We present a near optimal buffer allocation plan (NOBAP) specifically developed for a remanufacturing cell with finite buffers and unreliable servers. A remanufacturing cell is a self-reliant entity within which a variety of activities such as disassembly, inspection, material processing, remanufacturing, assembly and transportation are performed. The remanufacturing cell considered in this paper consists of three modules, viz. the disassembly and testing module for returned products, the disposition module for non-reusable returns and the remanufacturing module. We propose an algorithm that uses an open queueing network, decomposition principle and expansion methodology to analyze the remanufacturing cell. The buffer allocation algorithm distributes a given number of available buffer slots among the various stations (across the various modules) to optimize the cell's performance. The algorithm has been rigorously tested for both balanced and unbalanced cells. The results show that the performance of the algorithm is consistent, robust and produces excellent results in a variety of experimental conditions. (c) 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.