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Thread: Planned Obsolescence

  1. #1
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    Planned Obsolescence

    "planned ob·so·les·cence

    ˌpland ˌäbsəˈlesəns/

    noun
    noun: planned obsolescence

    • a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials."



    Two examples sitting on my bench right now.
    The first: A small Ingersoll Rand twin tank compressor, about ten years old, gets intermittent use blowing chips out of turnings, an occasional tire fill and what little nail gunning I do. Still bright and shiny, gets it's oil changed regularly and good for another ten years, at least. Dead in the water a couple of weeks ago due to a small 15 amp circuit breaker/fuse thingy (best I can tell). Called Ingersoll Rand parts hot line and the guy asked if I was using an extension chord, because this machine doesn't like to be far from the outlet. Yup, been on an extension chord all its life and has popped the fuse twice. The thirty some odd dollar part!! had a projected shipping time of 58 days?? Yup 58 days OK, I'm dumb as a rock when it comes to electrical things, so I ordered it. Friday I got a call from IR and was told the part was no longer available. You mean my compressor is dead?? Yup, better buy another, I can hook you up . No thanks....so, I sucked it up and got out my magnifying glass and found some numbers on the part, made in Mexico, which Google then located for me-- @$2.36 a piece. Five are on the way, just in case. They aren't here yet, but I'm hoping for a happy ending

    The second:
    Two years ago a Kitchen Aid toaster oven (made in India) in my wife's favorite red color quit dead in the water after a year and a half of very limited use--probably fewer than 20 toasted cheese sandwiches It was out of warranty, so I didn't even try calling Kitchen Aid. I put it in the attic with the rest of the "retired" appliances and yesterday, after the wife started talking about finding another one but couldn't find her color, I took it down to the shop and opened it up. The innards were pristine. No scorched wires and all parts functioning as they should, except a small 206C thermal fuse with an insulator. Google helped me locate the part from the only place in the world now listing them, a company in the UK, which stopped selling to the US in 2012 because of soaring shipping and insurance rates Refusing to give up, I started looking for comparable thermal fuses and found one I think I can crimp onto the circuit that will do the job. Ten are on the way for less than $15. (for $55 AliBaba would have sent me 2,000!!!) Again, hoping for another Happy ending

    It's possible that I expect too much. It could be generational. WWII caused a lot of sacrifice on the home front and my folks saved/resuscitated everything they had. I try and take care of my stuff and expect it to last a reasonable length of time. When it dies, I want it to be of old age and total exhaustion--DRT (dead right there) and ready to recycle or re-purpose. What do you think?

  2. #2
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    Repurposing/recycling was long before WWII and the metal drives/reusing, etc. that your thinking of. From some discussions I have had, it certainly picked up during the depression. (Burlap curtains, anyone?)
    Planned obsolescence started when they stopped giving wiring diagrams, in with the instructions they sold. Part of that was due to costs of integrated circuits, but part of it was self serving. In my generation, I think there are probably more people who use a credit card as a tool, then a workbench.

  3. #3
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    Dad's lightly used Porter-Cable variable speed 8" bench grinder; the one that was a Delta, then a Porter-Cable and then a Delta again. Stopped working. Service for many products in this "family" of brands is a well known black hole so let's skip that discussion. Parts are either a bit pricey or just plain unavailable. So after some careful investigation, I find a small circuit board in a location that tells you it is not designed to be 'user serviceable' that has a blown fuse.

    Now, there was a time when you could run down to the electronics supply and pick up anything from a 1k resistor to a 20 pound transformer but, Radio Shack is as close as it comes around here anymore. No deal. The 5 x 20mm form factor comes in limited offerings. Found them difficult to find online but, finally did find them and ordered. One of my very rare forays into the dark world of e-bay . . . wrong product arrived, return would cost more than the product was worth. Found product on Amazon (learned some nomenclature from the paperwork that arrived with the wrong product previously mentioned which led to a successful search so, it wasn't a total loss) and ordered. Product arrived but, have yet to install.

