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Metal Trumps Plastic in Lawnmower

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williamlweaver
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Platinum
Planned Obsolescence
williamlweaver   5/21/2012 8:09:03 AM
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*** DISCLAIMER: My wife is a former retail employee of Sears. We used to own Sears stock. ***

After owning two lawnmowers from Sears, we finally switched to another brand sold by Home Depot. In my opinion I suspect Sears Corporate managers received their MBAs from the MIT Sloan School of Management. Alfred P. Sloan is famous for developing the design policy of "planned obsolescence". I was consistently wearing out parts on our Sears products under normal use --- they were often made out of incompatible materials (such as metal on polymer here) and I spent most Saturdays making a trip to the mall to make a "spare parts" run. We even have a Sears Hardware store in our town that is primarily a Sears Spare Parts store. This past week I lost the thermal fuse on our Sears dryer (understandably consumable). Sears had it in stock at a spare parts depot an hour drive from my home for $20.21. Amazon sells it for $3.95.

Sometimes it is not the Designers' or Engineer's fault for shoddy products. It can also result from a corporate culture that designs for obsolescence. Which is poetic justice for our local Sears at the mall which closed this past month. I hope KMart has the wherewithal to digest their 2005 acquisition of Sears and change some of the outdated culture... 

 

GlennA
User Rank
Gold
Re: Planned Obsolescence
GlennA   5/21/2012 8:42:39 AM
I would include this in with Quality Junk.  The lawnmower met the Quality specifications, but mating metal gearing to plastic was a way to make the product 'cheaper', having gone past 'less expensive'.

I don't know what size your yard is.  The design may have been good enough for a postage stamp size yard that is cut every-other week.  But then why would you need a self-propelled mower for such a small yard.  Maybe the working theory was that you were supposed to buy a ride-on mower for the size of your yard.  As you said, you don't know who was the author of the specifications.

Nancy Golden
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Planned Obsolescence
Nancy Golden   5/21/2012 10:19:16 AM
I think there has been a definite shift in corporate strategies and planned obsolescence is a part of that shift. I recall products lasting 10-15 years that have a 1-2 year life today. Our kids are being brought up in a disposable society and regard this as normal, but having grown up in the previous generation where quality and customer service were king, I often struggle with the new corporate culture.

naperlou
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Planned Obsolescence
naperlou   5/21/2012 10:21:42 AM
Well, it may be planned obsolence, but the material may not matter as much as the design.  I owned a 1969 MGB with wire wheels.  That was a fun car.  The only problem was that the wire wheels had a hub with splines that fit in a splined shaft on the axle.  The splines were fairly fine.  This did not work well.  Even those all these parts were fairly stong metal castings, the splines would wear out.  There was a central wheel nut holding this on.  It was left hand thread.  This worked for the left wheel, but on the right side the nut would unscrew under breaking.  It was wild.  On the way back home from a trip once I had to avoid using the breaks.  I downshifted and used the parking break if I could.  At each stoplight my passenger would jump out with the wheel nut wrench and the lead hammer to tighten the nut.  I wonder what the other drivers thought. 

The real point of the story is that the material does not matter as much as the design.  They probably could have made the lawn mower work with a different plastic or gear shape.  On the other hand, I wonder how much they saved from using plastic for this gear in the first place?

NadineJ
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Planned Obsolescence
NadineJ   5/21/2012 12:45:56 PM
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That's a good point naperlou.  Saving money is the key.  From my experience working directly with majour retailers, planned obsolescence isn't part of the conversation.  It's all about cost and profit margin.

We're still in a disposable society and consumers want what they perceive as value-works well enough and costs less.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Planned Obsolescence
Rob Spiegel   5/21/2012 3:12:10 PM
On this particular instance, I wonder if the company didn't anticipate that users would use the mower's driver control to create a slower speed than fully engaged. Sounds like the user was adjusting the engagement lever to slow down the mower, which would mean the gears would grind insted of engaging. 

Tim
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Planned Obsolescence
Tim   5/21/2012 9:01:38 PM
The Sears motto for a long time was "We service what we sell."  This is great to have a service department, but it would also be great to not need service.

Jaybird2005
User Rank
Silver
Re: Planned Obsolescence
Jaybird2005   5/22/2012 9:40:21 AM
It does look like 'planned obsolescence', but it might also have been a safety device. If the mower gets up against something solid, like a tree, and the operator (possibly inexperienced) does not release the handle a metal-to-metal gear system may cause damage to the metal gears or cause the mower to bend it's deck or jump in an unexpected way. The existing system would simply strip the plastic gears. It may be better to have the mower stop moving than to risk some other, more severe, damage.

 There may have been problems with stones or tree bark getting between the gears and causing severe damage (if they were metal) where the plastic might flex and allow the stones to be ejected with some minor damage to the plastic part rather than a gear grinding halt to the entire system.

williamlweaver
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Planned Obsolescence
williamlweaver   5/22/2012 9:46:18 AM
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@Jaybird2005 I'm always extending the benefit of the doubt to manufacturers, having had to make some tough choices and comprimizes of my own when it comes to development. I didn't own the specific lawn mower in this story, but I would have hoped that if the design was for safety that advertising would have touted it as a positive, advertised this safety "feature", and then provided a spare polymer gear or two with purchase and stocked them in the department store at just over cost... 

armorris
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Planned Obsolescence
armorris   5/22/2012 9:47:24 AM
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As a matter of fact, I had been partially engaging the drive in order to slow down the forward motion of the mower, but that is normal use in my opinion. The engine has a governor and no throttle.

About 45 years ago, in high school, I worked part time for Sears as a TV repairman. Back then, they repaired only Sears products, and at reasonal cost.

My boss told me that Sears made their money on sales and that the service department was the "butt-hole" of the sales department. But if you let the butt-hole get stopped up, you'll see how much it's worth.

I wonder where the butt-hole is now? :-)

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