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Built In Planned Obsolescence

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Is it true that manufacturers have deliberately set out to make stuff obsolete after ever shorter periods or is that not the case at all?

We've weakly argued or at least hinted on this website that it seems that there is a deliberate policy to make appliance lifespans shorter and, from our perspective as repairers and a spare parts retailer that on the face of it, that does seem to be supported by facts.

But we don't actually think it's just as straightforward as that and the topic is in reality immensely more complex in many ways.

Now regardless of hat we say and, regardless of cold hard facts we expect that there will be some people that think it's a nefarious plan by big business to elicit more cash from the poor punters.

If only big companies were that smart!

There's stupidity almost for sure yes, there's even some planning that leads to stuff being obsolete yes and there's some design choices on manufacture that are, will we say, questionable without doubt. But deliberately to force people to replace stuff, we're not entirely convinced.

What we are convinced of is that there's a series of failings, most of them leading to unintended consequences that largely seem to stem from poor foresight.

We'll try to expand and explain how and why we think that.

  Consumer Driven Market

Yes that's right everyone, we all buy stuff and the stuff we buy in droves are what manufacturers make.

After all, there's not a lot of point making stuff people don't want.

When you get into the appliance market it's now a commodity market, that's to say there's not really a lot to choose between products other than the shape, size, colour and whatever flavours of features come with those.

At least, that's the way the bulk of buyers appear to see things.

As a result of that it becomes a price driven industry, who does whatever it is cheapest, wins.

Compounded by internet shopping in may regards as, stuff people should know about appliances regards quality, build and so on you can't explain well there. So people buy on price.

Manufacturers are forced to compete or die. They compete.

In order to cut costs so as to achieve ever lower prices they cut in areas you can't see. Areas like durability, quality, service, spares support… all these things are open to the axe to get that low, low price in the store.

After all, none of all that sort of stuff happens for free.

Once that's all done and dusted makers then look to how else they can reduce production costs.

One way is to start using sealed assemblies internally that allows them to buy boatloads of the things in for production at a lower overall cost. Now to many people that might seem well, mental but if you think about it from the manufacturer's perspective trying to attain a low in-store price so as to actually see the stuff they make, it makes complete sense.

Now it's a "thing" in the industry and, we feel a trend that's gone too far.

It needs addressed. Now.

  Sealed Assemblies

We first wrote about sealed tubs or tanks way back in 2011 but we knew about this before then.

Back then it wasn't really all that common to see these things, it was only the odd model here than there that had seam welded plastic tanks that, when the bearings went or something got stuck in it you were as well to just bin the machine and buy another.

Fast forward to now and you'll struggle to find a washing machine that doesn't have a sealed tank.

All in the drive and need to get lower costs, cheaper machines for people to buy. Only for them to find out that they can't repair them and have to bin them a few years later.

That few pounds saving up front, ends up cost a lot more down the track.

Stupidity, nefarious planning or simply serving the needs of the market? You decide.

  More Complete Assemblies

This trend has expanded though.

Now we regularly see complete assemblies only for the likes of:

  • Washing machine doors
  • Dishwasher basket wheels, you need to buy a whole basket to get
  • Sealed fridge and freezer doors, you can't replace the seals
  • Dishwasher motor with integrated heaters
  • Oven doors you can't split
  • Tumble dryer heaters you cannot replace thermostats on
  • Motors that you can't buy carbon brushes for
  • Hobs you have to buy heating banks costing hundreds of pounds
  • Pumps you can't get filters for, only full pump and filter assemblies

And, that's just a flavour of the things lurking in the world of spare parts.

Many people seeing this will probably have already been a victim of such a thing, hence the interest and that's a real shame as, it's too late by then, you've been stung already.

For this that haven't been stung as well as those that have there's a few economic effects of all this that might be of interest that ultimately leads to complete obsolescence of these types of parts, and unintended consequence we expect of this madness.

  Availability Issues

For a start the cost of these assemblies will generally be much if not massively higher than say, a set of basket wheels for a dishwasher at £10 or so as opposed to a whole basket and £50 plus.

In turn that means that nobody wants to hold any more on stock that they absolutely have to.

That constrains supply.

Makers will tout (as some have) that the items are obviously more reliable as they are selling less.

They're being muppets and spinning it of course as, naturally they use less as people refuse to pay 25-200% the cost of the product to replace a single item!

But lower use figures mean lower stocks produced means they are eventually not produced at all in a relatively short time and… there's your built in obsolescence!

  Admirable Ingenuity

In some ways you have to admire the manufacturers and the people that work in this companies for having the gumption to make stuff ever cheaper.

We often wonder if it is all that smart though in some ways as, despite all that cleverness the manufacturers aren't making any more money it seems so, wasted effort? Or is it just eroded away through providing the products ever cheaper?

Just look at induction (microwaves, dishwashers and more if you want) where they start out expensive, hailed as the saviour of the industry and yet, a few years on, the price is eroded away making it, well, nothing special at all. It's just another boring product that everyone has, and it's all a bun fight over who has the lowest price. Again.

Ingenious perhaps. Beneficial, only to consumers that enjoy more affordable products.

  Who's Fault It Is Anyway?

You might think from the tone in this article that we'd like to blame consumers but, that's not entirely the case.

Sure they have a role to play and it's a big one as, if someone makes a £100 washing machine, there's people that'll buy it, even if it is complete garbage. Then often bemoan that it's rubbish and died early!

Fact is, where the demand is there will be a maker that tries to fulfil that demand, it's just the way of a free commercial market.

The maker will cut and chop, dodge and dive and do whatever to get that product into people's hands at the best possible price and, as much as they can for it with an acceptable margin.

Therefore manufacturers have a role here as well and part of the blame must fall on them also.

Likewise retailers, pushing manufacturers constantly to produce stuff cheaper so they can offer lower prices than competitors are also in the firing line for blame.

But it's okay if it's rubbish, they can sell you an extra warranty so when it breaks you can get it fixed, or a new one. Increasing their sales back to where they probably would have been selling something decent. The irony of which is not lost on us at all.

So long as they or more accurately, we all buy into this system, we'll have what we have and we'll never escape this wasteful cycle of cheap products with a shorter and finite life through, probably, unintended obsolescence.

Or, legislation calls time on it.

Either way, change is needed to put a stop to this insanity.

Until then the e-waste will continue to pile up.

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