Product Death Dates
I have returned to Vance Packard’s book The Waste Makers, written in 1960 it describes in Chapter 7 Planned Obsolescence of Desirability how much style (over function) had a massive influence on our buying habits and of course continues to do so. When this book was written it was groundbreaking, an analysis of how we consume and how manufacturers were making inferior goods which were made to break. Packard mentions a growing awareness of how resources were starting to run out and yet still 50 years later products are still being produced with planned obsolescence in mind either through materials and functions ceasing to work or through styling.
Two pieces of my own technology have finally died, my second hand Sony Ericsson phone which had buttons that needed to be pushed in a certain way with a certain pressure to make them work. But then the phone stopped recognising the sim card, and after getting it to work again by taking the back off and putting it back on again it did finally die. The computer mouse which has been intermittently working and then not for a number of months was often ‘fixed’ by giving it a shake but one shake too many has resulted in its death also.
So now they clutter up my living space or go off for recycling – but where these products end up is sometimes problematic. It was Edward Burtynsky’s photographs and text that led me to consider e-waste (1). He says in the essay that accompanies the photographs that China is the worlds biggest recyclers of e waste and although some is recycled in factories with health and safety measures much is still dismantled by hand with no awareness of the heavy metals contained within these products. How then can we safely dispose of our obsolete technology and why did i not pursue any possibilities of getting these items repaired – i imagine if i walked into a phone shop there would have been no question of suggesting it be sent away for repair, even if this was an option which i doubt it is. Is repair becoming an obsolete concept in the world of mass produced products?
See http://www.edwardburtynsky.com China – Recycling
Following on from the last post the largest object the machine could make was 35cm long – however at a cost of nearly £300 it was outside of my budget. However reduce by 10cm to a 25cm long part and the price came down to a more reasonable £116, so that was the size I went for. The object has almost comic properties and was well worth the 7 hours it took to make.
The plastics RP machine is from America and as such defaults to working in inches which surprised me greatly, I assumed that America would have gone metric when we did here in the UK, or before perhaps, but no Derek informs me that they are staunch inch users. In this age of global markets, digital standards and so on, I would have thought that metric would be an industry standard – its quite a relief to know that in today’s increasingly homogenised and digitally based world there is variety and difference in such things are measurements.
I had a conversation with Nathanial at Hethel, we hadn’t met before but he asked about the work i had on the walls. He is doing some research about clusters – and how the east of England has a cluster of High Tech or perhaps High Performance Engineering i cant quite remember the exact term – although its likely to be important in the kind of work he is doing. I put forward an example based on my own research about how in the 1890’s many places in the UK were specialists (this was also a comment from someone in the audience at the 20 group talk) with Redditch near Birmingham being a centre for needle manufacture. Near to these needle factories where also industries which used needles, gloves were made in Worcester for example. I asked Nathaniel if clusters where about manufacturing or knowledge based and he replied both – a mixture of research, suppliers, manufacturing and distribution. So I had a look on the Internet and found a short paper which references Michael Porters account of localised industrial ‘clusters’, taken from his book ‘The Competitive Advantage of Nations’.(1) The report states “Geographical proximity allows interaction and efficient flows of goods, services, ideas, and skills. This yields high levels of productivity growth and rapid rates of innovation in both processes and products.” (2).
It’s interesting to consider these clusters in the current economic climate, in areas of America such as Detroit, the effected has been massive, where workforces, supporting businesses and suppliers have all been hard hit. See www.guardian.co.uk/business/2008/dec/03/detroit-motor-city-ford for an interesting portrait from 2008.
1. Local Government Improvement and Development (on-line) Industrial clusters and their implications for local economic policy http://www.idea.gov.uk/idk/core/page.do?pageId=850729625/08/2008 Accessed online 16/08/2010
Although my residency is officially over I went back last week to test out the capabilities and capacities of the Stratasys Fortus machine. The idea came from a proposal I have written for a conference next year. The question I was left with after writing about my practice based research investigations was why where the outputted objects the size they were? The answer is the sizes come from video stills that I printed and used a ruler to measure the proportions. But it led me to consider what would be the smallest and largest objects I might be able to make.
So to the smallest ones first, they are 0.1mm and under macro photography are very interesting – as the hot ABS plastic can’t seem to keep the shape of the design as it can with the larger models. The 4 Minutes build time was given and the cost of the materials 2p.
Using the flash magnifier that came with the machine, I couldn’t capture what I could see with my eye but an altogether different type of image – unexpected and in some cases organic in its appearance.
Artist talks and where they take you.
I was invited to give a talk to the Norwich 20 Group (www.norwich20group.co.uk) a week or so back. Its always a good opportunity to get ideas clear and assemble images. Beyond that its the questions that cant be anticipated, the connections one cant foresee that make giving artist talks so interesting and as much part of the work for me at the work i produce.
The questions from the 20 Group were expansive and seemed to focus on the role of women within manufacturing and engineering. There was a comment about some of the images i showed where historical factory images featured female workers – which led me to talk about some of the films in the British Documentary Movement made before, during and after the war. There is a great film about women working the night shift in an armaments factory. Someone wanted to know how many female engineers there were at Hethel, to which i replied – non – this led to a conversation about why this might be – perhaps not encouraged into the discipline at school or studying it but unable to find work or progress in the profession? Its not something i have really looked at much although Derek and i have discussed it on occasion. There is such as thing as Young Women Engineer of the Year – http://conferences.theiet.org/ywe/index.htm
These gender questions were brought to the fore again when at the weekend i went to see Made in Dagenham – (which was at times rather funny as well as telling the events of an important story in the fight for equality and equal pay). The film has some interesting footage of car manufacturing and working conditions – which were less than salubrious. What ever the critics view of the film we can’t escape the fact that it represents a seminal moment in women’s history and the move towards a fair days pay for a fair days labour no matter your gender. http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbcfilms/film/made_in_dagenha…