Machine Compare Marketplace: A circular economy for industrial machinery

10 Oct 2022

Ben Findlay, CEO and co-founder, Machine Compare Marketplace. Image: Sam Ryley

This green-tech start-up from Manchester is rounding up the world’s spare parts to cut costs, manufacturing and unnecessary emissions.

Ben Findlay spent 20 years in the industrial machinery trade, which regularly involved dismantling and packing up large machines up to three storeys tall, either for sale or decommissioning.

“I took notice of the vast number of surplus parts that manufacturers stored – many of which were simply there ‘just in case’ a machine broke down,” he said.

These “mountains of surplus spares”, Findlay said, were often “destined to sit on the shelf for a long time before eventually being sent to landfill”.

“Several years ago, no one would have cared. Now, with a global focus on sustainability, combined with many ongoing supply chain disruptions, we are in a position to be able to tackle this issue in an ever-accelerating way,” he said.

‘Buyers of another company’s spare parts need a lot of data to be confident in their purchase’

And that’s exactly what he’s doing with Machine Compare Marketplace, an e-commerce platform where industrial manufacturers can trade new, refurbished and surplus electrical and mechanical parts.

The key challenge to overcome in establishing a marketplace such as this is quality assurance. “Buyers of another company’s spare parts need a lot of data to be confident in their purchase, but sellers don’t always have it,” said Findlay. “So we built a system currently called Data Warehouse to harmonise, clean and enrich uploaded spare parts data to facilitate trading.

“This system can enrich data on thousands of spare parts in seconds. Better still, since it was built with machine learning at its core, it gets better and faster every time we onboard a new partner.”

Having identified €100m worth of surplus parts in just one company’s inventory, Findlay was confident of the business’s potential. But he would have to convince the market, educating potential customers on the concept of ‘green spares’.

“Often, customers perceive surplus spares as used or second-hand, when in reality they are like new, still in their original packaging. So, we are educating the market that green spares are not pre-used items, and that they offer a cost-effective solution to offset CO2 emissions while disposing of surplus stock,” he explained.

It’s a cost and carbon-saving measure because Machine Compare Marketplace offers a minimum 25pc discount compared to buying brand new, and it cuts back on the unnecessary manufacturing of parts that already exist.

“This rewards buyers for doing the right thing for the planet while earning income for sellers,” Findlay added.

“Once ordered, our selling partners dispatch products directly to buyers, giving us an international presence while avoiding emissions from additional transport. Buyers are aware of where the part will be coming from and can choose to buy from closer to them if that is an option for the part they need – reducing delivery times and travel emissions.”

The Data Warehouse facility also enables Machine Compare Marketplace partners to better track their own inventory of parts across multiple sites. “They can use this insight to search their internal inventory to locate a spare that could be used in another machine. This further reduces waste and helps overcome current supply chain issues,” said Findlay.

“Moreover, the current surplus parts model makes excessive use of warehouse space and landfill. Both require land, maintenance and energy. We are reducing this by enabling manufacturers to trade spares rather than create new ones, freeing up valuable shelf space, land, valuable raw materials, and cutting emissions.”

A carbon-cutting circular economy is what Machine Compare Marketplace is all about, and the start-up is hoping to literally put its own stamp on the industry.

“We are currently working on bringing greater visibility to these parts by introducing the Green Parts Promise,” Findlay revealed. “Similar to the Fairtrade mark, this symbol will be placed on the parts that are green, making it easier for buyers to make informed and sustainable choices where possible.”

‘We are a living example of the fact that green products or services don’t have to be more expensive’

CEO Findlay co-founded Machine Compare Marketplace with his brother, Eric, who had a background in e-commerce.

“Together with Eric’s tech experience from developing an online marketplace, we saw an opportunity to address this waste while creating financial value for buyers and sellers alike,” he said.

“Tragically, Eric fell ill and passed away while we were developing the company, prompting me to pledge to our kids that I would continue our mission to make a positive change in the world and continue our work.”

Up and running since 2021, Machine Compare Marketplace already has investors and 2.5m items listed on the site. That stock would weigh the equivalent of 30 space shuttles, and is worth more than £30m. And Findlay expects to see that figure quadruple this year. “That’s a mountain of embedded carbon that can find a new home and avoid landfill.”

Headquartered in Salford, a borough of Greater Manchester, Findlay noted the need to look abroad for interested investors. “In the UK, it is especially difficult to secure funding, so many green-tech companies seek investment from international investors,” he said.

“There needs to be more investment in the sector and greater access to financial opportunities,” he continued. “Without the necessary funding, support and backing, start-ups are treated with caution. On the other hand, large established companies are not experiencing this. There are so many people with great ideas who are committed to making a positive impact through their start-ups and, in this day and age, we can’t afford to shut out this group of people.”

Green-tech innovations from established companies benefit from the resources and R&D investment big business can afford. Findlay believes this is why there are so few green-tech start-ups.

“[It’s] very hard to establish yourself as a start-up within the industrial manufacturing sector. The barriers to entry are simply too big to navigate without specialist industry knowledge,” he said.

However, it’s Machine Compare Marketplace’s environmentally conscious approach that Findlay sees as a green light on the road ahead.

“The environmental benefits of Machine Compare Marketplace are at the core of its success. We are a living example of the fact that green products or services don’t have to be more expensive than the alternative. By pioneering the circularity of surplus parts and machinery, we enable our partners to make profit while also benefitting the planet. It’s a win-win.”

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.