Friday, 16 October 2015

Appliance of Science

Victorians built things to last, whereas we build to .... well frankly, to fail very quickly.

Everybody has noticed that many manufactured items, especially that are known as 'white goods', do not last like they used to. This phenomenon is known as 'planned redundancy', aka 'planned obsolescence', and simply means that cheaper components, and build tolerances, are deliberately placed into the manufacturing process, so that the goods break down more often or earlier.

Whitegoods Built To Be Scrapped

This is actually admitted by the industry on its website, the Whitegoods Trade Association (WTA) openly acknowledges that the average lifespan of whitegoods has dropped in relation to prices, but also points out that prices in relation to incomes have also dropped considerably. A Kenwood Chef mixer bought forty or fifty years ago, would have been the equivalent of a months or mores take home wages (they sold in John Lewis's for £70 in 1972, which was a lot of money then) .... and which is something around £1,500 (net) in today’s terms. Nowadays you can buy a Kenwood Classic Chef for £119.00.

My old washing machine lasted thirty years from new ....... my current one may make a decade, but only because I use it more sparingly these days, and the industry average life for a washing machine has dropped from over ten years, to under seven years.

We seem to have offset quality for cost and its been accepted, which is a price our forbearer's didn't think was worth paying. They wanted quality and good costs .... to them longevity was a key factor. However we are living in the MTV generation era, where gratification has to immediate and disposable.

Consider Japan, the worst exponent of this culture on a per-capita basis. Cars are junked at four years of age, most never having had an oil change. Their other durable white goods, which are often culturally prohibited from being resold as used, are often trashed, while actually in full working condition. All because they don't do second hand because its considered slightly shameful.

I don't know which is better, less changes but a longer shelf life, or constant cheaper products? But maybe if every machine had an average life expectancy (with average usage figure), included with any sales material, then possibly quality would increase due to the bad publicity the dodgy machines would get.

However, in the meantime, if anyone can explain to me why the cost of buying two lots of ink for a cheap printer, is more expensive than just buying a new printer with ink, I would appreciate it. 


  1. Planned obsolescence will be the end of us, a shameful and ridiculous fate like sawing off the branch that you're sitting on.

    This is one of the few areas where government should actually do something because it's normal that manufacturers will maximise their profits by diluting products or use ever cheaper ingredients - the government should discourage such practices with standards and controls; we as consumers can only influence the market when there's a manufacturer which bucks the trend which might never be the case.

    Advertising the life expectancy of appliances is a good idea, at the moment they even avoid displaying the power consumption, sometimes just stating how many kWh they might consume in a year - not very useful.

    Ecolabels are good but I don't think that they take into account life expectancy.

    One area which I find particularly frustrating is car spare parts : each manufacturer seems to produce bespoke parts for each of their models which are not even the same from one year to the next. I see no reason why many parts can't be universal, simplifying everything from manufacture to finding a replacement, and I don't understand how this wouldn't be more profitable?

    I'm sure that most people are thankful on a daily basis that all mobile phones now have to have a USB socket. Manufacturers still manage to proprietize them where they can with less common USB designs and different charging rates should you dare to use a competitor's charger, but at least you can find a cable which will make the connection when the one which came with the device no longer works.

    1. I have dozens of chargers for phones and other electrical goods. Most of them could have been one universal design as they are nearly all the same voltages.


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