One of the patterns we're seeing over and over in the Monkeys blog is the weakening of classic American brands. Whether it's GE or Maytag, we keep hearing that "My ____ appliance worked great for 20 years. When we replaced it, we got a piece of junk." This seems particularly true for large household appliances. This also seems to correspond with contract manufacturing, though I'm reluctant to point to manufacturing for problems that may begin in the design stage.
This post echoes the recent Monkeys post regarding Maytag appliances and I'm sure the list goes on. I had a similar experience with a high-end Kitchen Aid dishwasher. The same weird error message occurred over and over and the repairman came out probably a half dozen times to fix the same problem on the circuitry. Kitchen Aid ended up giving me a free extended warranty and covered most of the costs of the the multiple repair jobs, but it still didn't sit well with me. I replaced that dishwasher as fast as possible with a Bosch and I've had no problems ever since.
The first mistake was making a buying decision based on a company's reputation for training managers. OK, so GE hires the best MBAs. That and $6 will buy you a cup of coffee. I see two unfortunate trends in laundry equipment: 1) a profusion of electronics that makes the equipment seem high tech, but really just makes it more prone to breakdowns, and 2) a trend to high-end, fashionable designs that significantly boosts the price tags.
Its no wonder were choosing European and Asian made washers and dryers. Its great to buy American and keep americans employed, but if they're building junk and selling it at a premium price, they're gonna loose in the end.
Thank you for editing the article about the Monkeys and the GE Profile washing machine that Ted Varga wrote. We got the same washing machine a bit over a year ago and almost immediately my wife complained about the performance. We called GE and they went over the operating procedures (which my wife had already read and followed).
They decided they might need to send a technician out to tweak the machine but my wife thought she would try it a bit longer. A few months later the machine broke down so we did have a technician come out. He confided in us that his mom owned one like this and he has a hard time getting clothes clean too. Because it cost so much we cannot afford to simply replace it, but if Mr. Varga would not mind sharing the "secret code," I will tell him how to "repair" the fabric softener device when it clogs up! Which it will. It is fairly simple, but not so easy to describe in writing.
Rob Spiegel makes some very good points about the reliability of the old vs. new brands. I have a few points to throw into the mix (based on 40+ years of engineering and a more than a few applicances):
#1: today's dishwashers are, in some respects, much better than the old ones. In the past, I always had my dishwashers die with rusted out tubs and baskets - I felt lucky if I made 10 years on a dw. Today, with plastic tubs and much better coatings on the baskets, rustout is mostly a non-issue.
#2: the use of microprocessors brings a welcome number of advantages but, if not done right, failures in the electronic components can be very, very frustrating.
#3: I don't fault manufacturing or engineering. The primary problem, I think, is management and the de-centralization of the entire manufacturing process (i.e. from design to final product). There seems to be (in all too many cases) little responsibility taken for a product's success - someone at Honeywell used the term 'silo mentality'. Everyone does their job but ONLY their job. There is not enough feedback in the system so little changes downstream when a problem is found upstream. A controller board fails? So what - just sell the customer a new one. No one seems to care what the problem was with the board or worries about fixing the problem. It makes me a bit upset. As an engineer, I want to fix problems. Management wants to only make money and then only in the short term. Sigh.
Bog Groh offers some good analysis. A lot of companies now have engineering, manufacturing, and sales on different continents. Many companies have tried to bridge the individual silos with collaboration tools. Some companies have worked to tie input and accountability to the collaboration so one team can't make changes without a sign-off from the distributed team members. I understand that some companies such as P&G have made this process work.
Actually, Bob, I am not that impressedd with current dishwashers. I had to replace my old Kitchen Aide dishwasher, which I bought used for $100 30 years ago, when the timer motors failed, and I was unable to purchase replacment motors, although I could have purchased a slightly used timer for $50. It was beginning to show some rust around screw heads, but it had no leaks or other failures.
