Non of the above…

Anyone that knows a little about remanufacturing has probably been told or read about the large multinational OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) examples of Caterpillar Inc., Xerox Inc., Rolls Royce Aircraft Engines, and Michelin…; and more recently Ricoh, and Renault.

These case-study examples are great, in showing how, in many cases through a mix of luck, being in the right place at the right time, historical, war, economical and regional contexts, and of course a persistence to go beyond the norm, these companies are clearly one of the first places to learn about concrete examples of revalue, and particularly remanufacturing, activities.

However, if you are not a multi-national, a lead manufacturing company (a company that leads it’s upstream and downstream supply chains - like Caterpillar Inc.), then you might be wondering as ‘non of the above,’ can your company even consider transitioning into this field - it already seems ‘out of our league’. And if one just focuses on the many of the typical case-study companies, and not the system and the processes, and the local opportunities in a region, then this reflection is valid - and probably quite typical.

Advanced After Sales Services

Revalue, and remanufacturing in particular, is really a company level strategy, and so its success can weigh a lot on the buy-in and leadership from the top of an organisation, and the subsequent collaboration between the different departments. Without the leadership from the top, the next place to look for leadership maybe within the Marketing or R&D departments; however, if there is no leadership from the top, revalue can go against the typical short-term objectives of these departments (particularly R&D) to continue to reduce costs (which can also be linked to short-term bonuses systems). So, if there is no access to the top, and Marketing and R&D are not motivated, is there somewhere else revalue activities could start?

Many manufacturing companies, wherever they are in the supply chain, have an After-Sales-Service department. This department is already involved in revalue activities, and so this is a logical place to start a transition into more advanced revalue activities. For example, some companies already repair some products under warranty, either on-site or at the customers site, or through exchanging the faulty product like-for-like and then repairing the faulty back at the factory. In this last case, the company is already actually quiet advanced in reverse engineering. The motivation for the After-Sales-Sevice department is, if it’s well managed, that these new activities can create jobs, create new income streams, and bring the department more in a leadership position for change within the company. Now, which After-sales-service manager wouldn’t like the sound of that?

A Spectrum

Any company already in the reverse-engineering, or thinking to enter into reverse-engineering activities, should look at them as a spectrum of possibilities, and that strategies can be made either towards remanufacturing or towards maintenance. For instance, it may make sense for a company that is already working in refurbishment, to actually start developing activities to the 'left' of the spectrum - in maintenance - rather than looking to moving 'right,' to recondition or remanufacturing for example. A Remanufacturer, in many cases, has the ability to choose the most appropriate process they want to follow for each end-of-cycle product that enters their facility, whereas, a Refurbisher does not often have this same luxury. And so, a remanufacturer can also add more activities to the left - and they often do so naturally, as reconditioning frequently makes a lot of sense for many of the recaptured products.

…don’t repair what is not broken, don’t remanufacture what can be repaired, don’t recycle what can be remanufactured. [1]

Choosing the right intervention from the spectrum of options (reverse-engineering process and/or Inventory/Cannibalisation) for the specific end-of-cycle product, is key to economic success. But what is the right intervention? Is it the most cost efficient, or the best for the environment? Can it be both? To make it both, each and every product/component/material that enters into the revalue process needs to be screened with a efficient and effective process, that is able to identify the right course of action for revaluing each good. As Stahel highlights, 'don't repair what is not broken,' underlines the critical point that it may seem more efficient to develop bulk processes for all situations, but this may cause a lot of waste (materials and time), and so, effective systems need to be in place, whereby companies can be flexible, product-by-product, so that the right solution is made for the right problem each time; whilst connecting this to tight feed-loops that assess the screening criteria and the results of the interventions that were made.


[1] Stahel, Walter R. (28 January 2013) 'Policy for material efficiency - sustainable taxation as a departure from the throwaway society.' Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, The Royal Society Publishing. (Accessed on February 2016)

Light: Life’s window to the world

Electromagnetic Energy is not only the primary source (or secondary source after gravity…) of energy on Earth, ‘light,’ the smaller fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum, is also an important source of information for many forms of organisms. The different properties of light, such as intensity, duration, polarisation, and spectral composition, can all be used as sources of information.

