You must have heard a dozen times, especially from older folks or your parents. When I was younger we have fixed things and not just carelessly replaced them with new ones. They often get frustrated when faced with the situation where it’s just a little bit more expensive to buy a new appliance than fix the old one. Even some conspiracy theories arise that manufacturers purposely make appliances the way they would just pass the original warranty period and then break. Could that possibly be true?
We could be sure that every company especially if owned by shareholders and publicly traded would go far to improve the margins. Would they actually go as far as making components to fail after certain period of time? A piece of technology broken beyond repair certainly creates market need for another unit as well as some job for recycling the old one. While we could see a motivation piece in place it would take quite a bit of research and testing to come up with such a time ticking bomb.
Some examples however seem to prove failing by design engineering. Around 2008-2009 there were couple of series of professional LCD monitors coming with 3 years warranty that would break within a year after the warranty expiration. Even though the screens came under various brands they would show the same symptom which was flickering power indicator. It quickly turned out there were 2 capacitors, less than one dollar for both that kept bringing several hundred bucks monitors down. The great power of the internet forums where shared knowledge spreads like a lighting has shown its full power here. Flicker power led phrase entered in any search engine would quickly lead to either detailed instruction how to replace the capacitors or places where you could get inexpensive replacement for board with faulty pieces. Capacitors tend to fail after some time as their function is essentially to expand and retract, it brought by dad TV down once but it happened after 23 years of usage. If the monitor failure was engineered by the manufacturers it must have backfired on them, most must have been easily recovered and poor quality ID badges have been attached to the entire brands.
A good friend of mine offers another explanation to the phenomenon. He has decent insight into the appliance and car industry since he spent 12 years in fixing home electronics and another 16 as dealership mechanic. His explanation to short life of many components consists of 2 parts: ecology and ergonomy. Today’s manufacturing standards require not only to avoid harmful substances such as asbestos but also include certain portion of eco friendly recyclable materials. Sometimes you could find equally performing equivalent at the same price but most of the time you cannot and that’s why a harmful element was used in the first place. Freons in cooling systems and asbestos in car brake pads would be examples of the latter case.
Ergonomy of the maintenance process is also very important. The holy grail is to quickly and doubtlessly diagnose the problem and be able to replace the broken part quickly. That is why some car users get frustrated when they hear that an entire expensive module needs to be replaced even when a small part of it it’s broken.
If you think the money drives the time for which you could use many thing you are probably right but it might not necessarily by driven they way you thought.
The author is a founder of QuickIDcard.com, the industry leader online id badge maker.