planned obsolescence

I guess the name speaks for its self.

planned obsolescence

Postby Andrea on Fri Aug 20, 2010 4:44 pm

I'm raising this issue in the "systems in the news" discussion forum, because it's a personal story that has had its last chapter develop just a couple of hours ago in my kitchen!

About six years ago we bought a top of the range AEG freezer thinking that:

-- it's excellent energy rating would limit its environmental life cycle impact, and save us a few bob in the long-term;

-- the reputation of the company hopefully meant that the freezer would not break down, and, if by pure bad luck, it did break down, it would be easy to find spare parts for it.

Well, the bloody thing did break down last month: the computing component ("electronic board") started refusing to recognise when the temperature was going below the established thermostat level. So I promptly ordered a replacement electronic board online for just over £100, only to find that a very trivial component missing.

Phoning the spare parts supplier, they simply refused to believe that this trivial component was missing, especially since I was not a qualified AEG/Electrolux engineer (the curse of the professional experts: I'm not "qualified" so I don't know anything!). They recommended that I get myself a "qualified" engineer to look at the problem. So, I did exactly that, only for the engineer to confirm that the component was indeed missing (I had to pay a £60 fee for being told what I already knew). But, because I wasn't a qualified AEG/Electrolux engineer, he stated that I had probably ordered the wrong part anyway.

The engineer recommended that I throw away the freezer and get myself a new one. However, I managed to convince him to order "the right part" himself. He duly turned up with "the right part" a couple of weeks later, only to find out that it was exactly the same as mine with exactly the same trivial component missing!

So, another couple of weeks were spent inserting the trivial component into the electronic board. The engineer came back to fit it, turned the plug on, and....almighty bang.... the electronic board blew up!! I then spent the next 20 minutes going through the instructions and explaining to the "qualified" engineer how he hadn't followed the wiring recommendations appropriately and therefore short-circuited the system. He responded that he has hardly ever worked on "old" products that are outside their warranty period, so isn't used to rewiring older systems to suit new components. His last remark was "I told you to get a new freezer didn't I!"

The freezer now doesn't even work with the old electronic board --it's totally dead, and we will have to get a new one. "Planned obsolescence" has worked a treat.........yet another great triumph for the consumerist/industrial system!

Industrial system - 1 : "unqualified" environmentalist - 0. :(
esse sequitur operari
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby jim_lewis1 on Fri Aug 20, 2010 7:32 pm

surely the engineer is liable for the damage he did? I'm pretty amazed to hear there are any electronics in what should be such a simple system. (motor, thermostat and maybe an over temp cut out)

if you get hold of an engineer worth the name they should be able to get it working, but I'd go for an AEG approved one.

6 years is a pitifully short life for a freezer. But I can see you're reaching the point where you've spent more than buying a new one in the first place.

I agree it is indefensible.


I bought my fridge second-hand for £60, (an under counter one, they retail from £400 upwards), the hinge had broken so it was no longer wanted.

One trip to a local welder later and it was good to go, (2 years on and still OK). The guy who repaired it didn't even want to take any money for it, but I gave him a tenner for his trouble.

Like you and I, he despaired at the waste of throwing out such appliances for such trivial repairable faults. I think he was just glad to keep one out of the waste.
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Teiana on Sat Aug 21, 2010 2:13 pm

:roll: :roll:

the world is weird.


i have the most problem with the engineer - his lame excuse about not usually working on older models is just outrageous.

so 'started refusing to recognise when the temperature was going below the established thermostat level' means...?... it was getting too cold? not switching off when it got cold enough?

bugger the electrics why not just stick a timer adaptor on the wall socket and have the damn thing switch off some of the time? As long as you don't open the lid and leave a max-min thermometer in it so you can see how cold it got.....?

oh wait, you said it's dead now even with the old board. the engineer ought to buy you a new freezer. His insurance should cover it, he must have some liability insurance..
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Neill on Mon Aug 23, 2010 8:43 am

Hello Andrea,

Is this really a story about planned obsolescence or rather about lack of technical training. I can see where you are coming from but surely the availability of spares suggests that the company intends their products to be repaired.
The missing "bit" is strange but surely the real problem is the lack of training of the expert and inability of experts to accept a non expert as knowing anything.

In defence of the people who did not believe you. They probably deal with people who really have no idea every day so tend to become sceptical.

Neill
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Andrea on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:15 pm

jim_lewis1 wrote:surely the engineer is liable for the damage he did?

Of course he is, but that's not the point. Even if I can get them to refund me the cost of an "oldish" freezer, plus the engineering callout fee and the blown up electronic board, I'd still be going against my principles. :(

I bought my fridge second-hand for £60, (an under counter one, they retail from £400 upwards), the hinge had broken so it was no longer wanted.

One trip to a local welder later and it was good to go, (2 years on and still OK).


