Right to repair, local vs. global

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,695
How do/would local Right to Repair laws apply to international sales by default? Or maybe the question should be, who do/would the laws apply to? The buyer? The MFG? The broker?

Here's a pertinent real-world example:
Right now my employer purchases PLC-controlled production machinery made in Germany, and the OEM password-protects the PLC code to the tightest possible degree in an unabashed and self-admitted attempt to sustain a monopoly on repair of said equipment. If it breaks down, we have to wait on someone to fly from Germany to fix it. Now, if Right to Repair legislation was enacted in Texas, would that German OEM have to comply with TX law if we were to purchase more machinery from them? What about existing machinery? Could we compel them in a court of law to supply the password? Whose court, in what country? Would we be barred from importing said machinery if they refused to comply? How would that work?
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
23,943
This was, and has been done by what once was the largest manuf. of CNC systems, The Japanese Co, Fanuc.
These were heavily protected in some area by password access, Requiring a payment and a technician to access.
They have always done this world wide with impunity, there are also others in the same field that do this.
I would imagine that if taking it to court, you would be on your own.
I imagine it is up to the importer to decide on whether they want to buy equipment with P.W. restrictions etc.
Max.
 

gerty

Joined Aug 30, 2007
1,302
We had a similar issue with a fire alarm panel.It would display a "Ram test error" it took a password to clear the fault. The various service techs all said the same thing, "it's a common error, don't mean a thing".. They would have to drive down from Nashville (1 hr) punch in password, hit reset key and gone. For this they billed us $500. They refused to give us the password, and our insurance company was leery about fault light being on... I did the only thing I could think of, I placed 2 hidden cctv cameras looking at keyboard to capture them typing in password. The password turned out to be the company name and the number 1..
3 months later the alarm company called us to see why we haven't called them..... Wonder how many other customers they had like that..
The plant closed in '06 and it's 1 million sq feet are now sub divided and each tenant has their own stand alone fire/burg panels
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
3,616
It's not uncommon to password protect code to Insure your proprietary intellectual property. You don't have to buy their equipment if you don't like it. Typically the manufacturer will provide a slate of repair/maintenance options. From mail it back to us, online dialup diagnostics and updates or on-site factory technicians either as needed or even full-time. You get what you agree to and pay for. Where this has been a hot topic is with Apple Iphones. They do not like people buying their parts to repair "their" phones and do not consider it reasonable and have actually tried to prosecute some people for doing so.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,695
It's not uncommon to password protect code to Insure your proprietary intellectual property.
Agreed, and I fully support anyone's right to protect legitimate IP if they have invested time and research into designing something novel and patentable. But that's not what we're talking about. I don't know how familiar you are with PLC programming but it's basically like panel wiring. Relay contacts and coils and the like. It is common practice when building and selling electro-mechanical machinery to provide the electrical schematics which reflect the actual wiring of the machine so that the customer can troubleshoot it. The PLC programming is an extension of the panel wiring, which they refuse to disclose, leaving us largely dead in the water without them. In the unlikely event they've done something novel and patentable in that PLC the likes of which have never been seen before, I would not question them wanting to keep only that specific portion of the code under password protection (absolutely possible) while unlocking the rest for me to do my job. And ya know what? I've never had any problem viewing legitimately novel and patentable information of another entity when they have a true spirit of cooperation; they just have you sign a NDA first, which I would gladly do in this case if they gave such an option.


You don't have to buy their equipment if you don't like it.
Agreed, and we may not. The president of the company is in negotiations to buy several million dollars worth of machinery from them to open a new branch and since I've been informing him of the predatory nature of the company he's doing business with, he is considering other options from other OEMs which I am currently in the process of researching. He has (per my understanding) drawn a line in the sand and told this OEM we will not buy any further equipment from them until they agree to provide the passwords to the existing machinery and all future machinery. They have become somewhat more "cooperative" and provided me an unlocked version of the file so I can see the code offline, but that isn't really helpful. I need to be able to see it online, which requires the actual password, which they're clinging to for dear life.

