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'Right to repair' gathers force

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'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 9, 2019 11:31 am

I'd be interested to canvas other members views on this. My view is "about time" - not for consumers to mend appliances themselves, but for appliances to be designed and manufactured for long service lives. My perspective comes from experience in three different manufacturing industries where longevity was a given, our products were expected to be serviceable for 20 years, and in practice typically lasted considerably more - 30, 40, 50 years. I get very frustrated if a piece of domestic equipment fails in an unserviceable way after, say, 5 years - recently happened with our gas cooker (which was actually pretty naff from day one). Then of course there's the electronic equipment that fails just after the warranty expires - I'd suggest that's completely unacceptable from a resource point of view. We know a huge amount now about design for reliability and design for serviceability, from an ethical point of view shouldn't we be applying this more?

I'm glad to see this article also considers the question of whether we should be encouraged to replace perfectly serviceable equipment in the name of energy efficiency. As it states, this all depends whether the energy expended in producing the equipment and disposing of the old equipment could actually exceeds the potential saving - which I suspect it often does.  

Cheers, Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Frank William Robert Crowther on Jan 9, 2019 11:38 am

This is very easily resolved make it mandatory that the equipment has a min of a 5 year guarantee, then there is an incentive for it to last.

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Jan 9, 2019 12:21 pm

A five year guarantee will ensure the equipment is built to last for at least five years - not ten years or 20 years. My mother had a cooker bought in 1962 which she eventually got rid of in 2010 - not because of problems with it but because she was moving to a sheltered flat with a built-in cooker. The original cooker was made to be easy to repair, but modern ones are not. The same goes for cars - we use a local service garage where the owner is committed to keeping cars on the road but finds he is having to tell owners of ten year old cars that they can't be kept going any longer, while our car (bought in 1999 second hand!) has been kept going because it doesn't have the technology working against keeping it running (though sadly as he has now had to start sourcing parts on eBay we have decided it is time to move on).
I am therefore fully in agreement with Andy's "it's about time"!
Alasdair

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Frank Margrave on Jan 9, 2019 6:42 pm

Hello All

The thoughts and recent publicity about "Right to repair" are very true. Older equipment and vehicles were simple enough in their technology for a good technician and a good toolkit to be able to effect repairs and extend the life of the item. This meant of course less disposal, fewer recycling problems and owners being very happy with the products they bought, knew and loved. The level of technology required to keep things running meant that many small businesses were present and most people knew their "local" mechanic or engineer very well. This familiarity also meant that the local expert had an ongoing knowledge of each individual and product - we used to call that community spirit! The trend to ever more reliance on "technology" is seeing these people facing a diminishing market and customer base and so many small businesses are disappearing from the local community. Even the current and "next" generation technicians and engineers have problems maintaining equipment outside their own knowledge and domain. As a profession we as "engineers" were regards as resources to the local community and could often turn our hand to supporting friends and neighbours.
I would love to see some of the product designers having to service the equipment they have designed so much is now individual components or assemblies which at some stage become items that service and repair is often almost impossible. Perhaps we need to consult the genetic engineers so they can develop humans with extra joint in their arms and even possibly specialist technicians with three hands to reach and hold those inaccessible parts that can only be reached through complete strip down!

Best wishes to all 'real' engineers who still can do!

Franckfrown

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by David McQuiggan on Jan 10, 2019 4:58 am

It's about ownership rights and the fair use of the hardware you buy. If I paid for it, I should be able to repair it or have the person of my choice do it for me, otherwise I don't really "own" it nor able to make fair use of it.  There is already too much electronic waste piling up, as users discard their devices rather then fixing them or donating them for re-use.  Less restrictive end user agreements, access to the fair use of repair manuals and diagnostic codes, and availability of spare parts, should be encouraged.
David McQuiggan

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Jan 10, 2019 8:39 am

I suspect part of the problem has been, particularly in the American market, the fear that someone may be injured while trying to dismantle the item. Special tools are often needed to dismantle a modern appliance for this very reason (to prevent litigation?) which hampers potentially easy repairs, while older appliances are accessible. This rather defeats the intention of having new appliances which are more energy efficient as the ones that have to be replaced are the new efficient ones while the older inefficient ones get repaired and go on and on....
Alasdair

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 10, 2019 12:12 pm

Interesting point Frank - the contrary view is that the added complexity has improved our lives: my wife and I were discussing this earlier, and she mentioned old cars which were fixable by any mechanic (she was partly thinking of an extreme example of Alasdair's example - we have a friend who's recently finished rebuilding a 1912 Model T Ford, we have another who is constantly rebuilding various cars form the '60s for hill climbing), and I did have to say that although repairable they were by modern standards bloomin' dangerous!