    When I look at items prior to making a purchase decision I can't tell if it is easier now-a-days or harder to decide. On the one hand if the product isn't exactly what you want, it doesn't really matter. It won't be around long. On the other hand I don't need to anguish over the decision since I know the item is only temporary no matter what the actual design is. I find I now use the "is this thing worth $80 for a years worth of use?" formula for making purchase decisions on many items. The only truly frustrating part of the whole thing is that we have sold off our manufacturing crown and those who now hold it don't make good products to be exported to the USA. I sometimes feel that I can't buy a quality reverse-giggle-bearing, wigit or whatever no matter how much I am willing to pay .
    Last edited by glenn bradley; 11-17-2014 at 04:48 PM.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Calver View Post
    It's possible that I expect too much. What do you think?
    WOW - A can of worms to dig into.

    NO - you are NOT expecting too much.

    ON the contrary - I think as a society we have become too soft and duped into a state of mind that businesses WANT us to be into - not expecting too much. That way - they can - make stuff cheaper - sell more - not stock replacement parts. It's all GREAT stuff for the companies.

    When I was younger - I would REPAIR, a Starter for the car, replace bearings in the alternator, rebuild the Carburator. I would fix the lawnmower, broken door, reglaze the windows, replace my own trim, fix the faucets, etc etc.

    Today - nobody fixes anything - just go out and buy a new one.

    Soooo - maybe - I am old school tooo.

    MY VOTE ---- Call the company - send a letter to the company president - slam your fist - and COMPLAIN - about the POOR quality of their crap.
    COMPLAIN - about customer support.
    COMPLAIN - about lack of replacement parts.
    COMPLAIN - about the crappy $2.00 item that broke down, and the good replacement was only $3.00
    Not enough people do that - and we suffer for it.

    Look at American cars of the 60' 70's and 80' --- the competition gave us better quality and now Detroit is in dire straits.
    If we DEMANDED better quality - American Car makers would be the best in the world - but we didn't complain enough.

  5. #5
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    This topic is something very close to my heart. I am the same Ted, i will fix before i toss it out if its at all possible. Trouble is, it bites back, see my post about upholstery. And when you have developed a track record of fixing things woe betide you when you cannot pull a rabbit out of the hat for something someone else expects to be easy. You then suddenly get the brunt of all their frustration with the planned obsolescence system.

    The thing that has cause me to be like this was growing up with a Dad who did this religiously fundamentally i discovered because he simply never had the coin, (he never ever told me that until i was around 50).

    But having been involved in manufacturing and getting to know what the material costs of all sorts are it spurs me on as i know much of the price we see today for brands or otherwise is simply margin, being made either by the distributor or brand owner to fund the ongoing task of keeping the perceived value in the consumers mind. We just had an expose on CBC a week or so back of how easy it is to buy good reviews and chatter about your product and spin something such that the consumers buy into it on the web. CBC created a totally fictitious food truck and went about having a site created for it and purchased some reviews etc for it. Just proved something that was proven here with regards to Amazon and their reviews a while back if you recall.
    But that all speaks to the inability of us to be able to truly differentiate quality of an item today. Often you cannot even get access to the item because of that vacuum formed plastic covering its wrapped in.

    But another side of me says there is a greater understanding and ability on the part of manufacturers with a global market place, to fully grasp the supply demand curve with regards to price point and demand. The ability to do Cad/Cam and product analysis adds to this value engineering cycle. As an entrepreneur i don't see it as evil as I feel about it. But that to me is my own personal struggle/conflict between what i would do were it my product versus how i feel on the receiving end.

    I do think the volumes of consumer goods being made today as a result of the global market place are astronomical by comparison to say what went on in the US after WW2. I tend to think the whole issue of quality and labor rate factors into it as well.
    When i was a kid my cheap crappy plastic soldiers and toys were made in Japan, by the time i was at the end of my teenager years, techniques hi fi equipment became the "in" thing yet made in Japan. In a short span of time " Made in Japan" took on a very different meaning for quality, to the extent that in my young adult years in business, all and sundry were suddenly studying the paths to this success in Japanese business. At that time "Made in Hong Kong" took over from where Japan left off with regards to items of plastic soldier category and today that might be said of "Made in China" yet today "Made in China" has progressed far more rapidly through this transition due fundamentally to a great deal of technology transfer. There is a lot of emotion associated with the very idea of technology transfer but as one who has lived through a great many tech transfers i make the point that this is not something unique in business nor only the domain of business with China. Its a natural business process and takes place all over the world with all sorts of companies. Just that the powers that be have set us all up to be biased in respect of how we think of east. In this same vein i think there are interesting anomalies related to this picture.
    If one looks at the tiny enclave of Singapore, its an example of how a tiny nation (population only around 5 million) has gone from post war being a run down slum trading port with serious race riots, social upheaval and conflicts in the mid 50's through to a country that started out making consumer electronics, then as a result of the state of gov they have, managed to mass educate the population and migrate up the manufacturing value add food chain as the electronics industry sprouted through to recent years where they themselves have loosened control over citizens to foster greater creativity with a view to producing their own designs and brands rather than remaining essentially a "contract manufacturer" for the rest of their days.