In all, light sensing is connected to movement in some way so that, once signalled, the creature can respond. [1]

Life on Earth has developed three principle forms of light detectors, known as photoreceptors: flavin-based blue-light photoreceptors (i.e., cryptochromes), retinal-based green-light (such as rhodospin), and linear tetrapyrrole-based red-light sensors (i.e., phytochromes in green plants).


In animals the detection of light leads to vision. In its simplest form, light-detecting cells in worms for instance, are scattered across the skin (although concentrated near the head), helping them detect warmth and sunlight, as too much of both will dry them out, and UV light which kills the delicate nerve-endings, causes paralysis.

The honeybee: like us, is trichromatic - it has three different photoreceptors in the eye, that builds up its' view of the world. Bees however, do not have red, blue, and green receptors (like us), instead they have ultraviolet, blue and green (they can’t see red) receptors. This ultraviolet vision allows them to see the “bulls-eye” markings, that many plants (i.e., primroses and pansies) have on their flowers, guiding bees like runway lights to the nectar. Bees, as well as two fixed compound eyes on either side of the head, have three smaller eyes, called ocelli on the top of the head. Ocelli sense light intensity, but not images; and are believed by scientists to be involved in navigation - and the fact there are three, they may even provide a triangulation function.

Other more complex visual systems, such as compound eyes can be found in insects and crustaceans for example, that consist of several thousand light detectors called ommatidia. These are particularly good at sensing movement, and a broad range of colours (i.e., the Mantis Shrimp, which possesses ‘hyperspectral’ colour vision).

Single-lens eyes, such as our own, have also evolved into various forms in fish, birds, mammals, and spiders for instance. Some snakes (such as pit vipers) also have the ability to sense infrared thermal radiation (IR) between 5 and 30 μm, through sensors located in their noses - ‘smelling’ heat - giving them the ability to not only locate prey, but also vulnerable body parts in the dark. However. this is not strictly a photoreceptor, it is more a temperature sensor.


Plants, as well as being able to use light as an energy source, are also able to detect light (due to light’s importance for energy), which can result in changes in growth and morphology (form) - known as photomorphogenesis. Some plant seeds, such as many lettuce varieties, need light to germinate (positive photoblastic), or when detecting a lack of light will continue to lay dormant. Photoperiodism is a physical response, such as flowering, which is made by red-light detection during a 24 hour period. In this case, plants only start to produce flowers when they detect a critical night-length, which signals the appropriate time of the year to bloom.

Phototropism is a physical response, where blue-light detectors, help direct the plant to grow shoots towards the sun; much like heliotropism, which describes the ability of some plants (such as sunflowers) to track (and turn with) the Sun’s motion on a daily basis - and some other plants ability to raise and lower their leaves on a daily basis (i.e., leaf heliotropism of many legumes). Light detectors in plants can also determine the quality of the light - helping plants to avoid growing or even germinating (like oaks) in the shade. Finally, chloroplasts - the organelles, mostly located within plant leaf cells, where photosynthesis takes place - are also able to move towards or away from light within the cell - again optimising the amount of light that the plant can catch. [2]


Most fungi, are able to sense and react to light, as many have all three of the major classes of photoreceptors (exceptions may include some forms of yeast - single cell fungi, for instance). Some fungi, such as Cyathus stercoreus require light to initiate fruiting body development. Other fungi, such as sporangiosphores, grow towards the light (not bend towards light like plants) - phototropism, and the fruiting body of basidiomycetes depends on light at different development stages - and in:

…ascomycetes, light also has a strong impact in morphological and physiological processes, including the regulation of conidial germination, hyphal branching, sexual and asexual development, and secondary metabolism. [3]


Photosynthetic bacteria, such as Cyanobacteria (among the world’s most important oxygen producers) are able to detect different wavelengths, as they migrate up and down water columns in the worlds oceans - at the water surface light still has a wide spectrum, but at depth, blue light dominates.

