Planned obsolescence

DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - June 25, 2021 - 12:00am

“Have you ever wondered why some consumer goods don’t last? From cell phones to household appliances and clothing to automobile tires, some products we use every day could last much longer, but they don’t.

“Have you ever wondered why major purchases — such as vehicles or large appliances — always seem to break down immediately after a manufacturer’s warranty expires?”

According to sustainablebrands.com, planned obsolescence is to blame… so you will keep buying. A Right to Repair movement, the website reports, is now promoting US consumers’ right to maintain their purchases for longevity and sustainability.

I realize we are living in a throw away consumer age. Except that sometimes, you wonder if consumers are already being abused.

For me, I didn’t like it when the P40k washing machine we bought in 2015 needed to have its computer board changed in 2019. Last year, the repairman from the brand’s service center said we needed to change the computer board again.

We asked why? All he could do was shrug his shoulders and say “ganyan talaga ngayon. Mula ng gumamit ng mga computer boards, ganyan talaga.”

Come to think of it, because of those computer boards, we can no longer use neighborhood mechanics to fix our cars.

As for our washing machine, each time we change the computer board we are out P12k plus service charges. So, we went to S&R, found a less sophisticated model with no computer board selling for P12K and bought that instead.

The other week, it was the turn of our inverter air conditioner, barely three years old, to conk out. Again, the repairman said it would cost P12.5K to change the computer board, but if something else is wrong — as he suspects, that will be another P12.5K or a total of P25k. That’s over half the cost of a new unit.

How come an air conditioner that’s over 30 years old in my daughter’s old room is still working, while the three-year-old one in our bedroom gave up its ghost?

I also wondered why the old Bendix washing machine I grew up with in my parents’ home worked for over 30 years. Indeed, it was the only washing machine I ever knew until I got married and moved out.

Feeling sorry for myself, I posted my woes on Facebook and got instant sympathy.

The owner of the manufacturer of the air conditioner saw my post and reached out. An engineer led a team of technicians to our house and they made things right for me. Thank you so much for a very quick response. The owner was determined to protect the brand’s reputation for durability his father has built through the years.

But what happened, I wanted to know.

It could be a number of things. Maybe I got a lemon. That’s known to happen. I have experienced that with two cars I have bought.

I am told it could also be because of the quality of the electricity we get. Voltage can be unstable. That’s why we use automatic voltage regulators for our desktop computer or an uninterruptible power supply that serves that purpose too. I thought the inverter took care of that when it converts from AC to DC.

Then again, this voltage quality problem has been with us like forever. If it could damage my appliances here in Manila, imagine the problems provincial appliance owners have as they are left in the tender mercies of the electric coops.

Maybe, our local appliance manufacturers should design their products with this problem in mind. A built-in voltage regulator could be a unique selling proposition for consumers to buy their products over others.

The technicians who checked out my problem also noted that the power socket for my air conditioner is old. It could cause sparks that also affects the quality of electricity the unit gets. So, they changed it… that’s beyond their call of duty. Wow! Thanks again, guys!

But I wonder why the technician from their authorized service provider who installed my unit didn’t tell me to change the socket. That’s a service point to add in their checklist.

It’s time to require manufacturers to guarantee the service life of their products beyond the usual one year. Congress should pass a law that will require them to stand behind the quality of their products for at least five years.

In protecting consumers, the environment also gets protected. When these products are prematurely trashed or dumped in a landfill, our environment is damaged.

Businessinsider.com suggests that some manufacturers are deliberately designing products not to last. They visited a place known as the appliance-repair mecca of French-speaking Switzerland.

“Look at this,” says Felice Suglia, bringing over a circuit board. “This is the heart of a television set. The condensers are soldered right next to a heat sink connected to the transistors.

“The condensers are sensitive to heat. Why did Samsung put them here, even though there is room at the other end of the board?” the repairman asks.

But wait… Google just retrieved an article written in 1960 with a cross-section of opinions about planned obsolescence… over 60 years ago:

“This approach has resulted in customer confusion and uncertainty, has had a part in depressing the appliance market, and has helped create the unhealthy emphasis on price now plaguing all independent appliance dealers” — Fred Maytag II, chairman, Maytag Company

“The most important single factor responsible for the growth and vitality of the appliance industry, the automobile industry, and many others.” — Herman Lehman, general manager, Frigidaire

“A price increase in disguise” — Dexter Masters, director, Consumers Union

“One of the villains in the appliance field” — Monte Florman, appliance-testing chief, Consumers Union

“An engineer’s principal purpose’’ — Elisha Gray II, chairman, Whirlpool Corporation

“Plain gypping” — Walter Teague, industrial designer

George Romney, president of American Motors, looked on planned obsolescence as criminal waste.

For us, a developing country, our economy can ill afford waste of any kind. All durable consumer products sold in the country (locally manufactured or imported) should be built to last. Our government should make sure of that.



Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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