I'd hazard a guess everyone has been there at least once. Several times within the past two years I've been advised the cost of repairing my printer; one of two laptops; a cell phone; and a portable game machine would be higher than the device is worth. Every time, I give the manufacturer credit for built-in obsolescence; driving prices down; and making it simply easier to buy something new than get something repaired. (I had to buy a second laptop while the first was being repaired.)
I even did the same exercise you did with your printer on the PCB inside my refrigerator that failed almost immediately. The repair guy wouldn't take the broken PCB for some ridiculous reason--I think he wasn't an employee of the manufacturer--he was outsourced--and couldn't handle the materials or something.
I can't even give the used stuff away; it costs to have it picked up and recycled; or I wait for an annual electronics recycling day. In the meantime I have a graveyard of useless electronics equipment in my basement. It is maddening.
I suppose you've found the optimistic way to look at it: that this is evidence of larger efficiency, that things can be so cheap that they aren't worth repairing. I suspect that it's only cheap on the price tag, and when we factor in all the external costs, the environmental costs, and so forth, it's very expensive to make products sourced from Asian supply chains disposible, rather than to make them reparable. Those costs are just harder to see and account for in the purchase price of a printer.
Marc, My own reaction when I encountered a similar situation was closer to Barbara's. It was a "maddening" feeling. I love to tool around with things and like fixing whatever I can even if it's life was clearly over. I had a brush with a printer too. It packed up after less than two years of gentle use but the problem was not hardware. It was software. For some reason, my printer believed it had a paper jam. I opened it up, checked everything, poked around everywhere and retrieved the paper. Yet, it kept telling me to clear the paper jam. After staring at it for three more months--even after buying a replacement--I finally reluctantly gave it up. It was a good printer/scanner/copier combo and as it went into the dumpster, I knew the problem could be easily resolved by someone but at what could turn out to be the cost of a new equipment. Quite a waste.
I quite agree with comments made by Barbara, Bolaji and you. I believe everybody has a thing or two to say about the cost to repair a broken laptop or printer or what have you. Yet we are supposed to be responsible and kind to the environment. Who is going to bear the cost to safely dispose all our broken laptops and PCs? I would rather repair than dispose. Access to parts ought to be readily available and cheap.
Exactly! You've articulated much more concisely what I was also experiencing. When I lived in Jakarta, Indonesia, it was easy to get electronic goods repaired. In Europe or the US, it's not. The usual narrative holds that technology moves quickly, so repair is hard to sell, because you probably need to replace the broken piece of electronics with a new generation anyway. So you'd only sell spare parts in places where people don't have the means to constantly upgrade. I'm very suspicious that this may be true but still not the primary incentive at work here. Rather, I'm inclined to believe that this is a supply chain issue: the economics of moving spare parts around the world don't pencil out for the producers, so they don't do it, passing the replacement, environmental and other costs of this inefficiency onto shoppers and governments. And this works because the electronics supply chain is, while not quite monopolistic, pretty focused on a few brands. I can't buy a printer from a company in India or Kenya that works on a different set of presumptions. But someday I will be able to. And will. Immediately.
Well we could say that Bolaji's printer had an "e-neurological" breakdown when the software got confused
Well down here the repair problem is felt by less than half of the population.
When most of the gadgets, electronics and systems were manufactures some 5-10yrs ago, you are sure to find all the part available.
Some people out rightly avoid buying latest electronics knowing the local repair guys wouldn't have the slightest clue how to fix it, not to mention finding the parts to replace.
There is a question we need to answer here: What factors control the electronics supply chain in this area?
In places like Europe and America, you can get every gadget to buy but you can't get any repaired. In China and the likes, where everything is outsourced to, you can get everything to buy (including things you can't get in the west) and also repair everything.
Parts have to be available in China because they are needed in very high quantity by the manufactures there but who will import electronics components just for spare parts? If they do, it will not cost $12. So what do we do?
