Remanufacturing has long been an eco-innovation driver, with benefits on both the economic and environmental fronts. The recent expansion into automotive electronics and mechatronics is opening the door wide for jobbers to sell an assortment of reman components. Computer controls are now used to operate vehicle engine and power train management systems, and assist driving, steering, braking, suspension, and many other safety and comfort functions.
The strongest driving force in the automotive marketplace is that consumer and remanufacturing technology matters to the consumer – with half of the $86 billion aftermarket going to the do-it-yourself market, which is price-sensitive. Plus, consumer research indicates a rising awareness towards protecting the planet, particularly if consumers can save money in the process. Remanufacturing offers opportunities on both these fronts.
Given these facts, remanufacturing answers many of the most interesting economic, environmental, and employment challenges of the present day. From a global perspective, North America is the largest market, followed by Europe. In North America, remanufacturing has been around since the 1940s. Today the market is mature and remanufactured products have established a dominant position against new, used, or repaired products.
Savvy jobbers can capitalize on the growing electronic and mechatronic reman market by understanding the differences in the quality of supplied remanufactured components, and by looking ahead and identifying new sales channels.
“Quality levels are determined by the amount of effort the remanufacturer invests into the development of their product. This not only includes up-front engineering work to determine what specifications a functioning unit should meet, but also having a standard way of implementing those specifications on a repeatable basis. The manufacturing team also needs to be held accountable to follow the repeatable processes developed by the implementation team,” explains Steve Eichmann, head electronics engineer for Cardone Industries.
Jobbers should be aware that some remanufacturers may only be concerned with the appearance of the unit. Some outfits may just resell items from the junkyard, taking a chance on unit functionality. Others may offer partial functional testing, with LEDs for loads rather than actual or comparable loads from the vehicle.
“It’s moving in the right direction, but there is still a significant quality risk. Many of today’s Electronic Control Units (ECUs) are equipped with current-sensitive output devices. The ECU can set Diagnostic Trouble Codes (DTCs) if the incorrect load is applied. The best approach is to use loads with the same resistance and inductance as the load on the vehicle, or use the actual loads. This approach insures that the ECU is capable of actuating the load on the vehicle, but does not overstress the ECU output device,” adds Eichmann.
Another area of concern would be how the remanufacturer performs repairs. Are they proactive about repairing known failure modes, even before diagnostic testing? What kind of solder training do the technicians receive? Is there a systematic approach to repairing units for all the technicians to follow, or are individual technicians making their own repair decisions?
What about components? Are repairs made with automotive-grade components or with general-purpose components? Using general-purpose components will decrease the operating life of the ECU, as they are not rated for the same temperature as automotive grade components. Are the replacement output components capable of handling the amount of current required by the load? What kind of support does the remanufacturer offer on their products?
“Although today’s ECUs are relatively simple to physically remove and install from the vehicle, the challenge is in the initialization process, to match the ECU to the vehicle. Familiarity with the reprogramming process, setting up vehicle options, and re-initializing vehicle anti-theft systems are crucial functions that remanufacturers must be able to understand and communicate clearly to their customer base,” advises Eichmann.
Jobbers risk a loss of customer satisfaction and potential future sales when using electronic remanufactured parts from questionable sources. The unit may simply not work right out of the box, or it may fail prematurely. There is always the possibility of a fit issue, whether from mounting locations or harnesses not latching properly on the connector. It is also possible for the ECU to cause more damage to the vehicle.
“Aggressive consolidation of ECU calibrations can also cause customer satisfaction issues. Some remanufacturers have consolidated Exhaust Gas Recirculation (EGR) and non-EGR calibrations. The customer could (and has) installed the EGR calibration ECU for a non-EGR vehicle. When the ECU runs the EGR and the EGR does not respond (because it is not there), the DTC for the EGR will set. This results in a frustrated mechanic as he tries to replace an EGR valve that the vehicle does not have,” explains Eichmann.
Many of today’s ECUs have their own personality – meaning they store custom information from the vehicle. The odometer, VIN, and vehicle options are a few types of information stored in the vehicle. If the remanufacturer does not have a process for removing this personalized information from a core, the new user will have problems. If the remanufacturer can’t clearly explain the process for installing the customer’s information, this can also lead to problems for the new user.
The electronics segment is very important moving forward. Automotive electronics continue to expand at a rapid pace. Virtually all of today’s vehicles have a powertrain control management system comprised of several key electronic modules. Body Control Modules and Electronic Throttle Bodies applications continue to expand as well, and electronics are expanding into traditional mechanical parts like steering and braking. Also, the navigation and infotainment markets continue to grow, as consumers grow more dependent on Internet-enabled devices.
The best opportunity for jobbers exists in customer education. There is more to removing and installing an ECU than just three bolts and three connectors. Special diagnostic tools and website subscriptions are required to perform ECU installation procedures. Jobbers need to be aware of the additional equipment and steps required for installation. Educating your customers on this market and keeping up to date on the latest remanufactured offerings will ensure steady sales growth for this sector.
What is Mechatronics?
Mechatronics is the combination of a mechanical component with an electrical actuator that is electronically controlled. The word “mechatronics” is a combination of the words mechanics and electronics. Basically, a mechatronic unit is also a control system that, in automotive applications, is often a part of an entire vehicle’s interconnected network. One of the first mechatronic automotive components that found its way into remanufacturing is electrical power steering. During driving, power steering components are constantly actuated and therefore the need to service or replace often becomes necessary. This makes these components very attractive to the remanufacturing business. The major Tier-One manufacturers of these components include ZF, Bosch, TRW, NSK, and Koyo. These companies have all designed different systems for different vehicles that have been in production for a number of years now.
ABS is a mechatronic braking system that has existed for years, but not many remanufacturers are interested in this component because the number of service incidents are so low. However, the recent introduction of a combined hydraulic/electrical brake caliper that is also a parking brake is of high interest to remanufacturers. Calipers are a component that is typically highly stressed, and the frequent service and repair that they require makes them an important mechatronic component for remanufacturing.