Circularity trends in the Dutch manufacturing industry

July 05, 2021

The Netherlands have taken the lead in formulating ambitious circularity goals for 5 priority areas. One of these areas is the manufacturing industry. With over 40,000 manufacturing companies active in the Netherlands – most of them SME’s – this sector takes a pivotal role. New smart technologies and the capability to innovate together in supply chains, offer opportunities to combine circularity with economic success.

Diana de Graaf works for Holland Circular Hotspot as well as for the Dutch Circular Manufacturing Implementation Programme, and is co-author and editor of the Brochure on circular manufacturing that was launched last April. In this article Diana reflects on the circularity trends she sees appearing in the Dutch manufacturing industry.

Disclaimer: Holland Circular Hotspot publishes opinions on CE from a wide range of perspectives in hopes of promoting constructive debate about consequential questions about Circular Economy.


How did it start?

Already in 2015 sector organisations FME and Metaalunie started a program on circularity for the metal industry. In 2017 this was incorporated into the broader national programme for the whole manufacturing industry involving the ministry of Economic Affairs & Climate and many other partners.

So, what do we mean with circular manufacturing? It is manufacturing in which designs are aimed at an optimal lifespan with the end of life in mind. That means that products can be adapted and used again a high-quality manner and additional services enable longer lifetimes. If there is no other option, materials can be recovered and recycled.

How are companies in the Netherlands working with these strategies? In this article I will go into the trends we see, of course with the note that a circular approach is still not mainstream.

"Circular manufacturing is about designs aimed at an optimal lifespan with the end of life in mind. That means that products can be adapted and used again a high-quality manner and additional services enable longer lifetimes"

Diana de Graaf

Good design enables circular design

First we see that design driven companies – like Bugaboo and Ahrend  – have implemented circular strategies in their design approach, enabling easy repair and multifunctional use.

Bugaboo International is a Dutch design company that develops and produces strollers and supportive products. Everything about Bugaboo strollers is replaceable so they last as long as possible and can be adapted to the user’s taste.

Ahrend is an international leader in office furniture. The modular design allows components to be removed or replaced, which facilitates reuse and saves natural resources. They also offer refurbishment, remanufacture, or repurpose services.

Telecommunication company KPN works together with their suppliers on redesign of modems, servers and hardware that use less critical materials and can be easily recycled. Startups like Fairphone have the ability to design products from zero, with  responsible and ethical materials.

Ahrend, circular office furniture

Re-manufacturing pays off

Another trend we see is re-manufacturing. Manufacturers, especially in capital equipment, refurbish devices to create a new use cycle and maximize life-time value.

Philips is committed to offering a trade-in on all medical equipment by 2025. Philips has two remanufacturing plants for medical devices. They refurbish devices or reuse parts to create a new use cycle and maximize life-time value.

Lely involved their worldwide franchise network to create certified refurbishment business for their milking robots. Currently about 10% of the robots sold is pre-owned and this percentage is expected to grow to 30%. Remanufacturing extends the lifetime with an additional 5-7 years.


Remanufacturing also offers opportunities for companies up or down the supply chain. Gearbox manufacturer SEW Eurodrive has turned their inefficient repair department into a successful refurbishment service. Repair company Revamo offers their specialist coating to refurbish or upgrade products. They also offer coatings to increase lifetime of new products.

Specialist remanufacturing companies enter the market. In 2020 Alec opened a new plant in Germany to perform high-quality remanufacturing of electronic components, close to the automotive industry.

Problems with delivery of materials and components due to COVID-19 and consequent higher prizes have raised interest for upgrades and refurbishment of machinery and other equipment.

Philips remanufacturing

Circularity influences business models (and vice versa)

In a circular economy, a shift from “ownership” to “use” can be attractive: a model in which the user no longer buys the product but pays for the solution. Servitisation stimulates companies to optimize maintenance and prolong product lifetime. Smart monitoring and redesign can help to reduce operational costs.

Swapfiets offers a subscription model for city bikes in 9 European countries. For a fixed price per month, you get a Swapfiets bicycle with the guarantee your bicycle always works. Swapfiets created bike passports to monitor every piece of material in the supply, from chain to saddle. This data was used in the redesign of their bikes enabling longer lifespans and less repair.

Mitsubishi Elevator Europe offers the use of elevators instead of ownership with M-Use®. The customer closes a contract based on the expected performance. Sensors enable remote monitoring and simplify maintenance and repair. For the elevators of Mitsubishi this resulted in extremely low operating costs.

Swapfiets, Circular cycling

Smart technology supports circularity

Finally, we see a strong synergy between circular economy and smart industry. Smart Technology like 3d printing enables efficient production and reduces stock. Analysis by TNO showed that 3D metal printing can save up to 70% in CO2 impact.

During use sensors enable remote monitoring and simplify maintenance and repair as we saw with Mitsubishi. Aebi Schmidt develops and produces machines and vehicles for de-icing, street cleaning and garden cultivation. Data controllers collect performance and technical data of the machines’ performances during their lifetime. The data is analysed – in many cases – together with the customer. This can result in the decision to buy less machines or to upgrade machines instead of buying new ones.

To conclude

It is clear that inspiring circular trends are appearing in the manufacturing sector, finding ways to incorporate circularity in the company culture or to combine it with new attractive strategies. The Dutch Circular Manufacturing Implementation Programme is making an effort to locate these opportunities and quantifying the benefits to stimulate more companies to make the step to a circular transition. Much work still needs to be done!

Do you want to more about what’s happening in the Netherlands? Check out the publication Manufacturing: the future is circular. Besides more showcases, you will find figures on the impact and challenges of the manufacturing industry, circular strategies, high potential sectors for circular innovation and next actions for transition.