MERA, the US-based Association for Sustainable Manufacturing, promotes the economic, environmental, and product performance benefits of remanufacturing and similar forms of sustainable manufacturing. Recently, MERA updated its brand descriptor to reflect better the vision of the organisation and the position of its members in the marketplace. With roots in the automotive and commercial vehicle sectors, MERA today represents the broader sustainable manufacturing community. MERA is also the home of Manufactured Again Certification, where manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing are held to the same international quality standards.
John R Chalifoux, President and COO, MERA, told T Murrali of AutoParts Asia that the motto of MERA is: ‘Quality. Value. Green.’ The ‘Manufactured Again’ Certification programme recognizes remanufacturing facilities as manufacturing facilities and promotes a participating company’s environmental stewardship. Edited excerpts:
Q: Can you describe the MERA certification programme?
A: MERA and its members developed ‘Manufactured Again’ Certification, a programme where manufacturing and sustainable manufacturing are held to the same international quality standards. The programme will have a positive impact for remanufacturers, by advancing the product performance and environmental benefits of sustainably-manufactured products in the marketplace; and for buyers, it offers “peace-of-mind” regarding the quality of their purchase.
This is a programme for companies that view and practise remanufacturing as a core competency; and it is inherently applicable to diverse industries, regardless of the term used to describe an industry’s leading sustainable manufacturing activity. In automotive, it’s remanufacturing; in aviation, it is MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul); and in electronics, it’s refurbishing. What’s important is the first time a product is made, it’s manufactured; the second time it’s “manufactured again.”
The certification programme is based on ISO 9001 – the leading internationally-accepted quality management system standard. In its current form, ISO 9001 can be applied to any manufacturing process, in any manufacturing facility, for any manufacturing company, large or small. The rule for ISO 9001 – and industry-specific derivatives such as IATF 16949 for automotive and AS 9000 for aviation and aerospace – is: “Do what you document, document what you do.” Therefore, the Manufactured Again Certification Mark is applicable to any industry where there is ‘manufacturing with reuse.’
Q: That’s how you explain the look of the certification mark?
A: Yes, the Mark conveys that a quality process is followed in a factory or factory-like setting. It also communicates the environmental benefits of remanufactured goods through the ‘4-arrow pinwheel,’ a unique element influenced by the international symbol for recycling. Essentially, it denotes that before recycling, a product that can be remanufactured, should be ‘manufactured again’ using documented manufacturing processes. That’s what’s beautiful about the Mark, it showcases the production of quality products that are good for the planet.
Q: Either new or remanufactured, are the processes followed the same all through? Is that what you certify?
A: In simple terms, ISO 9001 is ‘do what you document and document what you do.’ The manufacturing process may be different for different products, or two companies might have different processes for making a similar product. What is important is that participating manufacturing facilities follow a standardised industrial process, and that their facilities have been independently audited. Our programme is for companies that practise ‘manufacturing with reuse’ in facilities that have achieved ISO 9001 certification.
Q: How has the certification process evolved during the past one year?
A: We first announced the programme in 2016 at AAPEX. In early 2017, we released the programme licence agreement and usage guidelines, which we developed by benchmarking other certifications. Today, the programme includes 25 companies, also known as programme ambassadors, with a total of 55 certified facilities worldwide. What’s really exciting is that the programme has grown to include certified facilities in India, China, the EU, Scotland, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the U.S.
Q: What is the feedback from the industry?
A: The feedback from the companies involved in the programme – the ambassadors of the programme – has been extremely positive. MERA is working with the ambassadors to keep the messaging simple. We want to reach technicians and end-users, so they understand that parts associated with the Certification Mark are produced by high-
quality companies. Many of our members consider the programme to be a ‘game changer’ for the industry.
Q: Since launch to date you have met many companies, of which 25 became ambassadors. Are there issues or concerns expressed by companies in the process of getting the certification; has MERA rejected anyone?
A: There have been no rejections because the application process is quite clear. A company that does not meet the initial criteria is, by definition, ineligible to participate. The procedure includes a completed programme application, signed license agreement, already existing ISO 9001 or IATF-16949 certificates for each qualifying facility, and ultimately, verification and approval. The programme goes a step further, since even with existing certificates, we have a verification committee that verifies the validity of those certificates. We put every company through the same filter. On our verification committee we have the head of MOPAR supplier quality, a unit of FCA. He is one of the people at FCA that helped write the latest version of IATF 16949. We also have access to the IATF database where we can validate a certificate.
IATF uses 42 certification bodies worldwide. It has nine vehicle manufacturers, including BMW, FCA US, Daimler, FCA Italy, Ford, GM, PSA, Renault, and Volkswagen. Other major vehicle manufacturers don’t participate directly with IATF, but they are still very interested in suppliers that have the certification. The committee also consists of the head of AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group), one of four trade associations worldwide that is part of IATF, and great expertise with executives from two other sustainable manufacturing member companies. I also participate on the committee. In total, we have a very robust vetting process.
Q: Tell us about your website and how does it serve your members?
A: We already have information about the programme and the benefits of sustainable manufacturing on ManufacturedAgain.com; we are now focused on further highlighting the ambassadors on the site. We anticipate launching an online directory resource for the programme soon.
