Design for servicability and manufacturability
We'll use the original series of iMac (the fruit-colored ones) as an example of a machine that could have been built differently. While most people agree that it's a good machine when it works, it has a few quirks that make it frustrating when it fails.
A lot of the first machines produced had an unforeseen problem of the monitor's transformer overheating and failing. While this is the kind of thing that can happen to anyone, other aspects of the design made this a bit of a disaster for the owner.
The general design of the iMac is relatively difficult to service. Access to most of the electronics means disassembling a good portion of the chassis, not just the removal of one panel. Many parts are hidden under other parts, or connected in such a way that access is not obvious. This creates problems even for servicepeople who will otherwise willingly crack open a computer.
Good servicability reflects good design for manufacturability in a lot of cases. Apple may have had its own reasons for doing what they did, but if disassembly is any reflection of what is goes on in the factory, it means that it takes a lot of manipulation just to put it together. Access to various screws and chassis parts means flipping the assembly back and forth several times, each step representing time lost, and interference with a straight shot through the conveyor belt. If you take apart your standard alarm clock or small electronic device, it will most likely be put together such that every part slips in in one direction, so the workers don't have to flip the things around so much.
Back to the mac. The iMacs are an all-in-one machine, but are based on modular technology. Problem is, this modularity does a user no good. If the monitor inside the machine dies, it renders a good machine useless. The monitor is connected to the rest of the machine by way of a proprietary connector, which means that even though a perfectly good macintosh is putting out a perfectly usable signal, you can't hook it up to anything else. With the failure of one component, a sophisticated machine is turned into thirty pounds of toxic waste.
This is part of a general trend in manufacturing of making products that have less servicability than the last generation, and instead rely on larger subasseblies. Cars are a great example. Anyone going into a garage to have a broken taillight lens or dented bumper repaired might in for a surprise. It's not just the one part that's sold anymore, but a large (and expensive) assembly: not just the defrost button, but the whole console panel, not the taillight lens but the lights, reflector, part of the chassis, and the entire interior carpeting. Maybe not that bad, but certainly shocking to the consumer. It's certainly not accessible to the average person.
Much of the car isn't even accessible to the mechanic. Some of this is a concession to the realities of fitting parts in tight spaces. Some manufacturers make an effort to put often-serviced items in a reachable spot: oil filters, timing belts, dipsticks, etc. With more people relying on someone else to service their car, these features of accessibility become less of a selling point, and incentives to include them diminish.
Bikes occupy the opposite end fo this spectrum. Many bikers have at least a limited knowledge of how to change a tire or change their seat height. Incentives are present for manufacturers, mechanics, and consumers alike to take part in a design that's modular and easy to access. Manufacturers of individual components don't want to lock themselves out of access to market segments by creating a specialized widget flange that only works on their brand. This still happens sometimes, but not usually to the point of inaccessibility.
The geometry of the bike has helped it stay servicable, as opposed to the car. almost every part of the bike stands on the surface of the machine, and can be twiddled or replaced by itself or by moving a few other parts. Much of a car, on the other hand, is buried inside a mass of cables, belts, engine mounts, skid plates, fairings, and oil pans. Most major work on a car involves special tools, a full complement of which can easily cost ten times what a kit of the standard bike tools cost.
Most bike parts manufacturers assume that their customers will either be willing to install parts themselves, or willing to bring it to a shop for labor. An example shown below is a load-carrying extension (xtracycle) for a standard bike. The manufacturer provides instructions for assembly, assuming that if you've got a few tools you can install it yourself - if not, a bike mechanic certainly can. Not only is this an accessible technology, but the standardization of bikes means that it'll fit ninety percent of the bikes out there.
This servicability and standardization isn't limited to bikes, it just happens that this is a product whose history has pointed it toward what it is. Car manufacturers can certainly make their cars more accessible and servicable, given the right impetus. Now, with this in mind, you might consider how your own products do in this model. Would someone want to try to fix it themselves if spring B slips off the peg? Can people look at this in the store and see that they can work on it themselves? For example, does your average American Male look at your product and say "hey, I could fix that vacuum cleaner in my garage!" or do they look at it and despair of finding a replacement drive belt? Do-it-yourself has been developed successfully as a marketing tool for home improvement, and tailoring your product to fit in this model may be a worthwhile thing to do.
Copyright 2004-2006 Dominic Muren and IDFuel Team