Product Resynthesis: An Optimal End-of-life Strategy for Closed-loop Supply Chains

Open Access
Sane, Chinmay Girish
Graduate Program:
Industrial Engineering
Master of Science
Document Type:
Master Thesis
Date of Defense:
Committee Members:
  • Conrad S Tucker, Thesis Advisor
  • Sustainability
  • closed-loop supply chains
  • Remanufacturing
  • recycling
  • end-of-life decision making
Electronic waste (e-waste) is one of the largest waste streams in the world because it is environmentally hazardous, chemically complex and economically expensive to treat. There is a general lack of governmental legislation or enforcement surrounding e-waste since it is difficult to hold a single entity accountable. A contributing factor in e-waste generation can be attributed to the shorter lifespans of products today and the lack of sustainable/economically viable End of Life (EOL) strategies. The average lifespan of computers in developed countries has dropped from six years in 1997 to just two in 2005, while mobile phones have a lifecycle of less than 2 years. Environmental protection legislation, consumer interest in “green” products and a trend toward corporate responsibility has resulted in increased interest in product take-back. However, this also means that companies engaging in product take-back are doing so, with the objective of brand enhancement and are not primarily driven by profit. The trend of increasing waste and comparatively low growth of waste treatment methodologies has created the need for better utilization of the products we deem unfit for use. While traditional forward logistics focuses on the flow of products from factory to consumer, reverse logistics refers to the processes associated with returning products, components, and materials from the final consumer. A closed-loop supply chain is a combination of forward and revers logistics. Within a closed-loop supply chain network, the options currently available for utilizing these returned EOL products are restricted to reusing, recycling, remanufacturing and permanent disposal. Through recycling, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) are establishing closed-loop supply chains from which they can obtain raw material for production, delivering payback through environmental benefits and reduced supply chain carbon footprint. At the same time, a refurbished product strategy helps retailers introduce refurbished variants of products to the market which can provide additional economic benefits and extenuate environmental impact challenges. However, refurbishing is limited to an existing product market, possibly a subset of the existing market, and thus fails to commercialize/target new markets. Refurbishing also does not involve OEMs since the returned products are refurbished by third party firms and sold/distributed by retailers. Also, recycling has proven to be an economically and environmentally inferior strategy compared to the other EOL options. The current closed-loop supply chain networks, thus, do not give OEMs the opportunity to improve their profit margins and gain economic benefits through reverse logistics. In this thesis, a new EOL option called “resynthesis” is introduced that utilizes existing waste from EOL products in a novel way through the synthesis of products/components across multiple domains (i.e. consumer electronics, health care, automotive, etc.). A product resynthesis driven closed-loop supply chain methodology is proposed that leads to higher economic benefits and allows OEMs to participate directly in closed-loop supply chains and thus enhance their profit margins. A case study involving the resynthesis of two products; a computer mouse, belonging to the domain of computer accessories, and a white-board eraser, belonging to the domain of office supplies, is presented. These two products are resynthesized to create an ergonomically shaped eraser that would be incorporated into a closed-loop supply chain.