The problem you are experiencing is driven to a large part by the large retailers and partly by consumers. The products are built to a price. What that ends up meaning is that the products are made overseas. That is why I get really upset when I see articles wondering if US workers cvan handle the manufacturing that "coming back". This is crazy. Who do you think is doing the manufacturing in Asia??? These are peasants from the countryside that just before they became a manufacturing force were working farm plots by hand. Don't get me started...
But really, it comes back to the consumer. One time I was going hunting and much of my stuff was at another location. I needed a knife for dressing out the game. I went to the large retailer, which was the only store in the area, and the only stuff they had was cheap junk. I bought one anyway, but later threw it away. It's a good thing I did not get anything that weekend.
That said, I know manufacturers who deal with those large retailers and it is the case that they determine what price they want to sell each item at and the manufacturers have to comply. Since they are so large, they drive the train and the manufacturers comply.
I remember the tools and appliances you talk about, Eric, and they do make a difference. I still have a ratchet wrench from a large tool brand that my father made when he worked in a drop forge. It is still going strong and it is much older than I am.
Absolutely true, much of the blame rests on consumers that decide which product to buy based solely upon the cost rather than the quality. If customers looked on the the WALL of their local MART and decided that they wanted a product because it was built to last rather than the cheapest one they could find then corporate management would demand that the suppliers build that product. The big box stores are so big that they tell their suppliers what to build, how much it will cost and the profit the supplier is allowed to make. The big box store demands to see the product Bill Of Materials and then tells the supplier how much profit they will be allowed to make, very often the first year of production is required to be for break even money. They even demand to see the die area of semiconductors and base the cost of the semiconductor purely on the size of the die.
Thanks for the comments naperlou, tekochip. Funny thing is that I'd be more than happy to spend the money to get a good product, rather than having to buy frequent replacements. But this option doesn't seem to be available in most consumer items. You can still buy some good tools (if you look hard enough) and I seem to be able to get good astronomy equipment. The price is high, but so is the quality.
I think there are several problems. In my humble opinion, I'd list the problems like this:
1. Product Design - Poor Engineering
The products are not designed for any sort of longevity US materials. I can't tell you how many "Stainless" kitchen knives that I've had that have rust spots. I can recall a "weld-buster" chisel that I purchased for my air hammer that "flowered" the first time it hit a strip of 7011 weld (rod for mild steel). The workmanship also leaves a lot to be desired. I've had to repair many circuit boards with cold or lacking solder joints. Many times, the electronics will work properly (for a while), if soldered properly. But on other occasions, an electronic part will fail because of a cold or unsoldered joint, for lack of heat sinking, grounding or other issues.
That's true. Consumer cost is the biggest driver in manufacturing. Worldwide, people want the newest, coolest item. Irons, especially, need to be lightweight today. As everyone has said, you sacrifice something with those restrictions.
The "stainless" knives reminded me of a trip to Home Depot where I picked up some "copper" plumbing. The "copper" was just a flash over the surface of some mystery metal. The flash wasn't even deep enough for me to brighten up the surface for soldering.
It is true that certain modern items seem to be produced with a lack of quality. People often decry the use of plastic in replace of metals - and often an item's lack of mass is looked at as a lack of "material strength".
For example, the modern car is sometimes looked at as lacking quality because it lacks the heavy iron of yesteryear. However, those old cars really didn't last that long in terms of miles. Flat tires were a common occurance, and everyone new how to tear apart the engine because it was occasionally necessary.
So count me in among those who are generally optimistic about the quality from modern engineered items; especially relative to price and relative to our buying power. For most of us, our parents and grand-parents worked quite hard just to afford a few items, tools, household appliances, etc. Today, I freely toss out or give away any older appliance which begins to fail because buying a new one isn't a big deal. My grandmother probably had one simple sewing machine - my wife has 6-7 fancy one. My grandfather was lucky to have a few simple tools. I am fortunate to have a whole shop full of hand tools and power-tools which are just as good or better than the one he had.
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