However, with a bit of intelligent engineering I know from experience that it's possible to design products and systems that are both complex and repairable. A very common problem is electronics obsolescence, and at a component level that is a challenge, but at a "black box" level replaceable parts can be made if manufacturers decide to / see the need to / have to.
 
It would be interesting if consumer product manufacturers had to produce MTBF figures for their products (I'm thinking white goods and similar here), perhaps on a simple banded scale like energy efficiency. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that they would find huge consumer pressure towards those with the better figures.

On Alasdair's point, fortunately the special tools are nearly always available on eBay smiley It's very rare that I've found a piece of electronics which I haven't been able to get into. If all else fails my trusty collection of power tools gets there in the end...

On which point, a conundrum: over the last couple of years I've bought a couple of power tools from a well known and highly regarded manufacturer (with a three year warranty), both failed within the warranty period. As far as getting me going again the manufacturer's service was faultless: they arranged collection for the next day, and within a couple of days decided in both cases that the tool was unrepairable and immediately provided me with a new one. I'm torn about this - I really appreciate the customer service, but I wished they'd made tools which a) didn't break down and b) were rapidly repairable if they did! Particularly frustrating as one of these was a jigsaw that I bought to replace a £5 own-brand jigsaw from a DIY chain which is still working (albeit in a slightly wobbly way) after 15 years of hard use.  

Endnote: As a surprise Christmas present for my wife I repaired and refurbished her beloved old 1960s Decca transistor radio which had been sitting broken in our loft for years. I've still got a bit of tweaking to do on it - slightly daunting as I've never aligned an FM radio before, but I know I will be able to do it (I have a donor set should I damage any of the pot cores). Meanwhile we seem to have an ever growing collection of partially or fully broken DAB radios...

Many thanks all for the excellent comments!

Cheers,

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Simon Barker on Jan 10, 2019 1:19 pm

It would be interesting if consumer product manufacturers had to produce MTBF figures for their products (I'm thinking white goods and similar here), perhaps on a simple banded scale like energy efficiency. I may be wrong, but I have a feeling that they would find huge consumer pressure towards those with the better figures.

My worry then is that manufacturers would be driven to produce equipment that has a higher MTBF, but is impossible to repair.  If you replace connectors with soldered or crimped joins, and screws with glue, rivets or spot welds, then you avoid all the risks of things working loose and failing.  But the equipment would be much more difficult to repair.  This already seems to be the case with many smart phones, which are expensive yet disposable.

Perhaps we also need the MTTR (mean time to repair) as well.

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Jan 10, 2019 1:35 pm

Andy,
I am aware the tools are available - it is just that by making specialised tools necessary it makes repair a bit more protracted, and more expensive if you have to buy extra tools. Who will buy the right tools for £15 is a replacement item costs £16. (Of course you will win in the long term, but that isn't the point.)
Simon,
I think you are right about MTTR. I am currently reviewing a report which is specifying both MTBF and MTTF as these need to be considered together.
Alasdair

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 10, 2019 2:53 pm

Yes, that's a really interesting point re MTBF / MTTR. From an electronics point of view decent quality connectors are one item that can hugely push up costs - the connectors can end up costing more than the rest of the electronics, and yet still be the weakest point. There's no "right" answer to that one, I think it's a case for pushing for it at least to be considered.

I heard a couple of years back, from a friend who used to manage a semiconductor fabrication plant, that the latest "low nanometer" processes resulted in devices with relatively short lives - years rather than tens of years - due to neutron(?) bombardment, I don't know how much of a real risk this is? (And might have misremembered those vague details.) 
 
(My bit of string (literally) has just arrived in the post so that I can repair another of our old radios - classic case with our kitchen radio where the tuning knob went round and round and nothing happened...) 

