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The Fight to Repair - Part 9: Interviews with Industry Experts on Right to Repair.

With huge thanks, I have had the pleasure of interviewing a wide range of technical experts, thought leaders, and rebels in this exciting and turbulent innovation space. Enjoy this ongoing collection of talks.

As part of a series of articles, this one will focus on:

  • The project started with simply trying to fix some headphones, but as the project grew in complexity and scope, it was natural to seek out experts in my network.
  • Having worked at leading design engineering companies like Dyson and LEGO, I was able to draw on this network to explore subjects as diverse as embedded systems, through to medical device design, and those who had gone on to work on many other sustainable design projects. Essential viewing for those working directly in this sector.
  • To complement the tech skills, I was also keen to seek out other thought-leaders and companies at the cutting edge, such as Fairphone, The Restart Project and even lobbyists, and activist YouTubers challenging the likes of giants like Apple to make products more repairable and sustainable.

Many thanks to those who gave assistance, inspiration, and counsel through this First to Repair series.

 

Dr Lawrence Cheung, Electronic Engineer & Teaching Fellow at Hong Kong Polytechnic University. 

Whilst in Hong Kong, I dropped into HKPU, where I was an intern back in 2007. I was able to speak with Dr Lawrence (thanks to Yan from RS) about the subject of battery tech - and how much ‘planned obsolescence’ was a direct or indirect factor in product design. Although neither of us subscribe to conspiracy theories, the fact remains LiPos really only last around 2-3 years, or 500 or so cycles in many products, so this has a significant bearing on their repairability. We discuss what should be done differently to avoid this, whilst still broaching the subject of the economics of ‘better products’, not always being immediately ‘better business’.

 

Andy Sinclair, Embedded Systems & Power Expert. Ex-Dyson, now at Nordic.

I would not have gotten this far without Andy’s help on this project - as I was often dropping him questions on WhatsApp as I went further into this subject. Although one could indeed, ‘just read a book’, (and save peppering Andy with questions), the project often took unexpected turns, as was as much of a ‘forensic mystery’, albeit the ‘victim’ being my headphones. However, the lessons learned from this ‘discussion vehicle’ have been invaluable when zooming out to the wider aspects of product design, and even being able to critique other consumer electronics. Andy now works at the well respected firm, Nordic. 

 

Ken Pillonel, Electronic Engineer, Youtuber and iPhone Hacker Extraordinaire.

I had been following Ken’s work on YouTube from his second or so video he uploaded, which went viral instantly - amidst a lot of wrangling and speculation about why iPhone were slow to adopt USBC (better for the environment and arguably consumer also), Ken took it upon himself to simply do it, and hacked a USBC connector into an Iphone replacing the Thunderbolt port. If you’re an EE, you’ll know this is incredibly smart, and if not just enjoy the sheer power of will to see someone bootstrap themselves into being an expert on the subject. Safe to say, Ken was a huge inspiration to this project, and often left me thinking how I can inspire others to make credible changes to products they work on, and to overcome excuses and setbacks.

 

Andrew Carr, Sustainable Product Development Expert.

Andrew and I went to the same Uni, and yet we hardly knew each other at the time. Instead we seem to have careers which although separate, often cross paths on ethics and motivations. Andrew is always at the cutting edge of both the technical and the sustainable agenda - and is especially adept at trying to harmonise these objectives, despite obvious tensions. He was a terrific sparring partner throughout some of the more unusual ideas and questions that resulted from this assignment.

 

John Twitchen, R2R and Battery Legislation Enthusiast.

I came across John’s post on Linked In, asking people to engage on questions about battery legislation, compliance and implementation. As is often the way, serendipity can work in your favour, and John was an excellent collaborator on some of the nuances of the 2006/66/EC legislation, and what its implications meant. Although John is quick to point out he is not a domain expert in this matter of LiPos and Legislation - he is a proactive and concerned individual and is keen to raise awareness and influence policy to be more impactful for the good of the planet.

 

Sarah Liddell, CPO at Elvie.

I first met Sarah at Dyson in an Anechoic Chamber. I was young and making great strides in my understanding, whilst equally making many rookie mistakes. Sarah was a perfect mentor, to sharpen my professionalism, whilst not becoming complacent as skills improved. I have kept in touch over many years, and she remains a huge influence on my ethics in design, as a manger, and creative problem solver. I was thrilled to catch up with her and share what this project was about, and hear her thoughts on product design, given her considerable experience in many companies, countries and cultures.

 

Miquel Ballester, Head of Product at Fairphone.

Surely the ‘poster product’ of a generation - Fairphone is an emblematic demonstration of the ‘art of the possible’. It represents the seemingly impossible task of creating a modular, repairable, upgradable product, which has gone to extraordinary lengths to not just eradicate problematic aspects from its supply chain, but to initiate best-in-class standards, often going beyond legislation. Now sporting more than just Phones, it was a perfect moment to check in with Miquel, and of course there was a nice ‘full circle’ feeling to discussing their ever-repairable and stylish Fairbuds XL, as what will surely be the ‘no-brainer’ for anyone who loves audio, solid noise cancellation - and of course the planet too!

 

Nathan Croft, Ex-Dyson, Consultant Field Applications Engineer.

After much exploration of this subject, it’s fair to say one starts to ‘know what they don’t know’! And it seemed fitting to ask for a ‘deeper dive’ into battery spec’s and tech. Nathan has worked on industry leading power management systems, and goes far beyond a humble ‘single cell’ LiPo, into managing considerably more complex packages. Consider this the ‘level-up’ on the subject that goes far beyond my humble beginnings.

If you'd like to get in touch to take part in an interview, or to know more, please get in touch. (judepullen.com)

 

Up Next...

Episodes in Series

Contents:

Prologue: 
Pre-Departure Notice - How an Attempt to Repair my Headphones Turned into a 3-Month Journey with a Grand Finale at the Recycling Centre.

Main Articles:
Intro   - The Fight to Repair with Jude Pullen, for RS DesignSpark.
Part 1 - LiPo Battery Basics, Headless Laptops & Safety First.
Part 2 - Returning to Hong Kong, My Design Conspiracy Theories and Meeting Dr Lawrence.
Part 3 - Falling in Love With The Problem of R2R, Looria, and Pre-Purchase Reparability Considerations.
Part 4 - Ken Pillonel’s Ingenious iPhone Hack, and Repairability as a Disruptor. 
Part 5 - Battery Post-Mortems with Andy Sinclair, Vapes, Dogmatism and Hacking My Headphones.
Part 6 - Legislation Loopholes, Eco Black Mirror, Chunky Fashion, and R2R Business Models and The Case for Standardisation.
Part 7 - Design, Engineering & Electronics Recommendations for R2R.

Encore:
Part 8 - Visit to End of Life Processing Plant - SWEEEP Kuusakoski Ltd
Part 9 - Interviews with Industry Experts on Right to Repair.

Contact: If you have any other questions, or would like to collaborate, please get in touch (link).

 

Disclaimer: This series has been created for discussion purposes and is not a 'how to' guide. Jude Pullen is a chartered engineering professional, and has sought additional expert advice alongside his endeavours to explore this subject safely. For additional information please see DS Terms of Use

Winner of the 2020 Alastair Graham-Bryce "Imagineering" Award (IMechE), Jude thrives in high risk collaborations, uncertainty and pressure - drawing from global networks and experiences to deliver high profile campaigns and digital/physical products. A leading Creative Technologist & Physical Prototyping Expert, Jude has worked for NHS, Dyson, LEGO, and a number of start-ups. He is one of the eight featured inventors in BBC Two's Big Life Fix.
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