Image Source

Cyanobacteria, and two slightly larger organisms, protists, Erythrodinium, and Neodinium, are able to use their entire bodies, as a microscopic light-sensitive focusing lens device (much like a camera lens), a kind of single-cell eye. Using the information to move towards or away from light (phototaxis), through patches of motor proteins, forming…

…on the side of the cell facing the light source. Pili [hair like appendages on the surface of many bacteria] are extended and retracted at this side of the cell, which therefore moves towards the light. [4]

Light as Communication

Many different species within all the kingdoms of life, are able to manipulate light as a form of communication. Some plants, for instance, have the ability to create a 'bluehalo' of light (known as structural colours) around their flowers to attract pollinating bees [5]; or, have the ability to use specific pigments (pigments absorb and/or reflect light in certain wave-lengths), such as those that reflect UV, which are visible to insects (but not to us), and act as landing lights, guiding the insects towards the flowers nectar (and therefore, pollen). Bioluminescence, is the production of light through a chemical reaction, in an organisms body [6]. Fireflies, and many marine animals, from algae to jellyfish and crustaceans (and symbiotic bacteria living in some of these organisms), are able to control the chemical reaction, which is used for attracting mates, feeding and protection.

Humanity also uses light for communication. Beacons of fire (sometimes positioned in a network), have been used in different parts of the world for centuries, as a form of communication across distances upto 100 km. In the 3rd century BC, ancient greeks were transmitting and receiving different messages by varying the combination and position of lit touches [7]. This form of communication evolved to the more modern, Morse code, invented by Samuel Morse in 1832 (which can also be transmitted via radio waves and electrical pulses), which is able to transmit the entire alphabet and numbers 0 to 9 by varying the duration of the transmission: generating a series of dots and dashes (a dash lasts three times longer than a dot).

Modern technology also include the transmission of data via optical fibres, and the use of laser beams to read information from pitted patterns in a spiral track on CD's.

A more recent technology invention, known as Li-Fi, uses LED lights, much like Morse code, to transmit data (and position) through very high flickering rates (invisible by the human eye), which are able transmit the equivalent to the '0''s and '1's of digital code.[8]


[1] Margulis, Lynn., and Sagan, Dorion. (1995) ‘What is Life?’ University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California.

[2] Suetsugu N, Higa T, Gotoh E, Wada M (June 16, 2016) 'Light-Induced Movements of Chloroplasts and Nuclei Are Regulated in Both Cp-Actin-Filament-Dependent and -Independent Manners in Arabidopsis thaliana' PLOS ONE 11(6): e0157429.

[3] Fischer, Reinhard et al. (2016) ’The Complexity of Fungal Vision.’ Microbiology Spectrum, American Society for Microbiology Press.

[4] Schuergers, Nils et al. (Feb 9, 2016) ’Cyanobacteria use micro-optics to sense light direction.’ eLife 2016;5:e12620 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.12620

[5] Physics World, Biophysics (retrieved April 2018) 'A flower's nano-powers.' 

[6] Smithsonian, Ocean - Find your Blue. Fish. (retrieved April 2018) 'Bioluminescence.'

[7] Kotsanas Museum of Ancient Greek Technology (retrieved October 3rd 2017)

[8] Wikipedia, (retrieved April 2018) 'Li-Fi'

A double planet, tides, and the importance of edges

A Double Planet

It is hypothesised that the moon developed out of a interplanetary collision between the young Earth (over 4,000 million years ago) and a huge asteroid, potentially the size of Mars. Vast amounts of matter and energy were released, which later gathered together through gravitational forces to form the moon [1].

Scientific simulations suggest that at the time of its formation, the Moon was much closer than it is today (only around 22,000km away). And the Moon continues to enlarge its' orbit away from the Earth at a rate of 3.78cm per year. In the very early years, the Moon stopped to rotate around it's axis, due to the interactions between the tides of the Earth and Moon, and the transfer of energy via friction (known as tidal locking). This interaction also slows the rotation of the Earth, and also means that we always see the same side of the Moon.