My new one has had one product recall, which was about a potential problem with the heater element, which would cause it to overheat and melt through the plastic tub, creating both a flood and a fire hazard. The steel tub of the old one would not have had any such problem.
Likewise, I would pick a mechanical timer over a consumer-grade microcontroller system any day, as far as reliability goes. Those marginally adquate triacs in an electronic control system can and do fail, and the whole board or module must be replaced for several hundred bucks, since repair components are not available.
I do like the concept of an appliance using the new hardware but the older type of controller, or, to be modern about it, use an Automation Direct PLC? The whole thing sells for about the same as a new control module, but it is industrial service rated, and if it does need to be replaced, parts are available and cheaper, as well.
The fault, dear Dilberts, is that Engineering never sees their designs to market because Accounting and Management and Marketing - the real monkeys -outnumber them. It got worse when company field testing was eliminated by most manufacturers, preferring to let their customers be the unwitting and unpaid field testers. How the pencil pushers and eyeshade wearers determined this was cheaper and wouldn't hurt the company much, I haven't a clue, but that's what happened.
> The fault, dear Dilberts, is that Engineering never sees their designs to market because Accounting and Management and Marketing - the real monkeys -outnumber them.
This is one of the main themes of Bob Lutz's new book, "Car Guys vs Bean Counters." While he's mostly writing about GM and other car companies, he's seen enough of the management (MBA culture) of other manufacturers to know that many have the same problems. As bad as the situation seems, early in the book he expresses hope that it can be turned around in the USA. Recommended.
In response to another post, a friendly repair tech recommended a surge protector for any new appliance with electronic controls or displays. We have one on our new Kenmore (Amana) fridge and so far so good, after many t-storms this summer.
Our Monkey blogger Ted Varga has offered some solutions to problems he has encourntered with the GE Profile washer:
The "secret code" to "Re-Set" (Reboot) the GE Profile Washing Machine is:
1. Scratch your nose.
2. Tap your left foot three times.
3. On the washer, Press "MyCycles" and "Back" TOGETHER for 3 seconds.
4. Follow instructions on the screen.
That should get you on your way to re-set the washer and get it to perform its intended function.
There is one other "secret" the repair man showed us. We use this tool all the time to help us use the washer.
WORD OF WARNING
The following procedure DEFEATS an important SAFETY mechanism of the washer. Use this procedure at your own risk.
If you have a rather strong and small magnet, you can lift the lid and place the magnet on the top of the washer, just under where the lid was, toward the front and on the left. Move the magnet around until the washer starts and you have found the "sweet" spot when the washer starts with the lid UP. We use this procedure to add washing agents without stopping the washer.
According to the GE repair man, these are the only two "tricks" that are not published in the user's manual.
So far I have not had that problem Ted describes. But I watched the repair man when he was working on my machine, there is a PC terminal that he was hooking up to to check for error messages. If Ted needs to access the terminals he would need to use a butter knife in the small space between the lid and the front panel. There are small tabs about 3 3/4" from each side that simply have to be pushed in to release them to access the electronics.
But the problem that Ted will have eventually is that the fabric softener will clog up. To clean the passageways will require lifting the blue door at the center of the "agitator." The blue door has the following printed on it..."Add Fabric Softener Here". After lifting up the door he will need to use channel locks or he might even be able to turn it with his hands, but the center part needs to be turned counter clockwise 1/8th of a turn then lifted up. The whole fabric softener dispenser will come out and can be cleared with a tooth brush and pipe cleaners.
I wonder if there is a market for taking some of these good old fashion designs and reverse engineering them into a new appliance. I can envision a company that takes the most reliable and practical appliances and builds new ones. The new ones would use new motors, new assembly techniques, and the same old reliable mechanical timers and switches like before. The individual components would be selected for ease of maintenance and replacement (infrequent we hope). Fancy electronics that don't really add much value but greatly expand the cost would be forbidden.
