Why building products for repairability is good for business


Watch Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, discuss his views on repairability during his Build Better session at the bottom of this piece.

Product designers need to pay more attention to sustainability

We’ve become a society that no longer has TV or camera repair shops in every town; one in which the term “planned obsolescence” is an actual thing. Apple’s first-generation Airpods have irreplaceable, integrated batteries that fail after about 500 recharges or eighteen months. E-waste shouldn’t be our legacy. How can we build things that last longer? And how can product designers focus on sustainability—and repairability, recyclability, and product longevity?

Consumers like sustainability

Designing and building products that can be repaired and last for many years is good business: That’s why leading computer manufacturer HP brags about the repairability of its products in marketing materials. Research presented at the Product Lifetime and the Environment conference (PLATE) indicates that given the choice between an inexpensive product that lasts one or two years and a more expensive, repairable product that lasts closer to five years, customers typically lean toward longer-lasting, more repairable products. 

Design for repairability

Here’s an example of design for repairability: Samsung’s Galaxy Buds give the customer the same net result as other types of earbuds. However, the Galaxy Buds have a serviceable design, with a gasket that pops open to reveal a replaceable, off-the-shelf battery. That’s helpful for consumers because the batteries are possible and easy to replace, saving time and money.

It’s also useful from a manufacturing perspective. If a product is on the production line, and Instrumental reveals an issue with positioning or alignment of something, rework is much simpler. When you design products that are easy to repair and recycle, you reduce your rework costs and improve customers’ perceptions of your brand.

In addition to easily removable and replaceable batteries, other design strategies for repairability include using as few fasteners as possible, ideally of the same type; using strong connectors; and making connections easy to access. Providing clear information to customers also helps: Include parts and part numbers, troubleshooting resources, and open-source documentation.

Design for recyclability

Product designers could go even farther by thinking about how to recycle products by designing for recyclability and using recyclable materials. In fact, the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries has a design for recycling award that Dell has won multiple times. 

Learn more about why building products for repairability is good for business in a talk by circularity and electronics recycling expert Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit. Kyle makes the business case for why prioritizing repairability is good for business, and why you shouldn’t wait to incorporate repairability requirements into your designs.

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