Planning to fail is a manufacturing strategy

By Jeff Bowman

Wikipedia defines succeeding by failure as Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence.

“It  is the process of a product becoming obsolete or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer.[1] Also known as “Designed to Fail”.

The strategy is to have your product last only a certain amount of time before it breaks down. It’s  too expensive to repair, so the alternative is to purchase another.

Planned obsolescence  started in the manufacturing industry in the 1920’s. It is still growing and currently being fueled by large retailers hungry for profits.  It is known as “The China Syndrome”.

50 years ago, the manufacturers dictated what retail outlets would carry their products, the floor space and advertising they would get and the retail prices.  Today the shoe is on the other foot with giant retail chains such as Wal-Mart demanding the type of products that will be made at the costs they dictate and with delivery and return policies that suit themselves rather than the manufacturer.  All this has led to a dramatic  decrease in the quality of goods being produced, as North American manufacturers  who built up incredible product quality reputations, die trying to compete with offshore knock-offs at unbeatable costs.

For many consumers, price drives the sale.  We tend to disregard the life expectancy of a product because  technology changes so fast it’s obsolete in a few years. So, best price wins and the vicious circle continues.

Cheaper mass-produced goods increases the large retailers’  buying power and allows them to dictate to the manufacturer, or in some cases, buy offshore facilities  and run them with North American “expertise” , local cheap labour and questionable materials.

This will change eventually.  As we encounter more problems with off shore products, as the environment worsens and as the public begins to see the cost in human terms, attitudes will change. And when attitudes change, so do laws.

I predict that manufacturing will come back to North America. Maybe then we can ship these obsolete products back offshore to the landfills where they belong in the first place. I call that “fair trade”.

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Filed under Jeff Bowman, Manufacturing, Sales, Strategic Planning

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