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How would durable goods look like if were intended to be more durable?

  1. Oct 20, 2014 #1
    I've got a coffee machine that just served well seven years with one repair, but now has to be thrown away. I wonder whether it would be possible to produce goods to work longer, I still miss fridge from the Soviet times which served me for 17 years (one repair).

    Assuming that I understand problem (as economist):
    1) planned obsolescence;
    2) consumer sees price now, and not cost of working machine/year, plus suffers from information asymmetry;
    3) technical progress in electronics, which makes production of very durable computers pointless.

    If from some reasons goods (fridge, mobile phone, car, whatever) were expected to serve longer, how would it change their design?

    Look more rugged?
    Some parts (batteries) would simply have to be replaced, so the only solution would be to make their replace easy? (provide spare parts / easy access inside)
    Different materials?
    Uniform plugs, screws, etc?
    Would some complexity have to be sacrificed?
     
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  3. Oct 20, 2014 #2

    phinds

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    It's not that difficult to design things to be more rugged / last longer, it's just more expensive to build them.

    I'm on several woodworking forums and a CONSTANT thread of complaint sounds like this. Only the details differ:

     
  4. Oct 20, 2014 #3

    russ_watters

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    17 years? My grandfather built his house in the 1960s and all of his kitchen appliances outlived him (though the fridge became the garage/spare fridge because it didn't auto-defrost). I suspect they got junked when his house was sold 5 years ago.
     
  5. Oct 21, 2014 #4
    The part "more expensive" is the part that I fully understand as an economist. I was just curious how exactly it would affect design on any example.

    OK, stuff from his house won. ;)
     
  6. Oct 21, 2014 #5

    phinds

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    Pretty much EVERYTHING is more expensive. Better design, more sturdy (expensive) components, better precision of parts for better alignment and less wear, more testing of the design and of the final products, etc.
     
  7. Oct 21, 2014 #6

    berkeman

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    One other aspect of more durable goods is to put more intelligence and self-monitoring into them. By watching their motor startup current characteristic, for example, a washer or dryer or refrigerator can tell if the motor is starting to go bad. This allows it to alert the owner to looming problems, before the actual failure. That then lets the owner get ready for the repair before it becomes an emergency.
     
  8. Oct 21, 2014 #7

    K41

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    Its also because systems are becoming increasingly complicated and therefore less well understood as their simpler counterparts.
     
  9. Oct 21, 2014 #8

    phinds

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    No, that's not what we are talking about here. We are talking about a 1950's American-made appliance vs a 2014 identical model made in China with the same parts list EXCEPT in the 2014 model, all the parts are cheap and more subject to wear, the tolerances are poor, the quality control is poor, etc. The 1950's model will last 40 years and the Chinese POS will last 4 if you are really lucky.
     
  10. Oct 22, 2014 #9

    Danger

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    My newest appliance is my microwave oven, which is a mere baby at 20 years compared to the rest. All work just fine.
    The object of industry is planned obsolescence, but that was mostly restricted to cosmetic aspects in the old days. I'm pretty sure that one of the doors on our '55 Plymouth weighed more than an entire Civic.
     
  11. Oct 23, 2014 #10
    I suppose manufacturing would have to change from "faster and cheaper assembly" point of view, to a " repairable". Perhaps robotic production lines would have to change to suit.
    Out with the glues, and snap together plastic tangs that break when pulling apart, to possibly more screws and larger mating surfaces, to accommodate, and accessibility. And get rid of those star screws with the pin in the middle - who really has one of those screwdrivers? They will have 7 normal headed screws and just one or two of these pinned ones to keep prying eyes out.
    Or a socket thin enough to fit down that narrow plastic 4 inch long hole to get at a headed screw.

    Bring back tube TV's - all you had to do most of the time was to just pull out the bad tube and put in the new one, and the TV was repaired. Maybe a dearth of features but it worked forever.
     
  12. Oct 23, 2014 #11

    Danger

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    Oh, man... what memories. Every gas station had a tube tester that you would take a suspected tube to from your TV or radio and plug in to see if it worked. If not, there were replacements behind the counter with the smokes and ammo.
     
  13. Oct 23, 2014 #12

    russ_watters

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    Er, what you are describing is better, not more expensive. And I agree at least to a point. Our household machines (and cars) are much more feature-full than they used to be. But I think part of the problem is that the precision allows corners to be cut and many of the machines are less robust because of it.

    As for more expensive? No: pretty much every household machine costs a small fraction of what it cost decades ago.
     
  14. Oct 23, 2014 #13

    phinds

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    Russ, I think you're missing the point of the OP's question. I certainly agree w/ you that things are less expensive today than in the past, but adjusted for inflation, it isn't so much, but that's all somewhat beside the point of the OP's quesion which is that if TODAY things were made to last what would be the economic impact on the cost TODAY. It would certainly be more expensive by quite a bit to replace the cheap crap we buy to day with durable goods that were actually durable. They might STILL be less expensive (even inflation adjusted) than in the past, but they would be more expensive than the current cheap crap and he is asking why that is so.
     
  15. Oct 23, 2014 #14

    Danger

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    The one that really weirds me out is: why does it cost almost twice as much to buy a new ink cartridge than it does to buy a new printer with 4 fresh cartridges in it?
     
  16. Oct 23, 2014 #15

    phinds

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    This is a perfectly reasonable marketing strategy. The manufacturers just about give away the printers and then make most of their money on the cartridges. I was not aware there were any cases where the loaded printer is cheaper than a set of cartridges though. Can you provide a reference for that?
     
  17. Oct 23, 2014 #16

    Danger

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    Not specifically, although some Googling of local stores might reveal it. I've never even used any of the printers that I have, other than the old tractor-feed dot matrix for my Atari 800. (That was a workhorse worth its weight in gold. Unfortunately, I've misplaced the computer itself around here somewhere, and it won't work with anything else.) I do know that when the newer one (a Lexmark) had been sitting around for a while and I tried to use it, the ink had dried up. I went to the store for a new black cartridge, since I wasn't needing to print colours, and it was $65. The same model of printer, at the same store, was listed at $35 and was loaded with ink. Needless to say, I printed my stuff at work instead. Also, the work printer was a high-end Canon. A new black cartridge (it used 4, as did mine), was almost $90. A brand new printer of the same model was less than $150.
    I admit that in both cases the ink was at regular price and the printers were on sale, but still...
    I'll never buy ink again. When it runs out, I'll just buy a new printer and scavenge some nice gears and motors from the old one.
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2014
  18. Oct 24, 2014 #17
    I have a second hand fridge that's an estimated 21 yrs old. (You can search the manufacturing date range of appliances using the model and serial numbers) Although I do plan to replace it before it fails. The coils do eventually erode from the inside.
     
  19. Oct 24, 2014 #18

    DaveC426913

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    Something to keep in mind. The printers that sell with ink, are not fully loaded - they have only a fraction of a store-bought ink cartridge. Enough to get your first job or two done before you need to buy replacements.
     
  20. Oct 24, 2014 #19

    Danger

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    I was unaware of that, but it really wouldn't make much difference in my case. If I print a few pages and then leave it to sit idle, the ink will dry up long before I get around to using it again. In that case, a new printer is more cost-effective. (Even more effective would be to just take my stuff on a thumb-drive down to the local library. They charge about 25 cents per page, but that's because they sell the paper for that much. I just take my own paper and print what I need for free. That's been stuff off of the net, though, so I'm not sure how their computers would react to a USB intrusion.)
     
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