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Remanufacturing Benefits Industry and Customers : Firms are finding ways to rebuild and resell such diverse items as printer cartridges and auto transmissions.

June 22, 1995|RICHARD KAHLENBERG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The idea of remanufacturing an industrial product might seem foreign and quaint when you first think about it--something from the days when Japanese and Hong Kong factories collected mounds of empty American coffee cans, stamped them into parts for windup toys, and sent the new product back to America. It was a low-tech form of recycling.

But when the topic of remanufacturing comes up today, we're talking about something quite different.

Nowadays, according to some Ventura County-based observers of remanufacturing, the field has gone upscale. It now involves items such as laser-printer cartridges and automatic transmissions for cars, and the geographic flow is quite different.

Arthur S. Diamond, owner of Diamond Research Corp. and managing editor of R&R News in Ventura, is a leader in the laser-printer cartridge business. He says that 50 million of these items get plugged into America's office and home printers annually, often at $100 a pop.

Most new cartridges are made in Asia and then sent to America to be used in the printers connected to our desktop computers. Clever Americans have figured out ways to recycle these cartridges, providing an item that delivers the same results as the original but at about half the cost to the consumer.

Ask your office supply dealer for details. One thing you'll learn is that it's a good idea to bring in your empty cartridge for a trade-in discount when you need a replacement.

For the last few years, Diamond's company has been holding professional development seminars for some of the 25,000 folks who collect, recondition and refill used cartridges. These people have, collectively, been doing $350 million worth of business annually in the U.S.

And Diamond, whose magazine is the principal trade journal in the field, helped organize a professional standards-setting organization, the Imaging Products Remanufacturing Assn.

"About 25% of all the printer cartridges in the market today are remanufactured," Diamond says. Of interest to environmentalists is his observation that this new industry keeps 15 million bulky printer cartridges, each filled with chemical residue, from being tossed into America's landfills every year.

An older remanufacturing industry on the local scene is devoted to rebuilding automatic-shift auto transmissions. Although it wasn't initially organized by Ventura County folks, it has had its national headquarters here since 1975.

The Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Assn. is dedicated to promoting high standards in an industry that keeps almost 200,000 Americans employed, according to LaRae Richards, the association's membership director.

This little statistic is of interest because much of the work they do is on foreign-made transmissions. The item is initially made overseas, but rebuilding it and keeping it in circulation over here obviates the need for us to pay good American money for new, foreign-made replacements.

Rather like the foreign-made printer cartridges, we've figured out ways to keep these foreign-made automatic transmissions in use forever. For example, many association members guarantee their handiwork at any member shop in the country.

And from an environmental standpoint, whenever anything, plastic or metal, gets remanufactured, it means that we don't have to tear up Mother Earth to find and refine new metal, or pump and process new petrochemicals. The savings in terms of raw resources--measured across the spectrum of industries that have adapted to remanufacturing as a principle--is 85%.

According to Boston University engineering professor Robert T. Lund, the nation's leading expert in the field, it's being done with office furniture, farm, airplane and rail industries and is growing in the food processing, computer and telephone equipment sectors.

Details

* FYI: For information about remanufactured laser-printer cartridges and other high-tech office machinery, call the Imaging Products Remanufacturing Assn. at (301) 588-6781. For the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Assn. member nearest you, call 654-1700.

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