# The myth of Planned Obsolence in electronics.

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
I hear from many people that they believe in this myth:

Manufacturers build ON PURPOSE parts in their products that fail with very high probability after a certain amount of time, e.g. 5 years.

Well I worked now for more than 20 years in the manufacturing electronics industry and I think that the idea failures are "planned" is BS. I've never seen anything that would confirm that idea.

Manufacturers are negligent, yes. But they do not build parts in their products which they KNOW will fail.

From my experience the main reason why electronics fail are:

- sometimes very tight due dates of projects, there is simply no time to develop it properly if you want to have THAT contract

- price, the price needs to be the lowest possible, lower than that of the competition if possible. How do you do that? By using the cheapest possible components, components that are often used at their specification limits. How often did I hear the phrase, "that extreme condition will almost never happen". Sure that doesn't work for military equipment etc, but it surely does work for consumer electronics. The price, and the struggle for companies to undersell their competition is the main reason for weak electronics IMO.

However , if my last statement was true than why can I not be sure to get something of higher quality if I pay more? Is it because of the complexity of todays electronics? Miniaturization?

What do you think?

#### spinnaker

Joined Oct 29, 2009
7,835
Electronics is becoming far more reliable over the years IMHO. If you get past the first 30 days the device will work for years.

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
I just came back from a friend and his fridge was leaking water, after less than 2 years for a $2k fridge. He blamed "planned obsolence". It didnt matter what I had to say about this. Thread Starter #### praondevou Joined Jul 9, 2011 2,942 Maybe it's also that people HAVE more electronics. And that electronics are built in into each and every machine, tool and whatever there is on this planet. So when it fails, it hurts. #### spinnaker Joined Oct 29, 2009 7,835 I just came back from a friend and his fridge was leaking water, after less than 2 years for a$2k fridge. He blamed "planned obsolence". It didnt matter what I had to say about this.
So what dis you say about it????

My guess was it was a blocked freezer drain.

#### #12

Joined Nov 30, 2010
18,217
The old, "frozen pea" trick?
Throw a partial bag of frozen veggies in the freezer and some of them will find the drain.

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
So what dis you say about it????

My guess was it was a blocked freezer drain.
You are right. Something like a blocked tube or hose. They had called a tech to have a look at it.

I always say, don't complain. Try to repair it yourself. I'm not too much afraid of my electronics falling apart but I'm sure for other people it's a major annoyance if they don't work.

#### MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
23,221
There are many industries where things wear out and have a finite lifespan. The automobile is filled with items that wear out, tires, batteries, brakes, exhaust systems, etc. In many cases these can be treated as consumables and are expected to be replaced many times over the course of the lifetime of the vehicle.

In many areas, the expected lifespan of a component is directly relate to the amount and quality of material put into the fabrication of the part. It does not make economic sense to expend extra cost into the quality of a component in order to make it last for say 20 years if the rest of the vehicle is going to fall apart after 10 years.

I see that the electronics industry is very different. The expected lifespan of many components have been extensively studied and hence reputable manufactures have good statistics on the expected lifespan and failure rates of their components.

Infant mortality rates, mid-life failure and end-of-life wearout cycles, commonly known as the "bathtub curve" are well known.

Solid-state electronic components have very long mid-lifespans. Most consumer electronics fail because of mechanical failures, bad cables, connectors, switches, contacts etc.

In summary, I have to agree with your hypothesis. Manufacturers of electronic circuits do not build in planned obsolescence. Their components can possibly last 50 years or more. Tektronix and HP test equipment are good examples. However, there is little economic rationale to make a cell phone to physically last for 5 years if the technology is going to be replaced within 2 years.

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
However, there is little economic rationale to make a cell phone to physically last for 5 years if the technology is going to be replaced within 2 years.
Good point. Now why we will need new TV technology in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years is a mystery to me. I don't have cable TV because it's just a huge waste of time sitting in front of the TV and browse through +100 channels with no content.

#### MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
23,221
Aha! That is another area of discussion.

Producers of computers, smart phones, software, etc. add incremental changes to their products because they compel their customers to upgrade which keeps the revenue flowing.

That is planned obsolescence!

#### #12

Joined Nov 30, 2010
18,217
You are right. Something like a blocked tube or hose. They had called a tech to have a look at it.

I always say, don't complain. Try to repair it yourself. I'm not too much afraid of my electronics falling apart but I'm sure for other people it's a major annoyance if they don't work.
A piece of food in the drain is neither planned obsolescence nor electronics. You just have a grouchy friend.

#### THE_RB

Joined Feb 11, 2008
5,438
I hear from many people that they believe in this myth:

Manufacturers build ON PURPOSE parts in their products that fail with very high probability after a certain amount of time, e.g. 5 years.

Well I worked now for more than 20 years in the manufacturing electronics industry and I think that the idea failures are "planned" is BS. I've never seen anything that would confirm that idea.
...
Then you should have worked for 20 years in repair, where you get to see exactly what fails, and WHY.

