New performance-testing evidence - comparing new laptop models with remanufactured machines - has demonstrated how large employers are over-investing in new IT estate.


Work by researcher Mauricio Alva Howes at Cranfield University raises questions over the traditional hardware replacement cycle and highlights the potential for organisations to both save significant costs and demonstrate corporate social responsibility by looking at refurbished IT.


In his study, Circular Computing performance comparison for office tasks: New vs. remanufactured, Alva Howes carried out a range of benchmarking tests comparing the performance of re-manufactured HP, Lenovo and Dell laptops - machines which have been cleaned and refurbished - against that of new models from the same brands. 


Tests on the most typical uses of PCs in a work setting - office systems like email, word processing and the use of spreadsheets, databases and video conferencing via PC Mark 8 and the Office Productivity Benchmark - showed overall that the remanufactured computers performed at between 93 and 97% of the level set by the new computer. 


The most significant difference found was in battery life, where new machines provided an average of 64% more time than circular computing models.


“We have reached a stage where the improvements in functionality and performance are shrinking - our PCs do everything we need, as quickly as they need to. So the criteria for keeping PCs for longer is also shrinking - they just need to work,” argues Alva Howes.


The remanufactured laptops used in the research came from A2C Services, an established IT re-use and recycling business aiming to provide a ‘circular economy’ option to large employers. The business takes used and excess IT equipment, remanufacturing machines every three years - and making them available for re-use up to four times before they are broken for parts or recycled. As part of the model, A2C makes a donation to environmental charities addressing the impacts of the IT manufacturing industry. 


Professor Mark Jolly, Head of Sustainable Manufacturing at the University, emphasises the environmental impact of IT manufacture, “IT buyers need to overcome their sense of embarrassment of using what’s perceived as being outdated IT. Because the average PC is a lavish piece of work: copper from Chile, gold from Mali, iron ore from Brazil, nickel from the Congo, bauxite from Peru, many components depend on rare earth or platinum group metals highlighted as under threat in the EU’s Critical Raw Materials listing.


“It’s not only an issue of using up limited resources. There are costs which are never reflected in the relatively low, market-driven prices offered to wealthy consumers. Mining operations damage land, use up huge amounts of energy and lead to pollution in soil and water systems. Reportedly, harsh working conditions are typical and include the use of child labour” adds Jolly.


Professor Jolly is calling for more large employers in the public and private sectors to act as role models for re-use, making the sustainable approach to corporate IT the norm.


“Tightening regulations on e-waste have led to systems for recycling in the developed world. Only some parts of old machines are properly recycled when large organisations update their hardware. However, much IT hardware is sent to developing countries, where there is only haphazard waste management meaning that materials are still, in the end, simply dumped. We’re caught in a whirlpool of IT updates, and a system which is continually working against a sensible level of sustainability.”

About Cranfield University

Cranfield University is a specialist postgraduate university that is a global leader for education and transformational research in technology and management.

Manufacturing at Cranfield

We provide world-class and niche research, education, training and consultancy in manufacturing and play a key role in ensuring that the UK remains at the cutting edge of manufacturing research.

We are unique in our multi-disciplinary approach by bringing together design, technology and management insight. We are a driving force for both the rapid growth of established areas of manufacturing expertise and the development of new research areas.

Research partnerships are undertaken with more than 500 organisations of all sizes and disciplines and industry advisory panels ensure our graduates move seamlessly from the academic world into the world of work and provide skills the sector needs.

Our world-class facilities include the Ultra Precision Machining Laboratory, which houses a range of ultra-precision diamond turning machines and is the UK's national facility for large x-ray optics manufacture.