The Moon is now orbiting at an average distance of 384,000 km. It is an unusually large satellite (Earth to Moon ratio 81:1), orbiting unusually close to Earth (their barycentre is 1750km below the Earth’s surface), and is close to Earth’s ecliptic plane. Predominately for these reasons, some astronomers state that it is in fact a Earth-Moon system - a double planet.


The gravitational attraction between the Moon and the Earth is the major cause of Tides. The Sun, although has a lesser influence, causes one much smaller tidal cycle per day, and when the three planetary bodies line-up, known as spring tide - when the Earth is influenced by both the Sun and Moon gravitational pull - tides are about 20% greater than average. When the Moon is perpendicular to the Sun, the high tides are at their lowest, known as neap tides. As a note 'spring tide' has noting to do with the season - instead it comes from the concept of "springing forth" - and occurs twice a month (as do neap tides), irrespective of the season.

During the Moon’s elliptical orbit of Earth (approximately every 27.3 days), it’s gravity pulls strongest at the side of the rotating Earth surface closest to it. This creates a rising "bulge" as the rock moves slightly (only a few centimetres), and the oceans move even more (as they are fluid) towards the moon (a few metres), creating a high tide. Whilst on the opposite side of Earth - the far side, the gravitational attraction (acceleration) is less as it is further away; and so here, inertia (the tendency to move in a straight line) is greater than the gravitational force, meaning that the ocean tries to keep going in a straight line, creating a bulge (and a high tide) in the opposite direction. Two low tides are consequently occurring at right-angles to the moon, at the mid-point between the high tides. As Earth rotates around its' axis, it rotates through these bulges, which causes two lunar tides per day (in fact, tides are closer to 12.5 hours apart, as the Earth rotates around its' axis, the moon is also rotating around the Earth).

Tidal Power

Tidal power continues to be of interest, and reality, for the generation of renewable energy. Although, not without its' complications, the main appeal is its constancy, which means that no storage is required - and its invisibility (under water)...  Various technologies are being used and developed, however most principally drive turbines, transforming the kinetic energy in the rising or falling, or back and forth of tidal cycles. One example is the Annapolis Royal Generating Station in Nova Scotia, which has the highest tides in the world (greater than 15 meters), due to the magnifying effect of its funnel shaped bay.

Rich ecosystems on the edges

Tides also help stir up chemicals, spread nutrients, and contribute to ocean currents, which help moderate global temperatures by transporting heat away from the equator towards the poles. And it is also believed that tides helped provide the necessary ecological testing ground between sea and land, for early species evolving out of the sea.

Seaweeds, many micro algaes, crabs, shrimps, mussels and sea snails, for instance, all live in these intertidal ecology zones. These abundant 'edges,' are where forms of life have co-evolved to take advantage of the challenges in changes in depth, such as desiccation (drying out) and submersion. The ability for species to be able to cope with desiccation, also helps to form distinct vertical zones of specific species. Many of the life in these areas have formed biological rhythms in tune with the tidal cycles, such as gestation and egg hatching; and such links to womens' menstrual cycles (about one lunar month) may hint at our common decent from marine ancestors.


 [1] Harding, Stephan (2009 Second Edition) ‘Animate Earth: Science, Intuition, Gaia.’ Green Books, Cambridge, U.K.

Figure 1: The interactive image above shows a idealised view of the tides, designed to illustrate the main concept. However, the Sun and Moon gravitational effects, also interact with other influences, such as the non-circular orbit of the Moon - when closer together (perigee) stronger than average tides, or when further away (apogee) - which also effects its attitude in the sky, the varying landscape of the Earth's surface under the oceans (known as bathymetry); and the varying shapes of the coastlines. And so, some coastal areas experience semi-diurnal tides (two nearly equally high and low tides per fay), diurnal tides (one high and low tide per day), or mixed tides (two uneven tides per day - one high and one low). However, tide measurements can be taken at specific locations, and can be highly accurate and predictable - even although they may differ between locations.