If you’re in the electronics design and manufacturing business, you’ll have to start making your devices easy to repair, or risk facing legal actions that could put you out of business.
And if you believe that the statement above is a bit too exaggerated, you might want to give it a second thought.
Apple and Microsoft have both openly opposed the “Right to Repair” movement – by lobbying against it – which calls for government intervention to pass bills to force electronic manufacturers to make devices easy to repair in support of electronics reworkability.
But, surprisingly, in their most recent product launches, they’ve taken significant steps towards more repairable electronics.
- The past fall, Microsoft released their new line of Surface products, and they feature a unique modular repairable design.
- Last August, Apple announced a new program that will allow independent repair shops to have access to Apple parts and exclusive repair tools.
- For the latest Mac Pro, Apple provided step numbers and diagrams for certain repairs right on the device. They also made free manuals and videos to help people with the repairs.
As written by Forbes, “maybe those right to repair bills are starting to look seriously scary.”
Bills are moving forward. This is what’s happening in Europe and the USA
New Right to Repair Legislation in the European Union will Take Hold in 2021
So, things are starting to speed up in the EU. They recently ratified the right to repair electronics.
This aims at moving forward towards more sustainable manufacturing practices. Which the EU desperately needs to meet its aim under the Green Deal: Becoming a net-zero emitter of greenhouse gases by 2050.
This is how this regulation affects electronic manufacturers.
- Technical standards will be set, so phones, tablets, and laptops are manufactured with changeable and repairable parts
- For consumer appliances (Refrigerators, Microwaves, etc..), manufacturers are required to supply replacement parts to professional repairers for ten years from manufacturing
- Any software, tools or manual needed for the repairs must also be provided
Additionally, in July 2017, the European Parliament approved recommendations inciting member states to pass laws that allow consumers the chance to repair their electronics.
These recommendations see the ability to repair devices as a means to reduce waste to the environment and move towards more sustainable electronics and sustainable manufacturing.
At a national level, in Europe, this is what’s happening
Sweden: People can get tax breaks for electronics repairs done by technicians in their homes (They need access to manufacturer parts and tools)
France: In January 2021, electronic manufacturers will be forced to give their electronics a repairability score, which consumers will be able to access both online and on physical stores.
Norway: The average warranty for electronics is set at 5 years
The UK: Plans are underway to force manufacturers of IoT devices to state the minimum duration of Software support.
Italy: A “Planned obsolescence law” aims to ensure spare parts availability for products, at reasonable prices.
The goal of the “right to repair” legislation is to make all electronics, from smartphones to tumble driers, easier to repair.
Manufacturers are forced to continue offering spare parts, software upgrades, and other means to keep using existing devices, instead of encouraging consumers to buy new ones.
Making software updates available for older devices is increasingly important.
With the advent of IoT, we now find ourselves in a world of ever-changing software updates, which eventually lead to the demise of fully functioning hardware when their processors can no longer support the latest update.
This is why so many of us have household drawers filled with old – and often bricked – electronic devices, abandoned by the companies that made them.
Right to Repair Legislation in the USA
In 2019, 20 states in the US considered digital right-to-repair legislation.
This would allow independent electronics repair shops and consumers to gain access to manufacturers’ parts, manuals, and schematics for cellphones, heavy equipment, and appliances.
In the US, there’s a call to make heavy equipment part of the right to repair legislation.
This comes after many farmers found out that they could not legally repair their own John Deere Tractors, or any other John Deere farming equipment, without using the manufacturers’ private services, which come at a high cost.
It takes nothing more than a quick look at John Deere’s website to realize how much electronics have come to dominate their farming and construction equipment.
As of right now – 29/07/20 – no right to repair bill has been passed in the US, nonetheless, judging by their latest product launches, big tech players like Apple and Microsoft seem to be getting ready for it.
The electronics industry is the world’s largest and fastest-growing industry, and is producing the fastest growing waste stream: in 2019 alone, 53,6 million tons of e-waste was generated.
According to the current Global E-Waste Monitor by the United Nations Institute for training and research, International Telecommunication Union, ISWA.
It is only logical to expect a more significant push from environmentalists – and people pissed at not being able to fix what they own – for the Right to Repair bills to be passed and implemented.
