on August 27th, 2021

Paper. Something that has been around for thousands of years is getting reverse engineering treatment to help save the planet.

At the helm of the operation is trained electrical engineer Mahbub Sumon from Narayanganj, Bangladesh. 

In 2018, he and three friends founded Shalbrikhkho and started their first project to create eco-friendly paper that gives back to the earth. 

They dubbed their creation, Bonkagoj, a bio-friendly product with embedded seeds that will sprout when the paper is discarded or ends up in a landfill.

Sumon is marketing the project and Bonkagoj through Facebook from his home in Narayanganj where Bonkagoj is small-batch produced – but with far-reaching clientele.

The production method of the paper is reverse engineering at its finest – dismantling the entire production process of something, then figure out how to make it better and align it with the needs of 2021.

The paper is made from the mush of paper waste which is reset before being sold containing 11 or 16 different kinds of seed embedded in the fibrous sheets. 

The seeds in question are either vegetables or flowering plants.

Credit: Business Bangladesh

Sumon’s initial thought was ways to combat deforestation, but what the paper also does when it is allowed to sprout with region-specific fauna is to stimulate the soil where it is discarded by reinvigorating the biodome.

Speaking to a Bangladesh newspaper, The Daily Star, Sumon said he initially experimented with permaculture, and the idea was that if a paper is made from trees, why can’t discarded paper simply become trees again.

Inspired by this reverse engineering that offers eco-friendly results, Sumon is also working on plastic bags made from potato skins that offer the same use as plastic bags – but are biodegradable. 

These sort of projects not only help the environment but also shows how reverse engineering is helpful within the engineering field. Engineers sometimes don’t need to look for new solutions, they sometimes have to improve the solutions that already exist.

Credit: Boris Frolov

What is reverse engineering exactly?

As a group of engineering students from the United Arab Emirates University describes it, reverse engineering is to collect a whole engineering design of a physical part or item and then recreate it with improvements.

The process allows engineers to firstly fix broken parts of a mechanical or electrical system by knowing exactly where each piece fits in a system and how it is used. 

For the modern engineer, reverse engineering would include the process of obtaining a geometric CAD model of measurements when scanning a physical object or model, according to Ramandeep Singh, a mechanical engineering professor at CT Institute of Engineering Management and Technology Jalandhar in Punjab, India.

In his paper, A Case Study of Improving the Rockshaft of Tractor using Reverse Engineering, Ramandeep believes reverse engineering is the process of discovering the various principles of a device or object and even a system by going through every aspect of it.

From analyzing its structure to function, the reverse engineering process is only complete when there’s an ability to reconstruct the object.  

In another paper, A Review of Reverse Engineering Theories and Tools, Singh explores the theory further by highlighting that forward engineering is important, but reverse engineering is equally beneficial because many developed systems exist that will have errors or have room for improvement.

He goes on to conclude that the adoption of reverse engineering technology has been slow, but that it is needed because it ties in with forward engineering – since it allows engineers to look back on anything, including data engineering, to find better solutions for the future.

Wake up and smell the coffee, or rather VDI 2221 Method

A cup of morning brew might seem straightforward, but a group of engineering students from Jakarta examined how reverse engineering made an expresso machine better. 

Their paper published in 2021, Improving the Capacity of Espresso Machine Using Reverse Engineering Method and VDI 2221 Methodmaintains that reverse engineering has a multitude of benefits, but when it comes to making and selling coffee, it can allow small businesses that cannot afford expensive equipment to offer higher production outset.

The Deutscher Ingeneure Verein (VDI) in 2221 method is a simple way to approach reverse engineering since it aims to optimize problem-solving, better the use of materials, technology and considers the economic conditions of a product.

The problem the students aimed to address was improving an expresso machine’s performance and function by increasing its design efficiency. Each component of the machine was studied to see how they could speed up the coffee brewing process with the modification of existing parts.

One of the major changes was increasing the machine’s water tank capacity from 1.7L to 2.3L, which effectively increased the cups of coffee the machine was able to produce in a single water refill and using the same amount of coffee powder that produced 1.7L of coffee.

The interest is however in how the application of the VDI 2221 Method helped better the machine, and how their engineering knowledge increased efficiency.

The students found that their research was able to:

  1. Use reverse engineering to disassemble and reassemble the machine
  2. Use engineering design methods to solve problems and optimize materials with better technology and improve the economic condition of the device.
  3. Use the VDI 2221 Method to clarify the task, have a conceptual design, embody the design and focus on design detail.

The VDI 2221 method is the same process Mahbub used to better the life cycle of something as simple as paper – showing not only the value of reverse engineering but how effective it can better everyday objects and items. 

For the students from Jakarta, they conducted several experiments with the time settings of the coffee machine. Initially, the machine could perform eight repetitions with one tank of water, as they made improvements the machine was able to perform 14 repetitions.

Except for expanding the water tank, simple solutions included modifying the machine’s waste tray to carry more coffee grounds.

In all, they believe reverse engineering showed that they could improve the machine’s functionality in a restaurant setting because staff would need to fill the water tank less and won’t have to clear waste as often.

In essence, simple modifications saved time and cost. 

