Fixing mixers shows how to rethink repairing
Time to hear from another passionate repairer now: writer, designer, and ex Naked Scientist Diana O’Carroll. Over the past few years, she’s been dedicating lots of her time to repairing old Kenwood machines. For the uninitiated, Kenwood is a manufacturer of domestic appliances, best known for food mixers. I spoke to Diana to find out more about her hobby repairing machines over half a century old…
Diana - I do have some modern things. I have the iPhone and a little robot vacuum cleaner, but I also have Kenwood machines and mixers from the 50s and 70s and I enjoy fixing them and taking them apart and stripping them right back to their components and then putting them all back together again.
James - If you don't mind me asking, why?
Diana - Well, it started off just as a challenge really. It was like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but at the end, instead of getting a pretty picture, you got something that actually worked and that you could use. And while I was doing this, I just learned so much about how the quality of the components can affect, what you end up with, how long something lasts. I realised how easy it was to repair these older machines.
James - It started out as sort of a point of intrigue and then by the very nature of the fact that you could do it in contrast to modern tech, it became liberating almost.
Diana - We have technology that's just sitting around, very cheaply available and can still do a really, really good job. Kenwood were essentially early pioneers of sustainability, I think it is fair to say that, and you don't really need to be an expert. I mean, obviously, when you're dealing with the circuitry, you probably should have some training and take certain precautions.
James - Is it a case of, that's possible with that more primitive technology, but when it comes to the phones we use or the laptops we use, that's got a level of complexity that needs some expertise?
Diana - There is an element of that. And if I'm talking about stripping something right back to the individual screws and capacitors or whatever, then yes, obviously the more primitive a technology is, the easier, the more accessible that's going to be. However, I have fixed things like my robot vacuum cleaner, for example, which has really very advanced stuff. It's essentially got a bit of AI. It has lidar to navigate its way around my house, but that was built in a modular way, which meant I could take it apart very easily and then I could replace the individual bits which internally would've been quite complex. But you can just buy these parts, quite cheaply. So for example, the bit that I needed to replace was a little motor, which spun the lidar sensor around in the top because that had worn out. And it cost me about 10 pounds. I just replaced it. It took me 10 minutes and it was working again. And that was because the company had made it easier for me to do because of the way they'd built this machine.
James - Does it anger you, if I was to take it that far, to think that you could take a piece of technology that's a couple of years older and you might ask them to fix it for you and they essentially tell you where to go.
Diana - I have been frustrated in the past. There was one item that I knew was a really easy repair for the company to do. It wasn't something that I could do because I didn't have the right machines to do it, but I knew for a manufacturer they could do that really easily, really cheaply. It would mean that no more components would have to be used and the item could continue being used. It wouldn't have to go to landfill. But they didn't want to do that. They didn't want to fix it. It would cost them too much. It would erode into their their profit margins. So the item got thrown away and that was that: a total waste. What also frustrates me is that there is a cynical attitude towards the customer. I think there is an element with some companies where a customer is just a cash cow. They're there just to buy the product and spend lots of money, as much money as possible. And it's no longer about creating a product, which is not only nice to use, not only useful, but good quality and will last and can be kept working for many years.