Fix it instead of throwing it away

From time to time I get some interesting thoughts shared from other product managers at SolidWorks.  Below are some thoughts from Mark Biasotti another product manager here at SolidWorks.



One of the mottos that I like to espouse when describing SolidWorks and how it works for our users is that you “trash nothing, but change everything” or in other words – why throw away perfectly good work when you can just repair it.

Now I’m going to take a chance here and digress to a subject that I’ll bet that you can relate to. Because many of you are mechanical engineers and have that innate instinct to fix things, I know that your basement is full of appliances that have been thrown by the wayside just waiting for that time when they will be rescued and make their way to your garage workbench for repair.

So I offer the following for all of you weekend warriors that have honey-do’s in an effort to make you a hero to your family even thou you spend long hours during the week apart from them in front of SolidWorks.

Last week I was met by my daughter in the kitchen, un-toasted bagel in hand, informing me that our 3 year old toaster no longer worked. No problem as I grabbed it and took it down to the basement and grabbed the 2 slice model that I had replaced 3 years prior. Happily, my family was toasting thru the weekend only to be faced with another quorum of my wife, daughter and son waiting for me in the kitchen Sunday morning stating that the toaster I’d hauled up from the basement also had busted.

With visions of rows of unused toasters in my basement (because yes, I’m one of those that can’t stand the thought of throwing anything out working or not) I decided that I’m not going to let corporate America’s subversive plan of pre-planned obsolescent get the better of my pocketbook and also do a little something to minimize the trash heap, throw-away society that we’ve become.

I’m willing to bet that many of you reading this have had a toaster that stopped working long before your naïve’10 year life expectancy estimation. Fear not, the problem, in most cases, is simpler than you think. Because 99% of toasters use the same technology, there are only a few suspects of issues that can fail. Most modern toasters have some electronics for regulating the time that your toast stays submerged for golden perfection; you set a dial on the side and leave it unaltered for perhaps years. The timer is most likely a small printed circuit board with a few discreet electronic components. It’s not probable that this would become defective, especially within a few years, no, the culprit most likely, would be the heating element and a broken connection between the element and the electronics.

So, with a spare hour or two yesterday, I took apart my toaster (the original 4 slice model that broke) and sure enough, a corroded connector that was attached to one of the heating elements had come loose. If you have or have had a non-functioning toaster, I’m willing to bet this is your problem also.

Fortunately, I was able to easily repair the unit and my daughter was happily back in business toasting bagels.

The following are a few observations to help you get more life out of your toaster. First off, remember what I said about pre-planned obsolescence? Well not only do they build this into their products (I’ll withhold the brand name other than to say it is a well-known expensive European company that rhymes with “cups”) but also prevent you from getting into it by putting it together with non-tamper proof fasteners call “blind Torx” headed screws. This coupled with the ubiquitous warning label “No useable parts inside” should really say, “throw me away, but stay loyal to OUR brand and buy a new and improved one.”

Anyway, a Blind Torx is a star like pattern type of head but with a post in the middle of the hole to prevent the average user from unscrewing it. Blind Torx drives are not something you just pick up at your local hardware store, so do yourself a favor and purchase one online at any industrial tool outlet like JC Whitney or McMaster Car – do a Google on Blind Torx driver and you’ll surely find a set of drivers that you can purchase for under $15 dollars.

Once you’re inside the unit, inspect the ends of the heating elements that run lengthwise through the unit. You’ll probably find the heating element wire that is suppose to be connected to the asbestos insolated wire, going to the heater control board, broken. The heating elements are most likely connected in series, so like old-fashion Xmas tree lights, if one goes out they all go out a.k.a. toaster not toasting.

If this is the case, go to your local, well-stocked, Ace Hardware store and look for high-temperature spade connectors and crimp elements. You can usually find these in the specialty hardware section – you know the rows of boxes that have all sorts of odds and ends of special application hardware. Do not use standard spade connectors and crimp couplers as they can not withstand the heat and will quickly erode. Once you’ve secured your hardware, gain access to the end of the wire element and with a needle nose pliers and straighten a ¼ inch section. Now strip off a ¼ inch section of the asbestos wire and then recrimp the two back together with a high temperature crimp coupler. Also, while your in there, replace any spade connectors that might be damaged with the high temperature ones that you purchase.

Chances are this is all you have to do to get your toaster working again and save yourself $40 bucks to boot and  just like SolidWorks – “Trash nothing, but change everything.”

Mark B

Fielder Hiss

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