Q: Will all the parts manufactured by each certified company be available on the website?
A: This is part of our planned online directory. The resource will list the qualifying products of the programme ambassadors and have a buyers’ directory. This is all part of our efforts to set the quality of reman on par with new, and to further differentiate reman in the automotive industry from lesser processes. One of the drivers for a resource of this type, is the legislation passed in October 2015 in the United States – The Federal Vehicle Repair Cost Savings Act. The significance of this law is that it requires procurement officers to encourage the use of remanufactured parts when servicing the federal civilian vehicle fleet. We want to provide a tool to government procurement officers that offers an easily accessible place to find remanufacturing companies, along with the parts associated with their certified facilities. In time, we see this resource as a great tool for the independent installer community as well.
Q: Some of the emerging markets are not embracing reman. Will the certification process alter it?
A: I think the certification programme could help change the narrative in certain emerging markets. I know from our research that there are more IATF 16949 facilities in China than anywhere else in the world; India is second. The certifications are well-embraced in many countries. With this acceptance, it helps exemplify the quality processes embraced by remanufacturing facilities.
The beautiful thing about a process standard like ISO 9001 is that it can be applied to any manufacturing process, which makes our messaging quite simple: remanufacturing is manufacturing. We believe this statement is easier to understand, and more relatable in emerging markets, which should help elevate the perception of reman in the marketplace.
Q: Some of the markets are not embracing reman because of a lack of the reverse supply chain. Do you see reman happening in certain markets to accelerate where it is today, and to export back to the country where the demand is more? For example, India where reman is not available; but with this certification programme, some facilities get certified. So parts can go to India, get remanufactured, and come back. Do you see that happening?
A: We have to look at two-way logistics and the cross-border movement of cores. It has to make commercial sense. It is possible for the part to travel a long distance if no other company can perform the work, or if the part is small or light enough. However, as mentioned previously, if we can change the narrative on reman, this should help encourage more domestic production of remanufactured goods, potentially avoiding external core supply issues.
Q: How do you compare remanufacturing with cheap imports? Will it offset the possibilities of reman?
A: There is always the chance that low-cost new parts can win in the marketplace. That’s the nature of competition. However, with federal legislation in place, there is now another good reason to encourage the use of remanufactured parts. Also, low-cost new imported parts cannot compete in two key areas: 1) remanufactured parts are same-as-new or better quality, and the remanufactured product is the OE part, which ensures fit, form and function; and 2), low-cost new imported parts lack the sustainable and environmentally-friendly messaging associated with remanufactured parts. We believe that with the constant pressure on natural resources, all manufacturing in the future will be driven to reuse as much as possible.
Q: There is still confusion among the end-users about differentiating between reman (manufactured again) and used parts. How do you educate those consumers?
A: A used part serves a purpose in the marketplace, but it does not go through a standardised industrial process before being offered for sale; it may be tested but it has not been manufactured again, and it lacks any regimented quality control or verification procedure.
We started a programme last year focused on end-user education: ‘Is it new or is it reman?’ It’s all about a paradigm shift to focus on the root of the word; we show buyers that the quality – and finished look – of reman is on par with new. Then, they are able to see and appreciate the advanced technologies involved, as well as the standardized industrial processes that are used to make the parts. I tell our members to put the reman part next to the same new OE part and encourage them to ask their customers if they can tell the difference. The two parts will, for all practical purposes, look the same. That’s what makes a lasting impression.
Q: It will be a success if the end-user is unable to distinguish between the two; is it so?
A: Correct. It’s fun to watch as people try to tell the difference, and in many cases they can’t. If you want to demonstrate that one product is similar to another product, you should show that they pass the same test. Both programmes – ‘Is it new or is it reman?’ and Manufactured Again Certification – do exactly that. They hold reman and new to the same standard.
Q: Consumers, typically, go to reman if the cost economics work for them. Is there a way to determine the cost of the remanufactured product vis-a-vis a new one? Any guideline given by MERA for this?
A: No, not by us. All pricing for our members is determined by them individually. For automotive parts, given current market conditions, the price for a reman part may be approximately 30 percent less than that of the equivalent new part. When promoting reman with consumers, we use the words ‘Quality. Value. Green.’
We start with quality; this is very important for any customer. Next is value; if quality is on par with new, lower pricing can provide instant value to the end-user. Then we add some notes about the environmental-friendliness of reman; we talk about energy and natural resource conservation. When you put all three attributes together, it’s a winning combination.
Q: Lastly, what are your future plans?
A: We believe that the Manufactured Again Certification programme can be of significant impact for our ambassadors and the industry. We are focused on making this programme successful while, at the same time, continuing to deliver high-value member benefits to our community through advocacy, remanufacturing legislation, leading industry education and other value drivers. Our membership is made up of OE and independent suppliers; we have both large and small companies; and our members are from diverse industries, starting with the automotive and commercial vehicle sectors. We think the programme, and our sustainable manufacturing messaging, can go beyond the motor vehicle parts industry. In conclusion, the concepts we discussed here today are scalable for any company that views remanufacturing as a core competency.