The indestructible industry
Many of us have probably heard the saying, “times were better in the past.” Although it is a phrase that comes directly from nostalgia, by digging a little, we can understand what it refers to. If we apply it, for example, to the consumer electronics and home appliance industry, the phrase becomes present when discussing the quality of manufacturing materials. Although technological progress has led to the improvement of industrial processes and the use of materials that are functional and beautiful, older generations still remind us of an undeniable truth: In previous times, a refrigerator, for example, had an average use life of 30 years, while currently that figure is reduced to 12 years.
There are several factors that lead to a shorter useful life of a product nowadays. On the one hand, we have programmed obsolescence, but also, in some cases, there is the problem of poor quality control and testing to limit production times, since launching the next generation of a product to the market late can lead to losses in the millions of dollars. Finally, we have the general cheapening of manufacturing materials since some parts that were formerly made of metals such as copper or bronze have been replaced by plastic. The difference in materials is evident between brands; for example, the German Siemens AG (BATS EU: SIE) uses more robust materials than the American Whirlpool Corp (NYSE: WHR), this generates a gap in the average lifespan of the appliances of both brands, which is between 2 to 3 years.
Little by little, we got used to the “use and throw away.”
But what about those consumers who refuse this idea, either because they feel comfortable using the same product for years or because they don’t want to go through the hassle of replacing an appliance that fits perfectly in their home. We also have the case of workers who develop their tasks in hostile environments, so they need technology resistant to shocks, falls, extreme temperatures, dust and water. This is how the “indestructible” industry was born. Although the term “ruggedized” applies mainly to smartphones, the truth is that the electronics and home appliance industry has “rugged” products in all categories, and the use of IP certifications helps us to identify how resistant a device is to interaction with water and dust.
Among the most emblematic cases of all-terrain products are Caterpillar Inc (NYSE: CAT), a leading manufacturer of construction machinery, power tools and safety clothing, which has made its way into numerous markets by offering smartphones, watches and speakers that withstand the most extreme conditions. Dell Technologies (NYSE: DELL) continues to develop its line of “Latitude rugged” laptops, which have military certification and are directly tested in tactical operations, where they must withstand falls, crushing, and extreme heat, among others, guaranteeing a battery life of at least 10 hours. They also have a touch screen reinforced with Corning Inc. (NYSE: GLW) Gorilla Glass technology that can be used with gloves.
As for home appliances, industrial appliances are becoming more and more common, as they provide greater durability and efficiency. Companies such as Samsung Electronics (LSE: SMSN) include refrigerators, stoves, washing machines and even industrial coffee makers in their catalogue for the home in order to offer the general public the option of obtaining professional products directly. In some cases, this type of appliance use Inverter type motors, developed by Toshiba in the 1980s for its refrigeration equipment and later adapted for the rest of the appliances. This type of motor, in addition to contributing to its greater energy efficiency, has a longer useful life since it does not always use its maximum power but adapts according to the needs.
And if we talk about electric motors, one of its main enemies is the constant variation of volts. For various reasons, the voltage that we receive in our home through the electrical network is not always optimal or has very sharp variations. To overcome this problem, companies like Emerson Electric (NYSE: EMR) and Ametek Inc (NYSE: AME) offer a complete line of voltage stabilizers and UPS to connect our appliances to the electrical grid in a safer way.
Little by little, the rugged industry is attracting more and more consumers. At first, it seemed exclusive to those who liked a military-looking, rigid, right-angled, heavy and visually striking hardness. But today, companies like 3M (NYSE: MMM) are leading the way in the research and development of materials such as carbon or transparent and flexible graphene, which will allow in the not too distant future the manufacture of ultra-resistant products that have a less aggressive aesthetic and weigh even less than the current “soft” industry products. Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, the “indestructible industry” will become the industry of choice for consumers, and manufacturers will be able to readapt their processes to prioritize quality over quantity.