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Product Life Extension

Product life extension is the process of extending the life of the product through the use of various design strategies with the aim of avoiding premature disposal or perpetual upgrading. To extend the life of a product the designer should design the product to avoid obsolescence. There are a number of different types of obsolescence:

  • planned obsolescence - the "deliberate curtailment of a product’s life span" (Cooper, 2005, p. 57)
    • often used by manufacturers to ensure continued consumption of thier products
  • functional obsolescence (product failure)
  • technological obsolescence
    • when advances in technology leads to displacement of ‘old’ with ‘new’ or ‘disruptive’ technologies, records to CD’s and more recently analogue to digital TV and radio for example
    • when failure to provide an ongoing supply of components or accessories shortens the lifespan of a product forcing obsolescence
  • fashion obsolescence (Cooper, 2004)
    • when products become 'outdated' and therefore no longer desirable

By taking steps to design durable, upgradeable products which can be repaired and reused, designers can extend the life of the product and avoid premature disposal or perpetual upgrading.

Steps to avoid obsolescence:

  • design the product to enable it to be easily upgraded by replacing old components or elemets with new:
    • designing a product so that it can be easily and economically upgraded extends the useful life of the product and reduces the amount of product going to landfill.
    • this approach is very common in the IT industry e.g -
      • additional memory,
      • new software,
      • new games for consoles.
    • features which enable upgradability include:
      • modular system
      • 'families' of products who share common components or accessories
      • 'clip on' accessories or components which can be retrofitted - camera modules for mobile phones for e.g.

  • upgrade the aesthetic of the product to avoid fashion obsolescence
    • SMART cars for example have interchangeable exterior panels which allow the customer to manually update the look of the car. For more information visit the SMART website at: http://www.smart.com/

  • design the product for easy repair by:
    • designing 'transparent' not 'hidden' fixings
    • using fixings which snap, clip or slot into place
    • including instructions or providing labels detailing repair procedures

  • avoid replacement of the product due to damage or loss of aesthetic quality by:
    • specifying hardwearing materials and finishes which do not scratch easily
    • avoiding gloss finishes

  • design a product with both current and emerging technologies in mind
    • a radio which is both analogue and digital enabled for example

It is important to question whether extending the life of your particular product is prudent sometimes extending the life of the product is not necessarily the best option. When considering strategies for extending the life of the product the following questions need to be asked:

  • what is the optimal life span of the product and the components?
  • would newer technologies offer greater efficiency and thus reduce the environmental impact of use?
For More Information

For more information on extending product life spans visit the Network on Product Life Spans website: http://extra.shu.ac.uk/productlife/

For more information read the following papers:

Cooper. T (2005) 'Slower Consumption: Reflections on Product Life Spans and the 'Throwaway Society', Journal of Industrial Ecology, Vol. 9 (1-2), Winter-Spring 2005, pp. 51 - 67

Cooper T, (1994) 'Beyond recycling: the longer life option', New Economics Foundation, London