That's my next option, if things can't progress any further with this freezer.... I'm desperately trying to avoid buying anything new at the moment ( "reduce, reuse, repair, recycle" is my mantra ;) Jay is already using the four freezer compartments as controlled drying chambers for the pots she threw over the weekend :D )
Last edited by Andrea on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Andrea on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:21 pm

Teiana wrote:so 'started refusing to recognise when the temperature was going below the established thermostat level' means...?... it was getting too cold? not switching off when it got cold enough?

that's right.

bugger the electrics why not just stick a timer adaptor on the wall socket and have the damn thing switch off some of the time? As long as you don't open the lid and leave a max-min thermometer in it so you can see how cold it got.....?

I think the compressor is still sound so that's certainly an option I thought of doing -- just need to check that bypassing the electronic board won't cause something else to explode. I'm a bit scared of leaving such a radical fix running through the night.....
Last edited by Andrea on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Andrea on Mon Aug 23, 2010 12:28 pm

Neill wrote:Is this really a story about planned obsolescence or rather about lack of technical training. I can see where you are coming from but surely the availability of spares suggests that the company intends their products to be repaired.


Actually, I think this is a very good example of planned obsolescence, in that the company has made a token attempt at providing a replacement part (which didn't work anyway as it was originally designed). Knowing that this option will be rarely taken up, AEG hasn't bothered to train its engineers to do the job. "Planned obsolescence" goes beyond the purely technical. It's also a cultural mindset. Engineers are only trained to fix current models under warranty. By not training the engineers to fix slightly older models, the equipment becomes obsolete even if you did have the spare parts. the first thing the engineer said when he saw the freezer was "this is going to be tricky.... you should get a new one". The only reason why he took up the job was because I was so insistent...he could have very easily said "forget it!"

Anyway, I occasionally have a spooky feeling about multinationals monitoring what's going on in discussion forums. This morning I got a phone call -- the AEG engineer is coming back on Thursday (for the sixth time!!) with some more spare parts to see if he can get it running again. So it's not over yet! :o
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Teiana on Mon Aug 23, 2010 2:59 pm

By not training the engineers to fix slightly older models, the equipment becomes obsolete even if you did have the spare parts. the first thing the engineer said when he saw the freezer was "this is going to be tricky.... you should get a new one". The only reason why he took up the job was because I was so insistent...he could have very easily said "forget it


it comes down to the system being based on money rather than on environmental issues, maybe.

if you look at the system from a purely financial position, you should get a new one. There's no argument to that. the engineer looks, thinks 'well a new one would cost £X and i get paid £Y/hour, and it will take me Z hours... and it doesn't usually add up to repair things.

This week i spent quite a few hours time, and some money, making a pine shelf for the top of the coat cupboard. When it was done, there was room for about 8 pairs of shoes. there's no way it was an economical solution. If the criteria i had been measuring on had been money, i'd have been behaving very irrationally. The logical thing to have done would have been to have thrown out the shoes. Thus saving time, money, space, etc. If i was the sort of person that was usually paid a big £X/hour ( which i'm not), i could have done some maths that would have said it would be cheaper to pay someone else to deliver shoes, IF i needed them, rather than spend my time* building a shelf. (*and buying the materials for it, and (logically) the time spent earning the money to buy the materials, etc, and owning a drill, and tools, and storing same).

it depends where the system is drawn. My coat cupboard shelf 'system' is about how, by building THAT shelf, i make the one below it, and the rest of the cupboard, more useable, and in turn, free up more space elsewhere, and, save the shoes (which are perfectly good) going to landfill (though, ok, i could charity shop them).. etc..Plus, (importantly to me) i get some shelf-building practice in - which i hope will come in useful later. But financially it was insane.
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Teiana on Mon Aug 23, 2010 3:02 pm

clearly from the environmental/practical point of view repairing the freezer makes sense.

i'm frustrated by my mobile phone because i know if i try and get a new battery they'll say they don't make them any more and that i need a new phone. I don't, i need a new battery. But i bet i can't get one. Similarly with my laptop.
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Re: planned obsolescence

Postby Andrea on Tue Aug 24, 2010 11:33 am

Teiana wrote:if you look at the system from a purely financial position, you should get a new one..


Even from a financial perspective, I would argue that the only people benefiting from this are large corporations and the waste industry. In the long term, the consumer loses out by constantly having to buy new products. Engineers lose out in that their status (and associated pay) is degraded as they only get involved with routine and simplistic warranty operations. local economies lose out as manufacturing is displaced to low-cost/low skill/unregulated countries in order to produce the cheap products that will break down as soon as the warranty period is over. local economies also lose out as the various local trades that fix things are no longer required.

So, if I have a short-term financial mindset, I should indeed get a new one (and maybe get a job high up on some large corporation and/or the waste industry). But, if I care about the long-term viability of my community, including my own long-term viability within it, maybe I should just continue persevering...
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