Governments will and continue to support the right to repair bills both because of public pressure and because of their commitment to the sustainable development goals set by the UN
“Right to repair” is a key aspect of sustainable manufacturing and sustainable electronics.
6 Actions Manufacturers Have to Take to Comply with the New Reworkability Legislations
As you already read, the EU has already passed legislation with specific guidelines to support the right to repair; the US is on the way leading up to it, and they’re also particular about what they want from manufacturers.
European nations are setting their policies.
So, at the end of the day, what manufacturers have to do to comply with the right to repair legislation, and any other policy aim at more sustainable electronics, will depend on where they’re selling their electronics.
This list, however, gathers a series of best practices, so you’re not caught off guard.
1- Design your product, “Lego Style.”
This is precisely what Apple did with its latest Mac Book Pro.
Large modules—like RAM and some PCIe cards—can be swapped without tools, almost Lego-style, just like we do in PC’s.
Now, we’re not telling you to go and copy Apple’s product design, not many can afford that, and you’d most likely never meet your time to market.
The point here is to design your electronic device using a modular approach, so it is easier to take apart and repair.
Modular designs are also DFM friendly, making the device easier to manufacture.
2- Use Standard Screws
To keep your device together and secure use screws, but use standard ones, so it is easy for consumers and repair shops to take the device apart if it needs to be repaired.
A couple of years ago, Apple switched to a unique new screw called by some a Penta lobe. It’s designed to make it impossible for anyone but Apple to open an iPhone or a Mac.
Remember, according to the EU Right to Repair legislation, if your devices require special tools for repairment, you have to provide them to consumers, how will that impact your bottom-line?
Also, using a limited number of standard screw sizes is very good DFM practice. Click this link to read about how you can make your electronics easier to manufacture
3- Choose Long-Lasting Electronic Components
Now, this is tricky. This has to happen early on the product design stage, during the electronics architecture stage.
We’ve mentioned it before in a couple of articles. System Design decides 60% of the cost your product will incur over its lifetime.
Now, with new legislation forcing manufacturers to offer up to 10 years long warranty, they will need to continue to supply a stream of replacement parts and components to professional repairmen shops.
You need to make sure the components you choose don’t go EOL (End of Life) any time soon.
Dealing with electronic components and their lead times can be challenging at times. Making sure they stay around for up to 10 years will prove to be difficult too.
Here’s an idea, when you design your PCB, try to leave room for substitute components in case one in the original design goes EOL.
4- Make Tutorials on How to Repair Your Electronic Devices
Manufacturers will be forced to offer manuals on how to repair their devices, in addition to creating these and uploading them to your website, do videos.
Nowadays most cellphones record in HD and getting a tripod is inexpensive, record someone in your team taking your electronics apart and showing how to fix them
Don’t just upload the videos to your YouTube channel or website, also go to https://www.ifixit.com/ and place them there, this will also score some marketing points for your brand.
5- Aim for Software updates on Run on Old Hardware
Lots of people are forced to buy new electronics because they can’t run the latest updates, expect this issue to be in the eye of the storm.
Generally, what happens is that new updates make the software grow in size and processing demand, something old processors won’t be able to manage.
But sometimes, new software updates come with a lot of uncontrolled software bloat.
Implementing a rigorous final code size for new updates might give your company a better chance at making software updates run on older hardware.
6- Try to Stay Away from Glue
Take Amazon as an example.
Some Amazon Kindles are constructed using glued plastic casing that is all but impossible to open.
This type of device is always challenging to repair. You might want to think twice before gluing stuff together.
Gluing plastic cases and mechanical seals have been a way to make electronic devices water-resistant, but that’s no longer the only choice.
Nanocoatings can protect a PCB and even a whole device.
Reworkability of Electronics – Conclusion
Reworkability of Electronics is a topic that has been on the table for a while now. Attention on the issue has grown because of the E-waste we’re generating and the fight for the right to repair items you own.
Governments are starting to pass legislation in pro of the Reworkability of Electronics.
It’s time for electronic manufacturers to keep in mind that while designing their electronics, they should keep in mind making them as easy to repair as possible.