By Kevin Gray
I’m an industrial designer by education, as well as a mechanical engineer by experience, so I think I have a pretty relevant viewpoint (and experience base) about the design and engineering of consumer products-the good and the bad.
I own a Black and Decker CS100 cordless electric leaf blower. It’s orange, tubular, blows air, plugs in to recharge, no problem. I’ve owned it for around two years. Then, one day I turn it on, and it suddenly vibrates like a blender with a brick in it. I look into the air intake, and note that the plastic impeller has blown chunks of itself into the air intake. No real surprise-it’s plastic, it should be pretty cheap to buy another one and install it like most other blowers.
Well, no-the real surprise comes when I try to order a replacement impeller. Turns out that Black and Decker will sell me that replacement impeller, but it’s attached to an electric motor, and that’s installed inside a housing with a handle and a switch and an LED and wires and screws and a bunch of other stuff and it looks just like the great big orange thing that no longer blows air on my blower.
Turns out that you have to buy an entire new “blower assembly” for $50 to “repair” your leaf blower. It’s sort of like buying a new car to “repair” a broken cupholder. B&D only stocks five “repair parts” for this model of leaf blower, and of course the $2 part that breaks is only available by ordering the $50 part. And then you have to throw away the “broken” part.
So, as a designer/design engineer, I’d like to know how B&D can justify this sort of sloppy engineering, unserviceable product design, and built-in obsolescence? A consumer/former customer has to throw away a perfectly good blower assembly with a working motor, electrical system, wiring, and so on, for the sake of an unreplaceable $2 impeller part?