The goal should be simplicity and reliability. Just how much added value are these fancy electronics and controls in something as mundane as a dishwasher, refrigerator and washer and dryer? Do these features really improve the product?
It seems like very once in a while we have to get back to basics.
My Bosch Nexxt Series 300 washer does the same thing to clothes, no matter how the clothes are loaded, it almost always turns them into a knotted mess which makes the washer do a line dance. You have to stop it, pull out the load, unwind everything, put it back in and continue. My old washer never did this.
I don't object to electronics in appliances except when they are poorly designed and executed as seems the case most of the time these days. It is patently ridiculous to have to change out a board because one or two components bit the dust at a cost of hundreds of dollars. This may or may not be due to lousy engineering and manufacturing, it probably IS due to stupid management practices at the very least.
Sooner or later, I hope buyers rise up and tell these stupid management run companies that they aren't going to buy this crap any more. On the other hand, it is getting rather difficult to find a company with reliable products!
I purchased a new Maytag Washer. Same issue as many others. Green means wets clothes but that is all. I had repair man come and he said all are like that. New machines tout that they save water, sure but if you have very dirty clothes, dirt only rubs off on other clothes. Very sad for the hight $ you pay...
I may or may not be a fan of G.E. or Maytag, but you are all blaming the wrong people. You should have "seen" it when the posts seemed to be blaming new machines from all vendors. The manufacturers or their engineers are not to blame at all. The blame rest squarely on an intrusive federal govenment that mandates "low water usage" washers. If you want to get decent appliance performance in future then get the government out of people's faces. Election time is coming. If you vote these same clowns in, then you deserve what you get.....including dirty clothes.
What Federal Law imposes what penalty by what mandate for insufficiently "green" clothes washers? Suggested standards, Yes; penalty enforced mandate, No. [Specification of "Federal" is a little suspicious - I'm 67, didn't we defeat you guys in the 60's?]
My dear cemoore. I'm 68, and no, not at all defeated, I was an arch conservative in the 60's and still am. The answer to your question? Google "laws: low water usage" and have a nice afternoon of reading. Also..... you may want to Google "laws: light bulbs" and "laws: automobile safety devices".... and many others. Do you really want the government in your face quite this much? I don't.
Talked to the magager of the local, independent, appliance parts store. Says that within a week af a bad thunderstorm rolling thru, he sells several boards. Why aren't there surge suppressors in the machines? I would guess accountants and lawyers. Why don't the users plug the machines into surge suppressors? The average consumer does not know the expenses of loosing a board, and in the past the electormechanical controls did not share the same worry. Incidentally, he has heard that the top loaders are being discontinued, so he bought an old style washer and dryer and put in storage for when his current ones die some decade from now.
Speaking of accountants and electronics, do you think they don't buy from the cheapest source, at what price reliability? The NPR Car Talk guys say there are now lots of returns on electical equipment because entire lots of replacement parts are plagued by the same cheap components. The appliance controllers could use some of the same cheap components, or some of those Chinese capacitors that have wreaked havoc in computer laptops.
We upgraded from our 1971 Whirlpool top loader to a Whirlpool front loader a few years ago and are very happy with its performance. However, we were careful to insure that we got the machine made in Germany.
We use as little detergent as possible and always select an extra rince cycle. So far we are very pleased with clothes cleanliness and have had no mildew issues.
However, we are not pleased with a GE range that dropped a self tapping screw into food in the oven. Fortunately the screw was found before teeth were broken!! A close inspection revealed that the hole in the oven liner rusted and alowed the screw holding the oven vent in place to fall out. Further examination revealed that the oven liner enamel coating was failing in many locations.
We did contact GE, they offered to discount the service call to troubleshoot the issue but would not cover the cost of repairs, which would be replacement or the liner. Installing an oversized sheetmetal screw would be asking for a repitition of the problem. We are beyond the warenty period for the $1,500 stove
We are very disapointed with GE's material selection.
