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Recovery of end-of-life (EOL) products includes a consumer's decision to return an EOL product, how the EOL product is treated once it has been returned, the logistics of collecting EOL products, and even public policy that encourages/discourages return. Additionally, this field is also expanding to include "servicizing" where it is prophesized that in the future people will not own products but will lease everything to allow from more EOL control by producers. It is our belief that this may never be the case (or at least will not be for a long time) because of the sense of ownership that people enjoy, and may be ideal for only certain products. 

Research in this area firstly focuses on the processing that EOL products must go through in order to be recycled, reused, remanufactured, or disposed of. Disassembly is highlighted as a key step in product recovery because it is a necessary step for all EOL products. Part types and materials of a returned must be separated and cleaned prior to any processing. Within this area we are concentrating on developing optimization heuristics that can determine the optimal path and level of disassembly. It may be valuable to only remanufacture certain parts of a product while the remaining can be recycled or disposed. In this situation it is not required to disassembly the entire product, but critical parts can be extracted by only disassembling a percentage of the product. Why would this be important? In industries where large volume of products this could be a huge cost saver, particularly if future policy requires producer’s to be responsible for the EOL of products they produce. Another question is immediately relevant to this situation; what treatment should a part/product receive? This is an interesting question that impacts every aspect of EOL recovery research but is yet unanswerable. Attempts have been made to incorporate this into disassembly optimization methods but we believe these attempts have yet to be effective. Why such difficulty? One reason is due to the question’s direct relationship with the economics of EOL recovery. This relationship is key to EOL recovery research, has been identified as critical in research circles. For all the arguments to companies to be sustainable and environmentally conscious the one that trumps all arguments is profitability. If EOL recovery can be profitable then it will be performed by companies and the environmental benefits can be realized on a large scale. In our research, we try to work towards sustainability but by a means that is beneficial to industry, not an added burden.

We recently expanded to include modeling of EOL product returns and trying to decipher a consumer’s decision to return a product. It is critical to understand the consumer’s behavior because they control the supply of EOL product, until service systems become widespread. Understanding a consumer’s decision can provide insights into the quality, quantity, and potential profit of reprocessing EOL products. The eventual goal of this work is to analyze and collect the necessary data that will allow recovery enterprises or producer control the timing and quantity of EOL products returned. Instilling control in this cycle will not only encourage sustainability through smarter product recovery/disposal but also increase the profitability of EOL recovery. Ideally, profitability would increase to the point where industries voluntarily institute return policies and industries rather than being required to by government policies. The companion part of this research is to model EOL product return. Currently, a system dynamics perspective is being considered rather than a simulation approach. Modeling EOL product systems will eventually be used to help develop and verify control strategies developed through studying consumer return decisions. Each of these efforts are attempts to aide in creating a system where EOL product’s are residual value is completely exhausted, they are not disposed of, and they are used as the raw material in new products. The ultimate goal is to create a cyclical manufacturing system that is sustainable but also profitable.