particularly interesting; how do you prolong the life of equipment, while keeping it relevant to the needs of today and future requirements?

The RECLAIM Project,, is a €15m EU-funded scheme to explore the use of monitoring and analysis technology to extend the life of industrial machinery. The project aims to “develop a decision support framework for the ageing machines, which… typically break down more often, which leads to loss and delays in production. The framework will… help to assess health status and provide guidance on how to extend the machinery’s lifetime”.

The RECLAIM Project’s coordinator is Michael Peschl:“We started in October 2019 and the project will last for 32 months. It is a research project, but it is industry-driven, and it is a demonstration project - so the things we are doing must be demonstrated in real industrial environments.”

The project is running five pilot sites across Europe, and Peschl himself works for one: Hamburg-based Harms & Wende specialises in industrial welding technology, including spot welding and friction welding. The other pilot sites include a shoe factory and an automated production line for dishwasher parts. “They are quite diverse in approach,” says Peschl, “so we have to have technology that works for all these setups and for other industrial setups. The challenge is that those technologies and algorithms - software, sensors and data - have to be integrated into very different industrial setups. We have technology that is already in place… and the approach is to extend the lifetime of machinery and not to exchange something.”

He adds: “What we are mainly doing is developing technology that can be adapted to the machinery that is already here, and enhancing functionality. They want new technology in terms of, for example, predictive maintenance and optimisation of production flows.”

The most commonly-added features are concerned with machine condition monitoring, says Peschl: “It is not sufficient that the machine produces, but you want to monitor the setup of the machine and the quality of the product: is it still fine, or are there any trends towards degradation?”

Peschl points out that sometimes it is obviously more practical to extend the life of a machine than to replace it. An example is RECLAIM Project member Zorlu Textiles Group in Turkey: “These machines are really large and really expensive, and when they crash due to a malfunction it is a significant cost”. In particular, Zorlu is looking at improved sensing on its bleaching line, to identify the best process settings and product mix and to allow remote diagnosis and quicker repairs. The expected outcomes are: improved resource efficiency, optimised machine use, improved operational effectiveness, reduced machine failures and reduced environmental impact.

Specifically, the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for the project are:

•10% Reduction in safety-related incidents

•10% reduction in repairs

•10% reduction in wasted materials.

Meanwhile in Switzerland, high-end wooden kitchen manufacturer Podium Industries has a production line of machinery from several suppliers. Its aim in the RECLAIM Project is “to meet increasingly complex customer requests without replacing the existing machinery”; its machines need to be “more flexible, reconfigurable and incorporate personalised tasks”.

The firm is refurbishing its machines with an extra layer of sensors, intended to monitor product quality (while identifying the cause of quality issues) and to predict failures. This is hoped to lower costs, improve quality and extend the lifetime of the machinery.

The project has impressively ambitious KPIs, which include a 50% reduction in safety-related incidents, and a 50% reduction in repair costs.

“We are also going to identify ways to optimise the next generation of machines for an extended lifetime,” says Peschl. One of the most important approaches is modularity: “You have the ability to exchange components, and it also gives you flexibility; if you have a machine that works for five years and then the product is not required any more, then you have a machine that is adaptable to a different product.”


But it is not just about the machines themselves; the business model must change too. “Usually as a vendor you are not that interested in extending the lifetime of the product, but with a leasing model you get the product back at the end of a contract and refurbish it for the next client.

“At Harms & Wende, we have bought back a machine that was with a customer for 10 years; we are refurbishing it and adding new technology, for example adding sensors for machine monitoring and to meet new safety standards. We will resell this machine to another customer,” states the project coordinator. Many firms are shifting towards becoming providers of technical solutions rather than simply machine suppliers.

While some sectors have long seen products repaired and remanufactured (truck tyres are invariably retreaded several times, for example) economic pressures and environmental legislation are pushing other areas to the circular economy. One of the best-developed examples is lighting, where Philips Lighting (now called Signify) pioneered the idea of Lighting as a Service (LaaS) several years ago. In this case, the supplier contracts to provide a certain amount and quality of light at a known cost - taking on the responsibility of installation, maintenance, energy cost and, perhaps most significantly, end-of-life disposal or remanufacture of the hardware. This service is now being offered by a number of suppliers, for premises from shops to entire airports.

Whatever the motivation for moving to towards extended machine life and different business models, Peschl concludes that “it’s vital that you explain the benefit that a technology brings to a customer. For us and our customers it’s always a question of costs and efficiency”.

BOX: Retrofitting sensors and IIOT features

Several manufacturers have come up with ways of adding instrumentation and connectivity to older machinery, to make them part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

Bosch offers the XDK Cross Domain Development Kit, based around a small (60 x 40 x 22mm) self-contained unit which can communicate via a wired link, WiFi or Bluetooth — or, with an additional module, via LoRa wireless with a range of up to 40km.

The XDK has a built-in Li-ion battery and eight sensors built in for condition monitoring: an accelerometer and gyroscope, a digital light sensor, an acoustic sensor, a temperature sensor, a magnetometer, a humidity sensor and a pressure sensor.

The recently-launched Siemens IOT2050 gateway links an existing PLC-equipped system to the outside world in a variety of ways: it has up to 20 digital and six analogue inputs, and interfaces including LAN, USB, DisplayPort and COM serial port. It can gather and analyse machine data on board, then export information to cloud-based systems such as ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) applications.

Toby Clark

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