Device repair and reuse is a hot topic, and OEM representatives recently talked about how manufacturers are supporting – and can better support – that aspect of the industry.
The session, “Role of Reuse as Tech Evolves,” took place at the 2023 E-Scrap Conference and E-Reuse Conference in New Orleans from Sept. 18–20.
The panelists were Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability at the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) and Paul Walker, senior director at Samsung Electronics America. It was moderated by Craig Boswell, co-founder and president of HOBI International.
“The future is in independent repair, there’s no doubt in that,” Walker said.
Reuse and repair has been in the spotlight lately with various right-to-repair bills passing in four states, Alcorn said. That has been a challenge for manufacturers who are used to carefully controlling all aspects of a specific device’s life. Alcorn said as legislation pairs manufacturers with independent repair businesses who have “a culture that’s based on some very practical creativity and dealing with what shows up,” it’s causing “a little bit of a culture clash trying to figure out how those marry.”
“We’ve got a few years of figuring this out, but I think one of the ways that we do that is we just be honest about it and we have open conversations about where different folks are coming from, different parts of the industry,” Alcorn said. “Hopefully through dialogues like that, we’ll be able to come to some mutual understanding where we can end up with more repair, more opportunities for consumers and the consumer ultimately protected.”
“The future is in independent repair, there’s no doubt in that.”
-Paul Walker, senior director at Samsung Electronics America
A vital part of a secure and trustworthy repair system is setting standards, Alcorn and Walker said. Walker noted that in 2017, he started working with wireless communications industry trade association CTIA and 54 other companies to develop standards for repair.
One standard that came out of that project was the WISE (Wireless Industry Service Excellence) Certification, to certify repair locations and repair technicians.
“What we wanted to do was to be able to apply this framework to the independent service provider industry,” Walker said.
Non-OEM parts are also a challenge. Walker sad in a “perfect world, I would want everybody to use a Samsung genuine part directly from Samsung in their repair, because I know that that is designed to work as per the standards.”
Realistically, that will not happen, he added, because there are supply chain interruptions and devices that need parts that OEMs may no longer manufacture. It’s important to ensure repair is still possible even if those problems occur, he said.
“There has to be a solution, right? And that solution is an aftermarket part,” Walker said.
He added that it’s important that use of aftermarket parts is transparent, and “it shouldn’t be the norm, it should be the exception.”
Walker said Samsung has been working to improve its repair options for more than eight years and has also seen a growing awareness of the importance of repair and reuse among customers.
That awareness has been helped along by manufacturers changing their repair ecosystems from “a blind monolithic repair-exchange model where there’s instant gratification for the consumer” to same-unit repair.
“The idea is to move the repair to that last mile where it’s in a convenient space for consumers to be able to access, for them to be able to make a choice as to what sort of repair they want, whether they want somebody to come to you or whether they will go to a store,” Walker said. “And as we’ve grown those networks, there’s been a rise in awareness about reuse.”
Samsung started the transition to same-unit repair by partnering with companies such as UBreakiFix and Best Buy, Walker said.
“To dispel one myth, there is no Samsung guy in a blue coat fixing phones,” he added. “They’re all third parties. The majority of them are independent businesses and that’s how we like it.”
Samsung now has about 1,300 of those third-party Authorized Service Center (ASC) repair locations for cell phones, Walker said. On the appliance side, Samsung provides support in 99.9% of the ZIP codes where its products are sold.
“We kind of reached a wall whereby we had sufficient coverage for same-unit repair, but we then looked at our sphere of influence and despite what people may think, the manufacturer doesn’t control all the repairs,” he said. “There’s a very large, thriving and well functioning independent network out there, and we wanted to be able to reach out to those folks and provide them with some of the supports and the training and the tools.”
Today there are about 1,200 of those Independent Service Providers (ISP) that Samsung has helped support, Walker said, including 725 BatteriesPlus locations. Samsung then added more than 500 vans to the service locations to provide mobile repair.
“The next logical step was self repair,” Walker said. “Self repair isn’t for everyone, it’s a niche play, but I think it’s an important factor and it’s a service we wanted to have.”
Samsung partnered with iFixit to provide the service.
“Consumers now have multiple options through which to seek service, that are on-demand and meet the needs of their lives,” Walker said.
Now, the company is looking to provide cross-trained repair services for both phones and appliances.
“If you’ve got a highly trained technician in a van going to somebody’s location, why don’t you fix the refrigerator as well? Why don’t you do the washing machine? Why don’t you expand the product categories and blur those traditional lines?” he said.
Samsung is also building up its reused parts supply chains, working to get individual core parts back in for refurbishing, such as cameras.
Public attention on reuse and material reduction
As device reuse has become squarely in the public eye, Alcorn said that something that has “really stunned a lot of us in the industry is the assumption of so many folks out there just in the general public that manufacturers are somehow against reuse.”
“That seems to be an underlying assumption, that manufacturers want to sell absolutely as many products and have them die as quickly as possible,” Alcorn said, adding that “I’m not sure exactly where it came from, because I certainly have never seen it personally.”
With more than two decades in the industry, Alcorn said he is instead seeing the most serious discussion about reuse yet, “not just at a superficial level, but really understanding what’s driving it.”
He added that reuse is an “extremely important component of the circular economy,” but said OEMs have also been making strides in source reduction.
“We have seen pretty dramatic reductions in the amount of material being used by our industry over the last 20 and 25 years,” he said. “That’s really positive, but reuse is now getting the attention that it’s always deserved.”