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Just fix it!

February 10, 2021

I am not as much a tinkerer as some engineers and sailors. Still, I have more than once cursed with bleeding knuckle, trying to reach some part that needs replacing. So my first thought is to sympathize with France’s move to grade products for their repairability.

But. But… a few caveats come to mind.

First, many electronic gadgets tossed in the trash are fully functional, or easily repaired, but have been made obsolete by the rapid advance in their technical realm. Cellphones and digital cameras just a few years old look relics next to newer ones. Dedicated MP3 players and alarm clocks and even GPS systems seem less necessary as their functions are rolled into the ubiquitous cellphone or tablet. On my last boat delivery, the owner opted not to forego the expense of a chartplotter, using instead his iPad for digital navigation. And it worked well enough. The physical demands of chartplotter displays likely saves the market for them. But many electronic gadgets just a few years old are long past their utility.

Second, most everything these days more complex than a lawnmower has some embedded processor that controls its function and provides instrumentation. For any such device, the ability to update and control that software is as important as the ability to replace the plug or wheel. It is more difficult to specify what it means to give consumers control of that. (See my previous post on OBD for cars.)

Repairability may not be as clear or reachable as a few decades past. And provides only a partial step to the larger goal of sustainable engineering. Still, it makes sense to grade cars and large appliances on that.

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