Over the years I have seen more and more devices where the SMPS has small electro caps placed directly next to a heatsink. On examining the PCB you can see there is a lot of room where they could have placed that cap 25mm away from the heatsink instaed of 3 mm away. And i check the PCB layout to see if they put the cap there because the track layout was tight. But it's not.

They deliberately place the cap right next to a hot heatsink, knowing the cap life reduces exponentially with heat, AND knowing that when that cap fails in 6 to 12 months its failure mode will take out the whole PSU and turn the product into garbage.

As a repairer with decades experience you can see these deliberate design decisions happening over time. Getting worse over time. That was a good part of my decision to leave the repair industry, the very real issue of deliberate obsolescence and devices designed to fail in the short term.

It is absolute, 100%, deliberately designed to fail. Talk to some experienced repairers fbefore you just decide blindly that this is a "myth".

#### MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
23,221
So why bother to put an annoying fan in a SMPS?

And usually the fan is the first thing to go?

#### MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
23,221
btw, Steve Jobs was adamant about not putting a cooling fan inside the Mac and the 3.9μF bipolar cap was usually the first thing to fail.

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
It is absolute, 100%, deliberately designed to fail. Talk to some experienced repairers fbefore you just decide blindly that this is a "myth".

Mmh. I have only 6 years in repair and spend the rest in development departments. Never anybody placed any component deliberately in a position where the component MUST fail. IMO it's all I said before, no time, low price, negligence, maybe even "I don't care and we can't do better with the time and budget available" - attitude.

Just remembered something else. While people doing the real PCB CAD job (o god how I hate this) have some idea of what you can do and what not VERY OFTEN they do not follow guidelines. Often they are techs and not experienced electronics engineers. I've seen it more than once. Long gate drive traces, signal, power shares the same ground, analog, digital completely mixed up, power traces underneath microprocessors.

Just where I work now, it takes forever to get a product in production, with test being done during months. They still fail.

Maybe the negligence part is higher in consumer electronics. But the low budget factor may also be higher.

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#### #12

Joined Nov 30, 2010
18,217
Designed to fail? I scoped the control board for my a/c unit. The filter capacitors were so small that the Vcc ripple voltage was just barely higher than the minimum for the MPU. When those aluminum electrolytics in the 125 F degree attic lose 10% of their capacity, that brain chip is going to quit because the ripple voltage will change from 3.5V to 3.85V.

While I was at it, I oiled the fan motor. Three days later the oil burst into flames because the new, improved, crimp on bushings ran so much hotter than sintered bronze bushings or ball bearings.

Is that planned obsolescence or better quality achieved with computer aided design and circuit simulators?

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
I just did a (worthless) LED lamp repair. Worthless because they cost maybe \$5 new. But it had failed after only 2 or 3 months.

Bad soldering, it works now but maybe in the near future the LEDs will be damaged because the aluminum PCB they are mounted on doesn't have a good thermal contact to the housing. Bad CAD design.

Was that "planned"? I'm talking about really deliberately executing the project so it MUST fail. I would say no, just a quick and dirty project, selling hundreds of thousand of units they make quite some profit.

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#### takao21203

Joined Apr 28, 2012
3,702
It does exist, I saw it a few times, for instance a thinned out PCB track without tin and without solder mask. After some years it will corrode almost certainly.

Then there are some kinds of pushbuttons which will only last a few thousand pushes.

Laptop PSU plugs made from extra brittle plastic and with very thin pins.

Power supply jacks with silver coating- it will inevitably oxidize.

What baffled me was a micro USB port on a table device- after a while you would have to bend the adapter yoke for the USB modem and then after some minutes it would come on- maybe.

No other USB wire would work at all. And the touch screen of course became defective after a few months.

On the other hand, the metal frames and thick plastic shells can last for thousands of years.

Look at all the different mobile phone charging plugs- almost obscene, each time you get a box with cables, headphones, and yet another wall adapter.

And whats best, a guarantee and regulatiions conformity booklet in 20 languages- supposedly, each time youd be up to read it. A "user guide" totally useless as well. Whats next all these manuals in braille print so the deafmutes can learn about the guarantee in 20 languages.

Too bad the dealer NEVER EVER will sign and stamp the guarantee leaflet.

#### Wendy

Joined Mar 24, 2008
22,360
Something I learned with gold wire bonding is when you use gold wire on aluminum pads (on ICs) the gold slowly soaks the aluminum up. It is called Kirkendall voiding (AKA Kirkendall Effect). Parts built this way are extremely reliable until the effect takes them out, so an awful lot of our military parts only have a life span of 15-20 years. I often wonder if this contributes to our willingness to use older hardware (a use it or loose it philosophy).

#### praondevou

Joined Jul 9, 2011
2,942
Ok, maybe my point of view is influenced by my experience, which never gave me reason to believe that a manufacturer designs to fail.

I just can't imagine a meeting which starts with the product manager saying something like: "He guys, I know you are doing a great job and all but you didn't forget about the obsolence thing, right? This unit shall not function more than 5 years or maybe even 3, ok??? Order directly from the upper management."

I've never seen an engineer who would LIKE to build a bad product.