Cheers,

Andy
 
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Martin Letts on Jan 10, 2019 5:29 pm

Hi Andy and others
I totally agree - all medium and large domestic products should be repairable. The 'Right to Repair' should be enforced by legislation as soon as possible. The problem is we have very few, if any, in parliament who are professional Engineers and so cannot really understand the technicalities involved (compare this situation with say France or Germany). I have a Karcher vacuum scraper (German design) which is repairable, and I must replace its battery.... not sure about my iPad which is in need of the same treatment.
As a thought experiment let's go say 50 years into the future; if we don't repair we will be running out of materials, denuding the earth of resources and possibly having even more mountains of plastic (= serious problems). We all know repair is the way to go, it just needs us to form a strong enough lobby to influence our government for the good of our children and grandchildren. Besides, I enjoy taking things apart, now getting them back together in working order - THAT'S the challenge!
Is it worth writing to our MPs, do you think?
Martin Letts

 

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Mark Tickner on Jan 11, 2019 1:46 pm

To throw a bit of a contrary argument here; how far do you take the right to repair?  How much do you want to have to pay (as increased product prices) in order to achieve it?

From a microelectronics point of view, devices have got faster and smaller and more complex.  If you had access to the diagnostics and that told you that the one of the memories (or the SoC itself) was showing signs of failure; there are many reasons why you shouldn’t be permitted to attempt repair.

The first is that many SoC’s and associated memories are packaged as BGA’s these days.  Those are a complete nightmare to remove from a PCB without some form of specialist equipment.  You would need a reflow line in your garden shed to get the new one soldered on as well.  Or course we could move back to socket packaged devices and memory, but I doubt it would have the same sort of performance.

The second is the safety and security aspect; if you allow the user to change something how do you ensure that neither of these have been compromised.

Thirdly, what if be self-repairing you cause the performance to be degraded?  Do you accept that it's now your responsibility if it no longer works to the optimum.  LCD's are very sensitive to the forces and stresses on the screen during assembly.  A self-repair of a LCD is fairly likely to result in the colours (particularly black) being somewhat off.

Going to Andy’s comment about smaller processes causing issues on semi-conductor longevity.  Yes, this was something one of my semiconductor specialists mentioned to me about 10 years ago.  I work in the automotive domain and our products are expected to work for 10 or 15 years (depending on the OEM, not going to divulge who asks for what!).  However, the expectation from the end-user of the vehicle is that car systems can provide similar levels of functionality and performance to smart phone devices.

That said, my smart phone works fine but it’s battery is dying.  But I can’t replace it because its fixed in place to provide what proofing – not that I intend dropping it in a puddle (although one colleague has the same phone and has accidentally dropped it in water and reports it still works fine).

Mark
Mark Tickner MEng (Hons) CEng MIET MINCOSE

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Roger Bryant on Jan 11, 2019 2:39 pm

Another aspect of this is the availability of spare parts. For a currently manufactured item spare parts supply requires an additional branch to the supply chain (which carries a cost) but is possible. When production of this item is to stop the manufacturer has to decide what and how many items to manufacture and stock as spares. This stock holding carries a cost. If an item in this stock runs out what then? Does the manufacturer set up for another production run (if still possible maybe the components or machines are no longer available) which carries yet another cost?
I, like Andy, am a repairer of broken things but I also understand some of the problems behind 'Right to Repair'. I support it but as ever the Devil is in the Detail.

Best regards
Roger

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Alasdair Anderson on Jan 11, 2019 3:33 pm

Roger,
A very good summary. We need to accept that at some point the repair option is no longer going to be viable. but I am a firm believer that this should not be three weeks after the warranty has expired. We will just need to sit back and wait for developments on this subject to see where we go.
Alasdair

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 11, 2019 3:48 pm

Hi Roger,

I do totally agree - I've sadly in the past, as Product Owner, had to take the decision to discontinue support for my company's products because the cost of re-engineering spare parts (circuit boards) to use available components was almost equivalent to designing a complete new unit - and the customer simply wasn't happy to pay that price. Although equally there has been at least one memorable occasion when they did.

