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Triumphing together against planned obsolescence

The Epson in question
Moment of triumph over the Epson in question

I am not a technical person.

It may seem strange, being one of the founders of this project, but perhaps that is always what makes me good for this. The technical stuff not only frustrates me – it also really intimidates me, just like most people.

When I first saw The Lightbulb Conspiracy, a documentary about planned obsolescence, I would have never imagined myself battling against one of the featured tricks of printer manufacturers – Epson’s dreaded internal counter/chip. It is an emblem of planned obsolescence, much like the first iPod, where Apple made it impossible to change the battery.

This Saturday, in Willesden Green, a frustrated participant to one of our Restart Parties brought her Epson Stylus D68. She said it died suddenly with no warning and two lights just blinked red and she could no longer print. She had just replaced both ink cartridges.

I did some Googling about her problem and quickly came across a number of people complaining about the dreaded “kill chip”.

Epson claims that this internal counter is there to prevent its printers from spilling ink everywhere, that it is set to stop printing forever about the time the bottom of the printer would be flooded from excessive ink. It does this by simply spontaneously stopping printing after a certain number of print outs have been made. The printer owner is suddenly and inexplicably left with blinking red lights.

We were pretty sure that the printer was not overflowing with excess ink. And it wasn’t – we opened up the back to check the ink pads on the bottom, and they were brilliant white. (In any case, a consumer should have the choice to clean out the printer and deal with the excess ink.)

This situation is pretty hard to accept. It is one thing to make something not meant to last or hard to fix. It is quite another to manufacture something to fail by design.

Luckily, I also learned in The Light Bulb Conspiracy that a Russian programmer created a piece of freeware utility that would simply talk to the printer and reset the counter.

We downloaded the utility, followed some simple instructions – simply go to a menu and select “reset counter”, and as if we had waved a magic wand, the Epson came back to life. A simple piece of software helped us trick the printer into a new, and fairer, longer life.

It was a very good feeling. Some could hardly believe it was that easy – me included.

Three cheers for SCC in Russia! Boo to Epson and planned obsolescence!

The best way to fight back is together, so next time you suspect something may have been designed to fail, why not bring it to a Restart Party?

14 responses

  1. that is a good story – and useful info about Epsons too.

  2. Thanks Tom!

  3. John D

    Epson Ink Pads Reset Utility
    Here is Epson answer to problem, they also supply reset counter software…
    I’ve also used a series of button presses to reset R 300, no software required, but forget which buttons..

  4. Hi John,

    Thanks for sharing. One glance at the text on that page – the defensive language and the absurdly long license agreement – and it’s obvious there is a problem here.

    The fact that Epson STILL insists that the problem is ink pads, when in the case of this printer and many others, they remain pristine white, shows that this design does not benefit the consumer it only accelerates the “end of life”.

    We actually went first to the Epson Support section, and searched for the printer in multiple configurations and were unable to find any support materials. So Epson fails on that count.

    All things considered, as a consumer, not sure whether I would be more likely to trust some Russian Robin Hood developers or Epson…

  5. […] as cheating that we decided to pick the case of the infamous Epson Stylus D68, which we already wrote about back in December as our symbolic top fix so far. In short, it’s the story of a printer which […]

  6. […] NO to planned obsolescence – “kill chips” and other tricks are simply unethical and no longer acceptable, and designers must push […]

  7. hugh alexander

    The Epsom kill chip notion is not confined to inkjet printers. Their laser cartridges are fitted with them too so that the printers will not work when the chips count down to zero. I believe it is designed to prevent them being refilled (to insufficient standards), which is a shame as they can be fairly easily re-filled several times and used again with no discernible ill effects. To date the only way we have found to get round this is to replace the chips when refilling the cartridges – but it’s still better and cheaper then needlessly replacing or ‘remanufacturing’ a very specifically manufactured component.

  8. A theory of “Planned Obsolescence” applied to the iPad:

  9. Ed Donato

    Has any one heard of this type of problem with the Dell V305.

  10. Panda

    I absolutely support you.

    I work in the field of signal processing and electronics. I see abuses of engineering every day; I am also aware of chemistry and the huge cost of processing precious materials. I am about to start manufacturing some consumer equipment, and any comments about lifespan and quality issues are MOST welcome.

    From what I have seen, quality does come at a cost, far less than what is generally believed. Principally it is in terms of design time. In a peculiar kind of ironic twist, it is just those areas that the so called “new economy” protagonists find objectionable – extensive multi-discipline skill sets, which requires large investment in people and training, not to mention books and educational materials.

    I think it is very important to expose – for what they really are – examples of products that are engineered to fail. Because one day, this will be something you need to save your life.

  11. Michael

    I found your site by looking for a solution to this very problem, however, I have a HP, not an Epson. Do you know of a similar software fix for HPs?

  12. […] designing in a ‘kill switch’ such that they control the life of a product directly. Here’s a link to a story about Epson printers coming equipped with exactly that, courtesy of the Restart Project, and the […]

  13. Nelson Garwood

    My Epson Rx530 is telling me that the waste inkpad is saturated. Can I do anything about it?

  14. Mary Jolly

    Thank you. Glad to know I’m not imagining anything. My Canon MG4250 stopped working. Ostensibly due to full ink pads, which had been removed and cleaned. Turned out it was the print counter bringing up the 5B02 code. According to the canon website, this “surprisingly” requires me to contact an engineer. Thanks to a YouTube video and downloading the russian program, the printer is working just fine now. We are constantly made to feel that it’s the individual’s responsibility to reduce, reuse and recycle but we have a massive up-hill struggle against corporate drivers for consumerism.

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