Reverse engineering doesn’t always mean going retro, but it could help

The Nokia 3310 is a poster child of cellphone technology in the 2000s. 

The device released in the first year of the new millennium had such a major hold on the market that it only fell out of production in 2005, five years after its initial release. 

Its longevity is almost unrivaled, before camera phones and eventually, smartphones saturated the market. 

While the original 3310s LCD screen is crude in 2021 and can be considered rather remedial in terms of functions, Nokia went retro in 2017 by re-rereleasing the 3310 again with 3G technology and dashes of nostalgia.

Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash

Stripping down the smartphone experience into one that would not have looked out of place in 2000, the new 3310 showed how impactful reverse engineering could be when it comes to mobile phone users’ needs.

Nokia called it a modern classic that has been reborn. The new 3310 was thin, light, and durable with a battery life that could last a whole month in standby mode. It offered a camera, Android operating systems, and a media player – but it did not rely on top specs that make modern smartphones so expensive. 

At the time of launch Juho Sarvikas, the Chief Product Officer of Nokia’s parent company HMD Global said;

“Nokia phones stir real emotions; people know them for their design and craftsmanship, together with a built-to-last quality that you can rely on. Our new portfolio combines these classic Nokia hallmarks with best-in-class Android performance and a new level of craftsmanship. For the Nokia 3310, we just couldn’t resist.”

According to him, Nokia wanted to offer premium quality usually reserved for flagship devices while democratizing technology.

The stripping down of the 3310 was a sort of reverse engineering where Nokia didn’t focus on

creating new entry-level smartphone devices, but rather took the best of two worlds, the sensibility and durability of a 2000s cellphone they made that was familiar to users and coupled it with feature-rich technology available in 2017 and now.

It seems to have paid off. 

The new Nokia 3310 was a moderate success and Nokia has continued to re-release classic Nokia phones annually since 2017 in its “Originals” line-up of phones. 

The Finnish phone maker has launched a series of studies that found most people are using their phone more, but find devices too expensive.

Most importantly, users want phones that last. According to Nokia’s findings, average phone users touch their phone 142 times a day. Weekly screen time for the average user clocks in at 18 hours and 12 minutes.

Phone usage globally is mostly dedicated to internet browsing, social media, music consumption, gaming, and messaging – something even the most basic phone can do – but does not have the battery power to support the heavy usage without countless recharging.

Nokia believes that the re-release of their classic line of phones addresses usage in a very holistic way. It offers online experiences but also trims the fat of smartphones while offering long battery life.

The latest addition to the “Originals” family is the 6310 with what Nokia believes has accessibility at its core.

It’s an effortless phone experience while also making use of new technologies, it still harkens back to what made the original phone so great, but taking each component and putting it solidly in a modern world ruled by smartphones.

It’s an adequate day-to-day phone, but also a great secondary phone or life counterpart.

In 2021 HMD Global announced that it secured 230 million USD from its global strategic partners. With the latest investment, they aim to increase 5G connectivity, grow Nokia’s presence in Africa, Brazil, and India, build digital-first alternatives and enhance cyber security globally. 

Florian Seiche, CEO of HMD Global said that their collective mission is still to make modern mobile technology accessible to everyone, remain true to Nokia’s Finnish roots, all while creating mobile phone experiences that are innate to Nokia.

Their reverse engineering of a product helped them clinch a victory by following the basics set out by reverse engineering – optimize problem-solving, use materials better and consider the best use of technology and economic conditions.


The Daily Star, 2021. Shalbrikhkho eco-friendly alternatives tackle pollution. (online) Available at: https://www.thedailystar.net/star-youth/news/shalbrikhkho-eco-friendly-alternatives-tackle-pollution-1858198 (Accessed 19 August)

Ramandeep Singh,” A Review of Reverse Engineering Theories and Tools”, International Journal of Engineering Science Invention ISSN (Online): 2319 – 6734, ISSN (Print): 2319 – 6726 www.ijesi.org Volume 2 Issue 1, January. 2013

Kumar, Sanjeev & Singh, Amandeep & Singh, Ramandeep. (2013). A Case Study of Improving the Rockshaft of tractor using Reverse Engineering.

Darwin R. B. Syaka, Ahmad Kholil, Aam Aminingsih, Afri Siswaldi, Imam Gunandi, Development of Manual Drive Thrasher Plastic Cup, American Journal of Environmental Engineering, Vol. 7 No. 1, 2017, pp. 1-9. doi: 10.5923/j.ajee.20170701.01.

Atmadja, Claudia, Daywin, Frans, Gozali, Lina, Doaly, Carla, Purna Irawan, Agustinus. (2021). Improving the Capacity of Espresso Machine Using Reverse Engineering Method and VDI 2221 Method.

HMD Global, 2021. Biggest Nokia phones launch in bid to make smartphones more affordable and long-lasting. (online) Available at: https://www.hmdglobal.com/press-releases/biggest-nokia-phones-launch-smartphones-more-affordable-and-long-lasting (Accessed 19 August)

HMD Global, 2021. New Nokia phones bring technology that is built to last, together with an all-new audio portfolio. (online) Available at:  https://www.hmdglobal.com/press-releases/new-nokia-phones-bring-technology-that-is-built-to-last-together-with-an-all(Accessed 19 August)

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