In this episode…
Sofeast’s CEO Renaud Anjoran talks about the ‘Right To Repair’ movement that is gathering pace today. Consumers are calling for it and governments are starting to bring in legislation in order to steer the electronics industry in a more sustainable direction and reduce the huge amount of e-waste being created each year.
But if you’re manufacturing electronic products, how might it affect you? Having to design for repairability certainly adds new challenges, but opportunities, too!
So listen as we explore what the right to repair is, why it’s important, how it might affect manufacturers and electronic product design, and whether it’s a headache or an opportunity for companies who’re developing new electronic products.
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00:00 – Introduction.
01:38 – What is the right to repair? As products, especially electronics, have become more complex they have become harder to repair. Brands have made them difficult for consumers and businesses to repair themselves, enforcing the use of their own or authorized repair centers. In many cases, a user ends up having to throw away an out-of-warranty product, even if they really wanted/tried to fix it. This has created a ‘throwaway culture’ where electronics become disposable which has cost and environmental implications in the same way as ‘fast fashion’ does. Consumers, especially large groups like farmers, have lobbied governments to bring in right to repair regulations due to being negatively affected and inconvenienced by equipment that they can’t repair.
09:21 – Where are we seeing right to repair legislation appearing and what does it include? In the EU this regulation comes into force in March 2022. Its goals are numerous: First, to allow users to repair devices more easily either themselves or at repair centers, even after several years. Second, to reduce the amount of e-waste being created. Third, to get and provide more information about which devices perform better and are more repairable to help guide consumers. France has brought in a labelling system already that ranks devices based on how easy they are to repair from 1 to 10 (and the UK is following soon). In the USA repair.org has lobbied state governments to bring in similar legislation across the country, too.
12:54 – What is included in the right to repair regulation (EU version)? Manufacturers of washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators and TVs/monitors will have to ensure that components are replaceable with common tools. Instruction manuals must be accessible to specialist companies. And producers must supply spare parts within 15 days and make them available for 10 years.
Renaud shares some strategies how companies make products hard to repair, such as using unique fasteners, glueing devices closed, and fighting against non-standard parts being used for repairs.
15:11 – How some hard-to-repair products are more durable & reliable and benefits of this. An Apple laptop is very hard to repair as it has integrated parts, such as the battery, but if it were easy to remove parts like the battery the increase in moving parts reduces the durability. Right to repair isn’t necessarily conducive to durability, so this contradiction is an interesting point to look out for. The context of the product is important. If a product is hard to repair but durable, reliable, and lasts for many years without any issues, being repairable isn’t such a benefit.
18:51 – Taking Apple as an example of products where being hard to repair enhances their durability. Apple build their products to last, so will right to repair fundamentally change the way they design their products? By controlling the experience and reducing the amount that devices can be manipulated by anyone who is not at least an authorized repair center, Apple enhances their devices’ reliability.
A new philosophy encouraged by the right to repair is modular smartphones and laptops where components can be swapped in as needed, making them more future-proof, are an alternative, but will they be as sturdy and reliable?
A compromise by Apple is that they will work with local resellers and repair shops and provide them with the instructions and spares they need to repair consumers’ devices should they require it, making authorized repairs more accessible.
23:58 – How product design may change to embrace ‘Design For Repair/Maintainability’ in future and is it an opportunity? Brands already design for cost, quality, and reliability, but now they need to consider repair as well. This could make it harder for startups to design a great product, but it provides opportunities to manufacturers, too. For example, if you’re able to receive a high repairability score, this is a powerful USP that can be attractive to consumers who’re interested in sustainability.
There’s also an opportunity to focus on common parts for the product during design, as this makes them easier to repair and less complex to manufacture.
27:05 – Can right to repair discourage planned obsolescence? This was more common in the 60s and 70s where manufacturers designed parts into their products that they knew would probably fail after a certain time (due to testing them). The target would be a failure rate of 50-70% to break not long after the warranty expired, after say 2 years with a 1-year warranty provided. This is the ugly side of reliability engineering. Apple has been accused of this when they throttled their older phone models’ performance. Reliability testing has been used for good, too, though. Dyson used the data from their testing to find components that were too sturdy and cut them down in order to save costs and materials (good for the environment) without diminishing performance.
31:39 – Optimizing products and how this can make a designer’s job tougher. A product designer can design a product to be more repairable, but if designers are given too many parameters to optimize for, such as fewer parts, standard parts, lighter weight, more durable, etc, etc, they may struggle to produce a great design and you might end up with something that’s watered down and not ideal.
32:59 – Wrapping up.
- Design New Products with ‘Right To Repair’ in Mind
- The EU is giving citizens the “right to repair” electronics — here’s what that could mean for the world
- The Design for X Approach: 12 Common Examples
- What Are Design For Reliability (DFR) And Design For Maintenance? [Video]
- Consumers and repair of products [EU parliament briefing]
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