Saturday, August 17, 2013

Obsolescence, repairs and tractors

click photo to enlarge
My web browser bookmarks include a folder marked DIY. It lists sites and web pages that I've found useful when it comes to fixing things or undertaking jobs around the house.With a bit of internet help I've managed to repair the cooker, heating radiators, the car, computers, plumbing, a camera and much more. To be able to do such things gives one a sense of satisfaction, saves money and does something for the environment by extending the life of objects.

However, during my lifetime the number things that are repairable has seemed to become ever fewer. Obsolescence appears to be built into more and more products. Items are made difficult or impossible to open without breaking something, spare parts are unavailable or deliberately expensive, non-standard screws or worse still, glue, are used to fix components together, and records show that often the same component lasts the same limited life-span in a particular product - usually a month or two after the expiry of the warranty! It really looks like some manufacturers construct products to fail after a relatively short time, and make them irreparable by the user or even a technician, in the expectation that it will result in another sale. This marketing ploy is additional to the regular "product-upgrade" cycles whereby the latest and greatest additional features are drip-fed into new models on an annual (or more frequent) basis.

A website I sometimes use for repair advice is iFixit. It ranges fairly widely in its coverage, but is particularly useful for electronics. The staff frequently do what are called "teardowns", i.e. the opening up of new products to see how they are made. Then they pass judgement on their potential for repair. Recently the website published a list of ten electronic devices that are almost impossible to repair. A model of the Apple MacBook Laptop with Retina Display was judged worst in this regard. There were five other Apple product in the list (and two Nikon DSLR cameras). Interestingly their ten easiest to repair electronic devices, published earlier, also included an Apple product.

The sight of this old Fordson Major tractor triggered this line of thought. It's a model from when? The 1960s? I don't know exactly, but it's a good few decades old and still giving service in the harshest of environments: sand and salt water are a recipe for mechanical problems. It is used to haul a crab boat into and out of the sea and its basic, rugged construction, the availability of parts, and the opportunity to improvise or make them where they are unavailable (check out the seat and radiator grille!) means it still works after all these years. I like products that are user-serviceable and user-repairable: they are good for the individual and good for wider society. It would be great if more manufacturers took this into account when they designed their products.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 24mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/320 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: 0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On