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Unintended consequences

UK ministers recently confirmed that, from this summer, consumers will have a right to repair on goods they buy in what is being described as a major step in cutting down on the estimated 1.5 million tonnes of electronic waste that the UK generates each year.

It comes at a time of pushback amongst consumers against unrepairable devices and the idea that many manufacturers deliberately sell products knowing that they will only last a few years i.e. planned obsolescence.

Our consumer society has succeeded in creating a mountain of e-waste and it’s only recently that governments have started to announce plans to ensure that products can be more easily recycled, repaired or simply designed to last longer. Too many manufacturers fail to offer replacement parts or servicing, so this new law is looking to extend the lifespan of household appliances by up to 10 years – from a current average of around 2-3 years.

While this ‘Right to Repair’ law chimes with changing consumer attitudes and the demand for more sustainable technology Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First, has warned that while this is a well-intentioned green policy, consumers should not attempt to repair their electrical appliances without the knowledge to do so safely and the

Government should be giving serious thought as to who can carry out repairs – which is a fair point.

It’s certainly a sensible law but it only applies to domestic appliances and not to mobile phones or other electronic devices. Could that prove a missed opportunity, especially when you consider that the likes of Apple and Samsung continue to make it impossible to fix their devices – surely consumers should be able to get their devices repaired without having to go to the manufacturer?

This legislation also comes with some possible unintended consequences, one of which is that 3D printing could provide manufacturers, who are affected by this law, with a solution for supplying spare parts, which they are legally obliged to make available to consumers for up to a decade. For many companies this could involve stocking hundreds of thousands of spare parts.

So, could 3D printing reduce the need for physical inventory and vast warehouses and make it possible to hold less frequently required parts as digital files only reproducing them as required?

The ‘Right to Repair’ law will undoubtedly mean that goods last longer, to the benefit of both consumers and the environment, but it could also provide a real boost for additive manufacturers.

Neil Tyler

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