Typically the manufacturer will provide a slate of repair/maintenance options. From mail it back to us, online dialup diagnostics and updates or on-site factory technicians either as needed or even full-time. You get what you agree to and pay for. Where this has been a hot topic is with Apple Iphones. They do not like people buying their parts to repair "their" phones and do not consider it reasonable and have actually tried to prosecute some people for doing so.
I'm aware of all that. I find the actions of Apple and especially John Deere to be particularly egregious. And I feel like this OEM is behaving exactly like John Deere. It's disgusting.
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
3,616
I am very familiar with PLC and that is exactly what I was referring to. When I ran into this we were not allowed access to the ladder logic and were only given the I/O sheets. Didn't like it then but it was basically a take it or leave it situation. It was on a piece of EPA regulatory compliance equipment on a project engineered by our home office that I had no control over but since I was responsible for all PLC and DCS systems on our plant I had to deal with its issues as they arose. I didn't like it but I had to live with it. I am certain their lawyers were involved in the decision to PW protect code in order to prevent any compliance violations from falling back into their laps.
 
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MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
23,943
Surely there is other PLC's that will do the job, without being held hostage to one proprietary version?
If it is also supplied incorporated in a piece of production equipment, they are probably locking with a PW to avoid cloning the whole process.
One thing that I am not particularly fond of is PLC Co's that charge an arm and a leg for their programming software, I would think that if you offer just a token charge for it or even offer it free, it will encourage those seeking PLC sources to use that particulate product.
Allen-Bradley is one such gouger, and they PW protect it as though the SW can be used for other purposes!
Max.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
11,088
@strantor
First, regarding applicability of right to repair laws across states: That is complex. It is not like reciprocity for drivers' licenses. And what the law says may not be how it works in practice. If the market in a state is big enough, the manufacturer may just apply those laws across the nation. Surely, everyone has seen a Proposition 65 warning on products for which your own state doesn't require a warning. Generally, a state can prohibit the sale of something but not the private use of something bought legally in another state. Commercial entities based in a state may not fit under that exception. Of course, guns are currently an exception too. There are probably other exceptions based on environmental concerns. In any event, only an attorney can advise you, but unfortunately, even if you are legally in the right, prosecuting a civil claim may cost much more then it is worth.

As for the rest, I agree with @SamR . When businesses are involved, it is a contract thing. For individuals it may not be so clear. You mention JD and Apple. They are certainly prominent examples the movement for right to repair cite. When things have gotten bad enough, sometimes the government will prosecute under laws preventing unfair trade practices.

An example: In the early 1970's a major clinical laboratory instrument manufacturer (Coulter) tried to force purchasers to use only Coulter reagents. Various tactics were used, from refusing to service instruments that had been used with a competitor's reagents to patented reagent package designs that prevented instrument owners from using a competitor's reagents. Medical costs affect the government, so those practices were challenged and found to be illegal. The response in that instance was what's called reagent rental. You can't buy the instrument -- or the purchase price is outrageous -- but you can sign a contract for reagents and get the instrument "free." Unfortunately, the principles laid out in such cases are not a slam dunk to enforce against other manufacturers in other industries. On a positive note, some manufacturers simply comply.

Today, unfortunately, we have restrictive software rentals, devices that can only use the manufacturer's approved software (e.g., Apple and JD), and/or products with proprietary chips or common chips with a proprietary label. If the government is going to take any action, it may be against JD as that affects a lot of agriculture. In fact, I think there have been some actions taken. What would happen if Texas required JD to allow its customers to reprogram/update chips and make other repairs? That might break the dam for everyone's benefit.

