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Right to repair Europe

Posted on march 18, 2021 by ASK-Solutions in discussion

Right to RepairFollow our fight for Right to Repair

Image of broken waching machineThe EU is taking more measures in right to repair. More legislation is getting proposed to steer away from mass consumption, replacement culture and manufacturer locked-in ecosystems. From the EU legislators, more value is getting attributed to not only recycling, but also to repurposing, reusing and repairing. To reduce the impact modern day life has on our environment. It’s simply not enough to reduce our carbon footprint by replacing energy sources. Key is our behavior and acceptance of how things are evolving with the semi-artificial growth of big industry. Over the past decades, the energy used per individual has grown almost exponentially. We recycle much less now compared to, say, the nineties. Not because recycling has decreased, but because, especially electronic devices have become less recyclable due to the choice of materials. Also, the lifespan of equipment and other products has decreased significantly. In addition, repair has become more difficult due to manufacturer choices, there is often no option to repair a product outside of the limited factory warranty or extended service period. These options are missing because:

  • The manufacturer does no longer or has never offered repair services.
  • The manufacturer makes it hard to offer a third party repair service by withholding information and making it hard or impossible to buy the correct parts and tools.
  • Manufacturers have started making contracts to make sure that otherwise generic and previously freely available parts, are no longer sold to anyone but them.
  • Manufacturers have started making contracts to ensure that generic parts are provided with customized markings and serial numbers. With instructions that when third parties request these parts, they will be referred to the original manufacturer of the device containing the part. Which then pushes for complete replacement and usually refuses to talk to an independent repair shop.

Conscientiousness

There has also been a change in society; we travel more, live further away from our workplaces, education and shops. We’re more driven by ease of use and convenience than by sustainability. A good example is the number of appliances in standby mode. Where in the eighties an average western household had about two appliances in standby mode; the television and a microwave, and about two devices constantly in operation; the electric doorbell and alarm clock. Nowadays, a typical home has 10 to 50 devices in standby mode or continuous operation: laptops, tablets, televisions, set top boxes, game consoles, microwaves, ovens, cookers, electric kettles, coffeemakers, smart bulbs, WiFi access points, WiFi connected sun blinds, internet connected crock pots, dish washers and washing machines, and the list goes on. The number of devices drawing constantly power from the grid has drastically grown, while the awareness about this seems to have dropped to an all time low.

Manufacturers as parts suppliers

We’re happy with the proposed changes. But we’re not in agreement with the opinion of Louis Rossmann in this video. He argues that he is not happy when legislators force manufacturers to become parts suppliers and have to keep parts in stock, for example for 10 years. While we largely agree with him that it poses an unwanted burden on manufacturers if they are forced to keep an old CPU available that no one wants anymore because it is severely outdated. We see a different solution. The manufacturer does not need to supply an outdated CPU to repair an obsolete laptop. Instead, the manufacturer and industry as a whole can provide new, but compatible CPUs.

In other fields the same holds true. We see a trend of small changes to parts to make them incompatible without adding any improvement or value. We also see a trend of serializing parts. As a result, a part cannot be replaced by exactly the same part from another device of exactly the same type. That part will be rejected by the device until it is registered. Which is only possible with special software that only the manufacturer has access to.

A final trend that we see is the labeling of parts with special part and catalog numbers. We see this most commonly with switches and motors. Where only the manufacturer of the tool, machine or appliance knows the real part number. When trying to order a replacement by the number that is stamped or printed on the part, you’re told to hand in the whole appliance at the manufacturer of that appliance. When an attempt is made to order the part from the appliance manufacturer. It often turns out that the part in question is no longer available or was never available in the first place. Because of this, the only options are: full replacement by a new appliance, or repair at almost the MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price).

Where Louis believes that manufacturers should stay manufacturers, in many industries, manufacturers have already established themselves as parts suppliers decades ago. We used to see this mainly with computers: special floppy drives, hard drives and memory from Gateway, HP and Compaq with modified connectors and non-standard notches. Unfortunately, parts bought through the manufacturer, are usually far too expensive, with little to no added value. Nowadays we see this mainly in the field of electric tools, equipment and cars.

The harsh reality

Without dismantling a broken appliance, it is often impossible to figure out what it takes to fix it; causing days to weeks of downtime. While at the office, we try to find out that part number X for model B from year Z is no longer available and turns out to consist of generic parts. The latter is something we don't find out thanks to the manufacturer. We find this out by taking parts of the appliance with us and by completely disassembling them at the office. By measuring and compensating for wear. Or for instance with a burned-out resistor, of which the manufacturer does not want to tell the value, and the color code or lettering has been burnt away. Where we, by calculating and with trial and error, we try to figure out with which value the printed circuit board functions again.

For example a part in an appliance with partnumber 3453-76454 on a drawing. For which we have been searching on the internet for hours, and we probably whould not have been able to find according to the manufacturer. It is drawn as a half round block with 2 unspecified screws. What we took off of the appliance, is a 3 mm thick aluminum plate, with two dilled holes and a milled groove. In the groove sits a 12 mm × 1.5 mm aging nitrile O-Ring. The plate is secured with 2 machine screws M6 × 20 mm. The manufacturer offers this plate, ring and screws as a revision set. With a lot more searching, this set appears to have been listed in a Canadian catalog for the last time two years ago. It retailed for CA$ 79.99. Due to our research, we could buy this generic O-ring for € 0.60 at the local hydraulics parts supplier. The customer is happy, no longer a pubble of oil forms under the appliance, and it only took a week and a half before it was fixed. According to the manufacturer, the only option was to completely replace the entire appliance, which would have cost € 35,000.00 and would take two months of installation time.

With this new legislation, we hope that parts will become more readily available, become backward and sometimes even forward compatible again, and practices such as keeping service manuals and schematics secret and moving mounting holes of generic parts around, to make it unsuitable for a different model will stop.

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