How thinking in terms of a circular economy gives new life to an old option

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In previous posts we discussed the need for both manufacturers and customers to change the way we make and use products to a circular approach – based on repairing, reusing, refurbishing, remanufacturing, and recycling products – rather than the traditional and unsustainable linear “take, make, and dispose” approach. We also described some of the ways we are supporting that paradigm shift.

Although some of our circular economy supporting practices are based on newer initiatives, such as our UPS refurbishment center and our SF-6 recycling services, others have been in place for many years. In particular, our Industrial Repair Services business unit in Greensboro, North Carolina, today plays an even more important and valuable role that it did when it began as Electrical South in the 1970s.

Repairing motors, drives and control system components originally was viewed as simply a less costly alternative to replacing high-priced equipment. Today, however, many customers realize that opting to repair rather than replace industrial electronics can offer many other benefits. Repairing rather than scrapping usable equipment conserves resources, which clearly supports a circular economy. But perhaps even more important to facility owners and operators, repairing existing equipment so that it can continue to function can be extremely helpful in staging equipment upgrades and replacement.

Like anything else worthwhile, however, repairing industrial electronic equipment is not easy. In additional to the technical challenges inherent in electronics of any type, even “standard” types of equipment have many variations. In some cases, manufacturers have made changes to their products over the years. There also are many product lines still in service for which the original manufacturer no longer provides support or no longer exists. Such hurdles can be daunting to even the strongest supporters of a circular economy.

We consider ourselves fortunate to have an exceptionally deep archive of schematics and other technical information dating back 40 years or more for many different brands of equipment. This enables us to perform repairs on equipment and components that have long since been “obsoleted” by the original manufacturer but may still be performing mission-critical functions. For many of the products within the Schneider Electric family, such as our industrial automation products, we typically can provide both repairs and an upgrade to current specifications. We also offer remanufactured exchanges and replacements for other popular brands, and integration and support services for manufacturing applications.

This type of support has proved to be especially valuable to companies acquiring facilities with different technology bases as they try to integrate and standardize operations. It also helps companies continue to operate with confidence as upgrades are being phased in.

For example, a large long-time manufacturer was planning to move its control system from a hybrid combination of PLC and distributed control systems (DCS) to a DCS-only philosophy. Because the transition would take place over a five-year period, the company asked us to help mitigate the risk of continuing to use its aging Modicon PLC equipment during that time.

Although we were able to offer repairs as needed, we also proposed upgrading the company’s existing PLC equipment to our Quantum Unity-based processor products to accomplish two important goals. First, that minimized overall cost by keeping all the current field input and output equipment (I/O) in place. Just as important, it also provided the ability to support individual I/O equipment upgrades in the event that any of the older I/O became unrepairable. Adding a support contract allowed the company to keep its PLC platform operating at minimum risk until the transition to a DCS-only platform was accomplished.

Once a good idea simply because it might have been less expensive, opting to repair industrial electronic equipment has gained well-deserved additional credibility as more people and businesses begin to think in terms of a circular economy. We at Schneider Electric believe that electing to repair equipment is frequently a good and responsible choice, click here to learn more about our industrial repair services.

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