ZF Bielefeld: Turning old into new

Fossil resources are becoming increasingly scarce and expensive – at the same time, millions of tonnes of rare raw materials end up on the rubbish dump every year. The Bielefeld plant of ZF Friedrichshafen AG, which is one of the largest automotive suppliers in the world, aims to tackle this problem. Since 1963, the plant has been focusing on industrial remanufacturing: used parts from a wide range of product groups are reconditioned here and then returned to the market as spare parts that are equivalent to new. In this way, the team at the Bielefeld facility not only saves valuable raw materials, but also energy – and what is more, they have set their own climate protection targets for the company. 

Ranging from clutches and gear boxes right up to steering components – 50 tonnes of used parts are delivered to the Bielefeld plant every day to go through the reconditioning process. The parts are inspected by experts, cleaned, parts liable to wear are replaced and missing or defective individual components are replaced with spare parts of the same quality as the originals. Through its remanufacturing process, ZF in Bielefeld saves about 50 to 90 per cent of the material and around 90 per cent of the energy used, compared to a newly manufactured product.

Climate protection objective:


  • Cradle to cradle certification of other remanufactured products 
  • Reduction of overall energy consumption at the ZF plant in Bielefeld 

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Photo: ZF Friedrichshafen AG

Aerial photograph of the ZF plant in Bielefeld.

Cradle to cradle – demonstrably closing the materials cycle 

Around 90 per cent of all the used parts that are delivered make it through the reconditioning process and are finally returned to the market with a new guarantee. The other ten per cent are individual components that cannot be reused. These are melted back down into liquid steel and enter the production cycle once again. The company benefits from a good recovery rate in the reconditioning process. In order to reduce the carbon footprint of the reconditioning process, ZF in Bielefeld uses green electricity. In addition, 50 per cent of the emissions that cannot be avoided are offset, which means that the remanufactured products comply with the “cradle to cradle” principle. This concept of sustainability is based on the vision of a waste-free world, in which products are designed in such a way that all the materials used can be recycled as completely as possible at the end of their life cycle and the raw materials are kept in a closed loop. The independent Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute in California has already awarded its certification to ZF in Bielefeld for several product groups. Amongst other things, the company is the first in the world in its sector to receive certification under the strict requirements of Cradle to Cradle® standards for a reconditioned clutch for a utility vehicle. 

Climate protection as an ongoing task 

Furthermore, ZF has also firmly enshrined its commitment to sustainable corporate management and comprehensive environmental protection in its own operative guidelines. It aims to further reduce energy and resource consumption in the plant. On the one hand, technical measures are aimed at ensuring this, for example, substituting a heated washing installation, replacing the lighting or using energy-efficient compressors. On the other hand employees are being involved in projects in a concrete way. The Bielefeld plant has aligned its environmental management with the requirements of the ZF corporate environmental management system and has ISO 14001 accreditation under the ZF corporate group certificate. In addition, an energy management system is used that is certified under ISO 50001. The emissions and overall energy consumption of the plant should therefore continue to be gradually reduced and further certification under Cradle to Cradle should be possible.

Project video ZF Bielefeld

Video: ZF Group

Photo: ZF Friedrichshafen AG

“ZF pursues a vision of zero carbon emissions, a world without accidents and emissions. We want to contribute to this, not just with our products, but also through environmentally friendly production processes.” 
Jörg Witthöft, Site Manager at ZF Bielefeld

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