There is another facet of right to repair that I have not seen mentioned here yet. "Warranty void if broken" labels have been challenged. The Department of Commerce in the US has set rules to regulate that practice. Most people are probably aware of that change. In case not, that label or practice can only be enforced if the entire warranty service and parts are free to the customer.
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
3,616
A-B makes great devices and the pricing on their SLCs "mini PLC" is good. I had a running battle with one of our Instrument Techs as he liked to PW protect the PLCs with his own private PW. I was all for the techs having a laptop to work with the PLCs to aid their troubleshooting but when I got called out of bed at 2AM, drove 20 miles to the plant, gathered up my gear, rode a bicycle that was like pedaling a Sherman tank half a mile out into the plant, hooked up to the PLC and found someone had inserted their own personal PW... Let's just say I didn't stroke out from high blood pressure!
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
23,943
A-B makes great devices and the pricing on their SLCs "mini PLC" is good.
A-B, now Rockwell, rarely 'make' anything, most of their products are either second sourced and re-labeled or a take over over a company and the A-B logo implanted.
An example is their rotary encoders, servo motor and displays, just for a couple.
Max
 

SamR

Joined Mar 19, 2019
3,616
Most of the A-B PLCs came into the plant as part of package units so we were "forced" to learn to use them and I did a couple of designs where their SLC fit into for the right price. We also had a Plant EE who for warehousing and training purposes was very much adamant about single-source to cut down on plant operating costs. The A-B PLCs were also replacing ISSC PLCs which at that time were dinosaurs. Backed up on cassette tapes if I remember right, pre-IBM PC stuff.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,695
Surely there is other PLC's that will do the job, without being held hostage to one proprietary version?
If it is also supplied incorporated in a piece of production equipment, they are probably locking with a PW to avoid cloning the whole process.
One thing that I am not particularly fond of is PLC Co's that charge an arm and a leg for their programming software, I would think that if you offer just a token charge for it or even offer it free, it will encourage those seeking PLC sources to use that particulate product.
Allen-Bradley is one such gouger, and they PW protect it as though the SW can be used for other purposes!
Max.
I don't follow. Maybe there is a miscommunication. It is Siemens PLCs in question, installed in palletizer/line control cabinets. The program in the PLC is password protected by the OEM of the palletizer who wrote it. There is no goal or desire to replace the PLC, only to be able to troubleshoot the machines. In every possible way that a Siemens PLC can be protected (there are many), they are. You need a password to go online with it, to view the hardware config, to view the diagnostics, and forget about monitoring the ladder to see which of the 50,000 inputs is holding the line up. Every single FB and DB in the PLC is individually protected.
 

Thread Starter

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,695
I hate AB... I usually either design my own controllers, or use Siemens when I'm required to use a PLC by my customer.
I have always favored Mitsubishi, they gave me the S/W free and the support is A1.
Max.
AB/Rockwell is the devil. I can't fathom how they cornered the US market. Their older software was garbage. I haven't used the new workbench stuff but I can only imagine it's a continuation of the same shrap. In any given plant containing many generations of AB gear, you need 10 different cables and 3 different computers. At least one of them needs to be a windows 95 machine with a hardware serial port of a specific vintage because the new software is never backwards compatible. So ridiculous to watch RSLogix5000 load and it shows you have 8 concurrent versions installed, and nevertheless, this particular PLC was programmed with version 18.02 which is not among your collection. You have 17.05 and 19.01, but dang it you're really going to have go pay $5000 to get that one specific friggin version you need. WTF? I mean the actual F@&*?! Such garbage. I can't talk enough trash about Rockwell.

I also hate Siemens. Well, hate is too strong a word. I dislike it a lot. I don't have the same specific gripes like AB, but it just isn't intuitive. And the documentation is lacking. I've managed to stay mostly away from it until now, but now I'm the thick of it and it's adapt or die, so I'm adapting.

I'm neutral about Mitsubishi. Their software last time I messed with it (GX Developer) lacked most features. It was bland, unimpressive, felt outdated. Maybe things have improved. But it did what it was supposed to do and rarely had issues, so the good at least cancels the bad I guess.

My PLC of choice is Omron, of which most people feel the same way as I do about Siemens. They say it's not intuitive. Maybe not. But I've gotten comfortable with it.

I've also been doing a lot of work with Automation Direct's Productivity PLCs lately and I can say that AD has come a long way. This does not feel like a bargain basement software suite. It doesn't have all the features I like but it has workarounds for most of them and it has other features that I never knew I wanted. Free software, free (pretty good) support, cheapest hardware to be had in the upper echelons of the PLC/PAC world. Hard to go wrong.
 
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