Service Labels for Repair Time Transparency

Government mandated nutrition labels were critical to improving the transparency of information as to what is in food. We are proposing a similar level of transparency for serviceable items.

A Common Sense Proposal

After spending some time researching the topic of service-ability of parts, I learned that items are in more cases than not becoming less serviceable, and that most companies are hiding their reliability information (See these posts for background information)…

Clearly what is happening is many companies are not placing sufficient emphasis on serviceability. Other issues such as the marketability and consumer design priorities are increasingly taking precedence in design decisions. Furthermore, without some increase in transparency, this misallocation of resources and continuation of manufacturing items with little concern for service-ability will continue. Interestingly, in the environmental discussion, what is more often that not left out is how service-able products are. More serviceable products means longer product lifespans, less energy spend in making and transporting new products to stores and customers, and less space taken up in landfills.

Because of this I am proposing a labeling system for serviceable products. This label would state the following:

  1. The amount of time to initially setup an item
  2. The amount of time required to service an item through the item’s lifespan
  3. The total estimated time = item 1 + item 2 above

This could be printed as a large number with an identify-able label.This could be placed on all product packaging for items that require assembly or service. This label would not be on all products, but some likely candidates would be the following:

  • Computers and sub-components
  • Automotive Parts
  • Appliances
  • Housing items such as lights fans, furniture
  • Industrial products

How the Estimates Would be Generated

The estimation of the time required would come from a government testing body, this would be very similar to Underwriters Labratories (electric items come with a UL sticked in the US, and can not be sold without testing for safety). Testing would be performed by using laypeople — not experts in maintenance, to assemble and repair items. Sufficient quantity of people would be necessary to ensure that the times developed had statistical relevancy. The testers would only be provided with the manuals and instructional materials that came with the product, thus the test could also test the manufacturer’s instructional material.

What Would the Label Look Like

The label would be very simple. It should be large and easily recognizable and only needs to provide a three numbers. Here is a mockup.

The Industry Response

Business would fight this initiative as being too expensive and invasive. However, there is nothing new here. Business has fought every single initiative that has improved consumer health and safety. Areas they have fought in the past include:

  • Safety belts
  • Air bags
  • Food labeling
  • Cigarette warnings
  • Drug testing

At the time these concepts were deemed by industry as unnecessary and onerous, however, now they are simply part of how we live. Who can now imagine a world without drug testing or seat belts? Progress is made by deciding what type of system is desirable within the larger context, and then pushing for it.

Where Will The Money Come From?

There is plenty of money is the US to do this. There are trillions of dollars to give to corrupt banks, so there is plenty of money for a small program like this. We have spent around a hundred billion to develop a military fighter jet that is so delicate and specialized, it can not even be used by the military in combat (the F-22), and is considered completely unnecessary by independent military experts. So there is certainly plenty of money to setup a lab to perform laboratory testing for service and maintenance. The expense of doing this would not be all that onerous. Products could be tested quickly, and would only have to be tested when a new product comes out or a change is made to an existing product by the manufacturer. If not every item could be tested, the most widely sold items could be tested, resulting in the highest common good per dollar spent.

How Would This Change Things?

The result would be a significant change in how companies build their products which would make them more durable, and easier to service. Right now companies are banking on the fact that consumers will never know the long term service time and costs of items. Therefore, new product development produces items that have great packaging, compete well on price, but have very little invested in them in terms of ease of assembly, maintenance and service. By placing the Service Label right on product packaging, and on product website, companies will no longer be able to ignore this issue, and consumers will be able to make informed decisions. It will punish companies that release poorly designed and difficult to service items onto the marketplace.

Service to Business

While this would be opposed by many OEMs and their suppliers, not every business would oppose this. Service organizations of business would be in favor of this government testing center as it would allow them to know the lifelong service effort of different items that they buy and maintain. Thus the government testing center would offer a service not only to consumers, but to businesses also.


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