When is the last time you saw a teardown of a Zenith CH 650 aircraft? Unfortunately, the iFixit teardown room isn’t large enough to accommodate a small plane (yet…), but that’s where Todd McLellan’s book Things Come Apart: A Teardown Manual For Modern Living comes in handy.
Don’t be fooled by the title—the book isn’t a step-by-step manual on how to disassemble objects. Instead, it’s literally an inside look at what McLellan calls “fifty design classics,” ranging from the everyday (mechanical pencil) to the forgotten (push lawnmower).
McLellan painstakingly photographs an orderly mess of internal components—each piece arranged and displayed like some new form of object archeology. Add five essays on repair and disassembly from various voices in the repair world, and you have a book that finds a unique way to advocate for the importance of disassembly, investigation, and reuse. Read the rest of this article »
Picture it: you need to buy a new remote control. You cruise to the store to pick up a new remote and some extra AA batteries—they run out, after all. Best be prepared. You take the remote home, open the package, and—wait a minute! This isn’t your mom’s remote control. It’s a super slick gadget that appears to be glued together for an über modern look. Great!
But there’s a downside to seamlessness. You can’t replace the battery yourself. There are no instructions provided on how to get into the remote, and it’s nearly impossible to tear apart. That means once those encased AA batteries run out, you’ll probably have to buy a new remote control. And the cycle repeats. Forever.
Sound appealing? It runs counter to commonsense to own a battery-run device that doesn’t allow you to replace the batteries quickly and easily. There’s a reason that people own gadgets like alarm clocks, remotes, and watches for years and years: they can switch out the batteries themselves.
There’s no such thing as a sealed remote control yet, but it’s closer to reality than you might think. Every day, we settle for expensive electronics—cell phones, tablets, computers—with batteries that can’t be removed and replaced. These products might look great, but when it comes to batteries, recycling, and reuse, there are some big problems. Read the rest of this article »
We’ve said it before: repair teaches engineering. During a recent trip to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., I was reminded just how much when I saw the Wright Flyer III: one of the greatest innovations ever born out of repair.
Considered the first airplane, the Wright Flyer III—built by Orville and Wilbur Wright—was a huge step towards modern flight (which seemed especially relevant as I was cruising back from D.C. at 36,000 feet). Of course, the Wright brothers were not the only ones to tackle early aeronautics, but their innovative techniques in engineering—including the Flyer III and first wind tunnel—came from their hands-on experience in repair.
Before becoming famous, the Wright brothers made their livings by manufacturing and repairing bicycles—pretty good business during the bicycle boom at the turn of the century. The revenue from their handiwork funded their experiments and the building of the Flyer. Read the rest of this article »
Every time you walk into an electronics store, you’re making a choice. Every gadget you buy is a vote cast. We want people to make informed decisions, as their vote influences how hardware manufacturers choose to design in the future. Some may care that their tablets are easy to repair and upgrade; others may not. For those that do, we’ve aggregated our repairability scores for the best-selling tablets into one convenient resource: our Tablet Repairability List.
We weren’t able to list every single tablet, but this is a good start. We have to disassemble each tablet to score it, so additional hardware will show up as we perform more teardowns. Our hope is that through customers’ votes, manufacturers will create long-lasting, easy-to-repair hardware that we can all love.
The economy is broken. It’s not because of partisan bickering or the debt ceiling. It’s not because there is too much government spending or too little, too many taxes or too few. The problem cuts much deeper than that; it’s systemic and it’s global. The economy is broken because the principles that make the marketplace thrive will eventually destroy it.
Our economic growth is dependent on access to cheap raw materials, and those resources are getting scarcer and more expensive. The McKinsey Global Institute reports that price volatility has hit a high, second only to the energy crisis of the 1970s.
Political conflicts are erupting over access to critical metals, minerals, and rare earths: materials like the lithium in our batteries, the neodynium in our computers, and the coltan in our cell phones. The cost of many staple resources, including oil, steel, and food, are rapidly escalating.
And yet we’re buying, using, and discarding these resources at a rapid and unsustainable pace. The average consumer buys over 2,200 lbs of material per year; 80% of these materials end up in incinerators, landfills, or as wastewater. In North America, less than 1% of all the resources we extract from the earth are actually used in products that are still around six months after their sale. Taken together, it’s not a matter of whether resource prices will go up — it’s a matter of when, and by how much.
While we scramble to get our hands on an increasingly smaller share of this economic pie, most businesses have failed to realize that the materials they need aren’t buried deep under the ground; they are already all around us — they just need to be rescued from the waste stream. It’s time to invent a better economy — one that is independent of volatile, increasingly expensive raw materials. And I believe developing more resource-efficient business models will be the largest single financial opportunity of the twenty-first century. Read the rest of this article »
Sing O Muse, of the terrible furniture that once adorned my college apartments. Sing of the pockmarked TV stand made of the heaviest particle board. Of the back pain my father and brother have endured with (not so) quiet humility thanks to their heroic lugging of said TV stand up shaky apartment stairs. Sing of my bookshelf with the unpronounceable Swedish name that warped with the first rainstorm of the season.
As a recent graduate school grad with limited funds, I’ve been known to head to superstores that allow me to furnish my apartments with lower-priced furniture, oft-fashioned out of manufactured, disposable materials like particleboard or medium-density fibreboard.
I’ve been drawn to disposable furniture for reasons I hear echoed by others in my age group: Read the rest of this article »