I’m going to wade into a subject that, quite frankly, may not have an obvious right or wrong answer. People feel passionately on both sides, but there are significant shades of grey; the Right to Repair…
Perhaps you’ve not heard of the Right to Repair, a movement that gives consumers the legal right to repair products. The movement started in the mid-2010’s and has gained momentum since. In some jurisdictions it requires manufacturers to maintain and sell spare parts inventories, make schematics available, and support the customer in self-repairing items they’ve purchased.
On one hand, I 100% support the Right to Repair. I built my first car from two cars that didn’t run (a 1978 + 1979 Pontiac Frankenstein). My first computer came in a kit that I assembled. I support the Open-Source software movement, Wikipedia, and most user-generated paradigms. I like tinkerers and tinkering when I have time.
On the other hand, I’m an advocate of intellectual property rights, functionally safe systems, and I’m aware of the security risks of open designs. In my professional life, I’ve seen the impact of modular-based designs that are easier to maintain. Often, they create untenable latency in product functionality that renders them effectively useless.
I’ve seen industrial technology products increase significantly in quality from improvements to build quality, some of which prevent self-repair by requiring specific tooling, test benches, and clean/anti-static repair rooms. Take the latest generation of hardware from Hexagon’s unified hardware platform. I’ve placed hundreds of units in the field and have seen only a few returned over several years. Quite a testament to high build quality, but one that cannot be repaired in just any workshop.
Lastly, I’ve seen the speed of change in technology that can render five to 10-year-old products functionally obsolete. I’ve witnessed the cost of end-of-life inventory holding cripple the working capital of technology companies that could use the money to invest in innovation. For example, the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which knocked out major microchip manufacturing facilities in Japan or, more recently, the impacts of COVID-19 on global supply chains, which caused component prices to rise five to 10 times. Some parts were just never available again except on secondary markets.
So, would you give up the right to repair if the mean time to failure was significantly reduced?
At what level is something repairable? Is it at the system level, component level (like a cable or computer), subcomponent level (like a board), or is it down to the smallest part (like a processor)?
Are you willing to cede liability for an autonomous or critical safety system in exchange to repair it yourself?
Would you accept a shorter replacement cycle if it fostered more value-creating innovation, but required upgrading every three to five years?
Is there a single answer? At the very least, it is an interesting debate. Let us know your thoughts at email@example.com