    Even Made in USA has not got the commitment or meaning it once had and if we are fair to US manufacturers, they could not compete if they did not move with the times.

    At the end of the day i come to use something like the Grizzly 14" bandsaw as a barometer. Even in the midst of a very slight moderate inflation Grizzly together with their Asian manufacturers have managed to keep the retail price of this saw at a level where its defying inflation. That in the midst of commodities and all sorts that are involved in that supply chain that have been increasing.

    I certainly have a set of tools and machines I would never have dreamed of having in SA and that my Dad did not have himself.

    Where i can easier accept the failure is in the area of mechanical devices that have moving parts, such as compressors or fans etc.

    What i despise is in areas such as Microsoft software where we end up forced to upgrade especially in business, simply because they have released a new version of their software (take Office) where i bet money that 90% of the users have not and are not using more than 25% of the package and yet get forced into not only the ugrade but the repeated re learning of how to access the very features you do use simply because some idiot decided to upgrade the Gui for some reason. And then because they changed the file format etc you have to upgrade to keep in line with the rest of the users.
    Its in areas like the software and electronics hardware where we get forced into these cycles not because the item has died but other drivers that i go crazy. Some of it my own fault too though as a techie trying to somewhat keep abreast.

    I think if the planned obsolescence of value engineering was not there, then a great deal of commerce that takes place today may well not so that could be the downside.

    What is not considered in all this though is the aspect of how unbalanced the world is though. What we may find as affordable even in the sense of taking into account HF type quality and price point tools, is only affordable due to the value of our currencies. This can mean that many places in the world do not have access to the price point that we end up with in North America. Dont have to look far just take what Toni is faced with due to 220v being the de factor power standard in Europe and the consequences it has on the cost of manufacturing of a machine geared to that voltage and its frequency. Price of a Bobcat in Africa is horrendous in local currency converted from US dollar and add to that the local interest rates and it has the effect of keeping people doing things in the most unproductive way and poor wages as a result.

    All this said i recently recovered my pancake compressor for a few dollars of parts from Ereplacement parts. Did the same for my DW735. So i guess where there is a will there is a way. But i am not sure i want to do the same for the weedwacker that needs repairing.

    And lets be honest Stanleys planes we all refurb were not that well made, they have survived because they cast iron more than because they worked so well out of the box. We would not have all the posts of how to fettle them into good life if they were as we expect when Dad got them or granddad handed his old one down.
    cheers

  6. #6
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    Im not looking for a fight, my retired tool guy, scolded me for purchased Ryobi products, told me they are disposable tools.
    Human Test Dummy

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ted Calver View Post
    noun: planned obsolescence

    • a policy of producing consumer goods that rapidly become obsolete and so require replacing, achieved by frequent changes in design, termination of the supply of spare parts, and the use of non-durable materials."

    ......................

    AKA > Job security
    The perception of perfection is perfectly clear to everyone else

  8. #8
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    Leo hit the nail on the head. You've all heard me urge you to email, call, etc. your product providers and let them know what your experience has been. Lee Valley does just have a magic mirror that tells them what works and what doesn't; they listen to their customers. I try to give feedback, even to those outfits I don't think will listen.
    Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
    - Arthur C. Clarke

  9. #9
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    This is an interesting topic. Allen's comment about Ryobi products reminded me of something I heard the inventor of sawstop say in an interview. They were talking about the benchtop/jobsite saw that sawstop is supposed to be releasing. He was also discussing their business model and how it differs from other tool makers. The discussion starts around the 50:00 mark. http://ec.libsyn.com/p/0/9/6/096a68b...3&c_id=7874146

  10. #10
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    One other thought, is we have things like CONSUMER price indexes, not CUSTOMER price indexes.

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