Kept my first washer and dryer repaired and running for 25+ years (and that was after they sat on the back porch of our first apartment for a year because the apartment wiring was too old -- as in knob and tube [ just google it kids ] -- to support them)! Finally my father-in-law, bless his heart and RIP, talked me into a replacement washer if he put up the cash. That was about 15 years ago. The K********* washer was quiet ... and broke about every 6 months. The service call was $176 each time. The first year was under warranty but the next three years were on us. Finally I took the day off to corner the service guy in the laundry room. Turns out the coupling is a soft rubber block between the motor and the water pump. I asked him for the pieces of the old one. He wanted to know why. I said because I'm a design engineer and shortly I will have a coupling made out of a material that won't come apart quite so easily. He sighed ... and pulled another box out of his toolbox and took out ... yep, a different coupling made out of much different rubber. Poor fellow has not been needed since. I would like to think that some bean-counter was holding a gun to the head of the designer that made that soft rubber block. But the sad truth is K********* saw an opportunity to make some money after the initial sale and to keep service folks everywhere busy and somebody is making a bunch of money.
Frankly, I've found it is smarter to repair anything that can be disassembled without a blow torch ... IF the manufacturer will sell the parts.
One world-famous blender maker no longer gets the business of anyone in my family. We got a beautiful new O**** blender for Christmas one year. At New Years, a little one reached up on the counter while I was washing the pitcher and pushed a button. The blender started up ... followed a second later by a loud "crack" and then sped up even more! I turned it off and discovered that the "bakelite" drive star (couples the blades in the pitcher to the motor) had self-destructed and pieces had flown all over the room in an instant! I called O**** to get a part (because it was just threaded on to the motor shaft and emminently replaceable) and was told they don't sell them. You have to buy the whole motor assembly. And it isn't covered under warranty. She finally admitted that they know these things will self-destruct and, no, they didn't plan to do anything about it. You're not supposed to run the blender with the pitcher off the base ... and now you know why! I was just thankful that my grandson didn't lose an eye. Naturally, this piece of junk was discarded.
These days you can't even count on simple designs to be reliable. A couple years back our trusty 15-year-old Hoover finally outlasted the ability to get parts for it so we bought an O**** because we wanted a light-weight anyhow. It did well for about a year and then the base started breaking up. We tried to take it back to the retailer (lifetime service was part of the deal). The retailer was gone. We called O**** and they said too bad for you. They would not sell me parts and told me to call the closest dealer who turned out to be a very uninterested voice on the phone an hour away who, upon finding out we had not purchased it from her, said we'd have to drop it off and pay for service and parts and she would get to when she could. I retrieved some nice hardware and a cord off that O**** before it hit the garbage truck. And, we decided that was the last time we spend more than $75 on a vacuum. Our $35 Hoover had lasted 15 years plus, the $400 O**** lasted just a year. The math was easy.
And don't think for a second that kids and CAD systems produce superior design automatically. The replacement for that O**** was another Hoover from the local Sears store. Taking it out of the box was very interesting. Before we uncoiled the cord I noted three major DESIGN defects and a few minor ones. I was able to modify the vacuum to correct two of the problems but the third will require major surgery and it isn't quite annoying enough to warrant that.
I can go on but I want to get back to a solar pool heater design I started earlier today. Hey. Good luck buying anything these days. You'll need it. LoL
P.S. Vis-á-vis new washer / dryers? Stick to mechanical mechanisms. Do you really need a washing machine that can dance the Texas two-step, speak in four languages and tie your clothes in knots like an Eagle Scout? I think not. Keep up with the Jones' where it counts ... in the landscaping. ;-)
Truchard will be presented the award at the 2014 Golden Mousetrap Awards ceremony during the co-located events Pacific Design & Manufacturing, MD&M West, WestPack, PLASTEC West, Electronics West, ATX West, and AeroCon.
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