Posted in Community, Repair Data, Research, The Restart Project Blog, Electronic gadgets Subscribe to our posts

Why our electronics break: what we can learn from nearly 10 years of repairs

a pair of hands taking the battery out of a smartphone

Nearly ten years ago, we held our first Restart Party in a London pub. Since then, we’ve kept records of every device that’s come through the door to learn why our electronics break.

Now we’re hoping to use this information to push for pro-repair regulation.

Along with our community, we’ve identified some of the most common points of failure for a few types of device. But we also learned that we need to get better at recording this data in the first place.

People-powered research

We now have data on over 21,000 broken items and what was done to fix them. This information comes from volunteers at our own events and others who use our community repair platform, restarters.net.

Thanks to our partners in the Open Repair Alliance who also collect this kind of data, we were able to include extra data from other networks around the world.

Together, this brought the total to nearly 50,000 broken items.

Want to see this data for yourself? Download the full dataset here
(Note: Links to the datasets that contain fault types are further down this page)

That’s a lot of data. So to analyse it, we focused on three types of products that the European Commission would be investigating:

  • Printers
  • Tablets
  • The batteries that power many of our gadgets.

Our aim was to use people-power to look at each dead printer, broken tablet and battery issue to work out what went wrong or what prevented its repair.

Anyone could read about these broken devices and choose the main problem or barrier to repair described from a list of options.

A screenshot of BattCat: a description of a broken vacuum cleaner and a list of options to describe the fault
A screenshot of our battery quest: BattCat.

Designing these online activities was not easy and we learnt a lot along the way. But even so, more than 300 people submitted over 6,500 opinions about 2,000 devices for the three product types.

What did we learn?

Thanks to this collective effort, we were able to identify the most common reasons printers, tablets and batteries become unusable.

A diagram showing the most common tablet problems
These findings are based on the analysis of problems in 647 tablets brought to community repair events, but don’t include 131 tablets with poor data quality, making it impossible to confirm the main fault.

In addition, many of the items we looked at were fairly old, demonstrating that people really want to keep using their devices for longer.

But we also found that there are lots of barriers to repair that make this tricky. Some of the biggest are the lack of spare parts and repair documentation as well as designs that make opening the product difficult without causing extra damage.

You can see our full results and download the data for yourself here:

More than anything though, it’s clear that the quality of the data we collect at repair events matters. For many of the devices recorded, there simply wasn’t enough information about the problem to be useful.

So, for this kind of analysis to reach its full potential, we all need to do a better job of capturing information about the repairs we carry out at community events. For example, we could take photos of the items we see and improve our Fixometer tool. We could also recruit more data volunteers: people tasked with recording information about the devices brought to events and what happens to each.

How will we use this data?

We want rules that make products easier to fix. And we’re already using data to push for a real Right to Repair. Just recently, we used previous findings to undermine an industry lobbyist’s anti-repair arguments in an EU policy meeting about upcoming regulations for smartphone and tablet repairability.

As a follow up, we also contributed our findings on common fault types in tablets, making the case for the need for better access to spare parts and repair information for this product category as well.

Next, we hope to increase the pressure on European policymakers for regulating printer repairability and battery-related issues in consumer products. For printers, the European Commission is considering rejecting a “voluntary agreement” proposed by industry, which ignores repairability for consumer printers.

And as for batteries, European institutions are working towards a Batteries Regulation, which must prioritise user-replaceability as well as the availability of spare parts.

We’ll also work on improving the quality of the data we collect at events. But for this, we’ll need your help!

To follow our latest work and hear about opportunities to get involved, consider signing up for our email updates:

  • Subscribe to our semi-regular email updates about the repair data we’re collecting, how we’re using it and opportunities to go data diving. Read our Privacy Policy.
  • Hidden
  • Hidden
    DD slash MM slash YYYY
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


This was a team effort

We couldn’t have done this without our community. Thank you to everyone who took part in our PrintCat, TabiCat and BattCat online activities! For more, read about the first part of this project, which focused on exploring the environmental impact of our devices.

ACTION logo

We are hugely grateful to to The ACTION (Participatory science toolkit against pollution) project for funding this work and for their support.

 

EU flag - a ring of yellow stars on a blue background

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824603.

This blog post reflects the author’s views. The European Commission is not liable for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

One response

  1. Carl

    Deoxit Contact cleaner and lubricant is a secret weapon. My Harbor Freight calipers stopped working. Deoxit on the battery contacts fixed it. A 6 DVD duplicator that was intermittent fixed by spraying all contacts with Deoxit. Lubricant must have a dielectric coefficient near 1, it worked on a computer.

Add a response

Your email address will not be published.