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Remanufactured bridging the gap between used and new tech

The CEO of Circular Computing explains how he got to the stage where he was operating a sizeable factory offering a fresh life to hardware

The hardware industry is under pressure to become more sustainable, with remanufacturing an option for those keen to extend the life of devices.

That is the view of Rod Neale, CEO of Circular Computing, who has built a state-of-the-art factory to remanufacture laptops to an “as new” standard, meeting rigorous BSI standards.

How Neale got to this point involves recognising the limits of the traditional used market and the changing needs of partners and customers.

“The new market was very unaware of the business of the used. [In the used market], you could buy big lots from, let’s say, the developed world that no longer had a value [and sell into other regions],” he said. “At that particular point, it was very much buy it for x money, sell it for more. The second use industry is worth billions of pounds, because everything that goes in, comes out.”

As laptops became more powerful, the pressures on three-year refresh cycles didn’t feel as acute, and when products used in Europe then stayed in Europe, the dynamics of the industry began to change. Neal gave the example of the change in car dealerships’ attitudes towards used cars to illustrate how the shift took place.

“If you go back 10 to 20 years, you went to a dealership and there would be no used cars, they only sold new cars. If you wanted to buy a used car, you went to Ray’s Autos because they were the ones that sold the used cars. Slowly but surely, the dealership saw [the opportunity], and if you go to a dealership now I’d imagine 90% of their cars on the dealerships are used as opposed to new,” he said.

The conversation became more what sort of option to give customers – a refurbished (graded A, B or C) laptop, or something remanufactured that would have the same quality as a new product and last longer?

Neale saw the potential in the second option and built a 150,000ft2 factory to purpose built remanufactured products.

“The used industry was variable and risky, but it served this purpose and it was massive. How I’ve positioned my company going forward is that is the brand new industry...that doesn’t sell variable sells solutions,” he said.

Sustainability is bringing the new and the remanufactured industries together because it is getting harder for partners to constantly pitch new, encouraging asset disposal. But customers still demand quality and reliability – and that spelt an opportunity.

“That was the gap in the market as I saw it 10 years ago, that was the bit that nobody was servicing correctly. There were some great companies doing great things in that space and trying to get that used equipment back into that world, but the problem with that world is that Boeing is never going to buy a variable risk product,” he said.

“As much as the Boeings of the world are going to ask for sustainability, because they’re all charged with making that happen, there was this gap in the market that I saw,” he added.

Neale is already getting buy-in from vendors, distributors and the wider channel. He points out that it can provide a product that the market can proudly sell and customers will be happy to use.

“We take the product when it’s had its first life, then we manufacture every part of it and then put it back in. That’s where the value is going to come from in the future, the world is going in that direction,” he said.

He said corporates wanted remanufactured tech and that his firm is meeting a growing need in the market. But, the devices that left the factory had to meet BSI standards and deliver a solid user experience.

“The product has to be equal to or better than new with an equal to or better than new warranty,” said Neale. “If you and I sat on the plane, and I have a remanufactured three- or four-year-old laptop, and you’re sat next to me with a £2,000 brand new product, we’re both doing email or a Word document or Excel.

“This is about shifting the vocabulary and the potential of a used product, thinking about the customer and then working backwards,” he concluded.

Circular Computing is holding an event later this month, the Re: Sustainable IT Summit, with a range of vendors, distributors, resellers and MSPs gathering together to discuss how best to tackle sustainability challenges in the IT sector and explore the opportunities offered by circular processes such as remanufacturing.  

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