One last thing, it is my opinion that the focus of the resent products being manufactures is reduced cost, nothing more. repair wasn't a part of it. Old Nokia phones had almost every component plugged in, making part replacement solder free. Now, they are all SMDs, and all cramped into one small board.
All of this would be less maddening to me if companies stopped touting their "MRO" and "post sales support" talents, then. Flextronics just opened two facilities largely dedicated to after market support; catalog distributors tout their MRO business, and manufacturers tell us all about their warrantys. I have never knowingly sent a laptop to an EMS for repair, although it's possible, I guess. I haven't tried to find replacement parts on Newark's website. Next time I'll give that a shot.
While it is maddening, it does make sense that something that has to be imported specially from overseas would cost the US consumer a lot more than it costs the customer who can find it in a local store. There is a cost, after all, to shipping and handling. But aside from that, many places don't want to bother with repairs. I recall when I dropped a Canon digital camera and shipped it to the factor for repairs that the response was a suggestion I purchase a refurbished camera at a discount instead. The company didn't even bother to pitch me a quote for repairs. Consequently, even objects that are not normally categorized as disposable become so when they cannot be repaired. It is not that they are really beyond repair but that no one in the country seems to want to bother to do it, and given the costs, it does seem to make sense to upgrade to a new one instead. So much for waste not, want not.
I think Tioluwa is onto something. In his case, changes in the design and manufacturing of cell phones sold in Nigeria, and the need to constantly train technicians to keep up with those changes, militate against repair. The priority for the designer is improved or broader function, and the assumption is disposability. Electronics seems unusual, if not entirely unique in this respect. They just don't factor repair into the equation, and I disagree that shipping parts is prohibitively expensive. Electronics, particularly consumer items, are small, cheap and light, compared to industrial-age equivalents. Shipping auto parts, for example, is enormously costly. Still, half a block from the computer shop that couldn't repair my 2007 printer, there's an auto parts shop that will sell me virtually any part for even the most drastically obsolete car. (When I lived in the States I used to drive old Fords, and part of the appeal was that I could fix the inevitable breakdowns cheaply, myself, with inexpensive parts; like Bolaji, I also enjoy doing that). My gut tells me this is a question of electronics industry priorities. I do wonder if the presumption of disposability is necessary to allow for certain useful, marketable designs. Like Tioluwa's mobile phones, for example. Could they be made equally useful with designs more amenable to repair? Could we train technicians in Lagos to service them profitably? I suspect so, if only because every other industry seems to do so.
EBN Dialogue enables and encourages you to participate in live chats with notable leaders and luminaries. Not only editors and journalists, but the entire EBN community is able to comment and ask questions. Listed below are upcoming and archived chats.
Thailand Stages a Comeback Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Microsoft Surface: Potential Winners & Losers What are the implications for the electronics industry supply chain of Microsoft Corp.'s decision to launch its own tablet PC? Join industry veteran and EE Times' systems and OEM expert Rick Merritt on Tuesday, July 3, at 12:00 pm EDT for a Live Chat on this subject.
Join EBN contributor Jennifer Baljko on Thursday August 23, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. EST for a live chat on how electronic manufacturers in Thailand have shored up their supply chain to reduce the impact of future natural disasters.
Peter Drucker famously said "Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window." Yet in the razor's-edge world of electronics—with a lean supply chain and just-in-time demands—the need to know the future is vital.
While no one really can accurately predict the future, we can take guidance from another Drucker saying which is the best way to predict the future is to create it.
You've heard the saying "the No. 1 supply chain risk is your people." That hasn't always been the case. But today's complex global supply chain requires a new type of multitalented employee. It's one who understands, finance, marketing, economics, is savvy with technology, graceful with relationships and can think analytically.
Where are these people? Are universities properly preparing the next generation supply chain professionals? How do train your existing workforce for these new, demanding positions?
Brian Fuller, editor-in-chief of EBN, will lead a 60-minute Avnet Velocity panel discussion that will ask and answer these and other questions swirling around today's supply-chain talent challenges.