It's reaching a sensible compromise between on the one hand making things unnecessarily hard to repair, and having an unnecessarily short service life, and on the other expecting the earth of manufacturers. I always think back to my Mk III Escort which I replaced with a 1988 model Corolla. Cars aimed at an identical market, with a pretty similar selling price, but the former kept breaking down and was a pig to work on, the latter was ridiculously reliable, and when it did need repair was (as much as any car is) mostly a pleasure to work on - certainly routine servicing was much easier. (I did all my own repairs and servicing in those days, including an engine rebuild on that blessed Escort.) The difference was the thought that went into the design of the two cars.

So it's very difficult to enforce, as it's all about ensuring a certain culture and attitude in the D&D and production engineering teams in any manufacturer, and how do test whether they have truly considered the best options about what will happen to the product outside the warranty period? (Other than disposal which is covered by WEEE.)

Thanks,

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 11, 2019 5:39 pm

Hi Mark,

I used to work with a colleague who - as a hobby that also made a bit of money - used to repair phones, digital cameras and the like. I was always most impressed, personally although I'm pretty good at soldering I wouldn't take on any but the simplest SMD board. (I also used to have a friend who repaired - or at least life extended - incandescent light bulbs by twizzling the broken wire ends together.)

But I think the intention is more to consider module (or big component) level rather than BGAs. Also, aside from the atmospheric bombardment mechanism discussed above, I'd contend that if electronic components are correctly rated they really shouldn't be the weak point, and that should only be a marginal cost issue in the design time rather than the component cost. I particularly remember our dishwasher that packed up due to an underrated resistor - on that occasion I'd contend the person who made the repair made a darn sight better job than the manufacturer. (Yes, I did trace out the circuit and prove that it was underrated, and fitted a massively overrated part. And no, it wasn't intended as a protective fuse smiley But of course I agree that 99.99% of repairers wouldn't have had the skills, experience, or sheer bloody-minded pigheadedness to do that laugh And that if I was to cost my time at the hourly rate I'm now charged out at we could have bought three nice new dishwashers! All the more reason for the manufacturer to get it right in the first place...)

Again, as in my reply above, I do of course agree with you that this isn't a black and white issue, it's just about reversing the trend and - particularly - attitude that engineered products only need to last a year and a day.

Cheers,

Andy
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by Andy Millar on Jan 11, 2019 5:48 pm

Final P.S. and weekend thought: At the other extreme, I used to work with a Californian colleague who refused to sharpen pencils. If a pencil broke, or went blunt, he'd throw it in the bin. He thought I was completely mad for rescuing them and sharpening them. It's all about culture - my parents started work in the depression of the '30s, and brought up most of their children during and after the second world war through the period of rationing (I was a bit of an afterthought).
Andy Millar CEng CMgr IET Mentor / IET PRA uk.linkedin.com/in/millarandy

Re: 'Right to repair' gathers force

Posted by David Howard on Jan 16, 2019 5:38 pm

Andy,
Just to put another spin on this discussion, looking at it from a manufacturers perspective (not that I am one) they are in quite a difficult position. If they were to make an item that was good for say 20 or 30 years then they will only ever get a single customer once or twice buying their product. There are only a finite amount of potential customers/buyers in the market for their goods. Companies listed on the stock market are always looking for year on year growth. Having an extremely reliable and long lived product does not necessarily match the share holders desire for ever increasing dividends.
Technology is always advancing and although the latest widget seems to be the best thing today, in a very short period of time it will be eclipsed by the next best ever widget. The consumer is then left with the choice of brand loyalty and perhaps losing out on some super new functionality or to trade in/dispose of their current product and getting up to date. Making a product that would last 20-30 years in this instance would not make a lot of sense so maybe making it easier to mass produce (but not repairable) would suit the manufacturers and share holders better.

I do remember the good old days of being able to work on your car and do involved repairs. I have rebuilt a Ford Pinto engine for a Capri I had, changed out the dashboard for a sportier version and incorporated new wiring and generally did all my own servicing. Now everything is all tied back to an ECU that you would need a laptop/interface cable and software to diagnose and reset most faults.  As another contributor said, in 50 years our natural resources may be so depleted that we have to look to longevity of products and make them repairable but until we get to that place I imagine the current trend of easy to break and hard to fix will be the manufacturers way.

David Howard MIET (new member and my first posting)

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