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A digital assistant to repair smarter

Navigation Jan 19, 2021
Waschmaschine initial

More sustainability thanks to the new EU ecodesign regulations. SPREAD allows to enforce the circular economy.

By Guido Walter

The EU's ecodesign regulations aim to increase sustainability and enforce the circular economy. From 2021, refrigerators, washing machines and other appliances must be designed in such a way that they are easier to repair. Automobile manufacturers have had to meet these requirements for some time. SPREAD is helping them make repair instructions more intuitive with digital tools.

If you type the word "repair" into Google, you'll quickly come across complaints from angry consumers. For example, this one on the website of Ifixit, a worldwide network of repair companies: "My washing machine only starts after I have opened and closed the door several times. I suspected a contact problem: the machine thought the door was still open and therefore did not start washing. I didn't find any repair instructions on the internet, but people asked me which contact was responsible for which function. So I took photos during the repair and tried to figure out what the contacts were doing."

Among companies that struggle with sustainability, Ifixit's repairability index is feared. After all, customers' desire for fast and inexpensive repair options or an easy-to-understand manual is all too often disappointed. Rapid wear and tear and quick device replacement equal quick money for the manufacturer. "Planned obsolescence" is what author Stefan Schridde calls this. But last year, the EU Commission put a stop to this hustle and bustle. Starting in 2021, refrigerators, washing machines, televisions and other appliances must be designed in such a way that they are easier to repair. Spare parts for products such as refrigerators, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers must be kept in stock for years after sale and be available within 15 working days. In addition, the EU Commission wants customers to be better informed about the maintenance and repair of appliances. Software updates and safety updates should ensure that appliances can be used for longer.

Machines learn to understand complex products

Household appliance manufacturers can certainly take a leaf out of the automotive industry's book. After all, OEMs have long had to ensure that spare parts are available and also provide their customers with detailed repair instructions. If you want, you can get to know the product down to the smallest screw. Great stuff, but the effort involved is enormous. "Repair instructions today are usually based on technical concepts," says Philipp Noll, co-founder of SPREAD. "These are created in PowerPoint documents with screenshots of the 3D model including step-by-step instructions as extensive PDF documents for the workshop." This is done with a lot of internal engineering effort and external contracting, Noll says.

We help engineers create and maintain complex products by providing an intelligent system that addresses the problems that machines can solve better than humans.

Philipp Noll | CPO SPREAD

Customers include producers of technical products such as manufacturers of cars, ATMs, milling machines and washing machines. SPREAD is working with Daimler and Porsche to map and ensure the repairability of their products more intuitively with the help of a digital assistance system. This is because vehicles are upgraded increasingly digitally. A forward-looking repair strategy must keep pace with technology.

Engineers can stop playing ping pong

Networking within the company is crucial for this. "Today, many engineers know certain areas of a product very well," says Noll. "But there is a lack of overarching understanding. For open questions, engineers often have to do a lot of coordination or searching." SPREAD makes the right information available to all areas and visualizes it directly on the virtual product. Engineers can stop playing ping-pong and constantly answering questions whose answers are known within the company but can't be found. "These are highly paid employees who lose time as a result for their main job, which is to develop solutions for complex requirements and to be innovative," says Noll, who puts the potential savings in development, production and aftersales in the automotive sector at a high double-digit million amount each.

The same applies to another German showcase industry, the mechanical engineering sector. Here, employees from Germany travel around the world to maintain or repair machines when service is required. A forward-looking repair strategy made possible by SPREAD's tools can save specialists many a trip abroad - an advantage especially in times of pandemics.

Anyone who develops a technical device does not intentionally build it in such a way that it is difficult to maintain afterwards. However, due to the high time pressure during product development, an efficient repair concept is often neglected.

Philipp Noll | CPO SPREAD

This is where SPREAD can help manufacturers with 3D technologies and augmented reality solutions. The software from the Berlin-based company allows a digital insight into the "deep system" of vehicles, machines or household appliances, so to speak. It helps locate defective parts within a machine and suggests the most efficient disassembly to replace affected parts quickly.

Ecodesign measures contribute to climate protection targets

This is not just nice to have, but soon a must. This is because the EU's new ecodesign regulations require that spare parts can be replaced using generally available tools and without causing permanent damage to the appliance. From the EU's point of view, the ecodesign package of measures is a concrete contribution to climate protection targets. Jyrki Katainen, who was Commission Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness until 2019, sees it as part of a move toward a circular economy, which is an important component of the EU's "Green Deal" presented by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen late last year. To achieve the overarching goal of a climate-neutral Europe, fewer materials are to be used. Products are to have a longer service life and be reusable and recyclable.

Boom in the worldwide self-repair movement

Consumers have long since kicked the throwaway trend to the curb anyway. Climate change and movements like Fridays for Future have further heightened awareness of the need to use resources sparingly. According to an estimate by the EU Commission, European households will save an average of 150 euros per year as a result of the new energy consumption and labeling requirements. By 2030, the EU expects annual savings equivalent to Denmark's energy consumption, which will avoid greenhouse gases with a climate impact of 46 million tons of CO2 per year. Awareness for the need for greater sustainability has long existed, and consumers are not just paying lip service to it, but are taking matters into their own hands. There is no other way to understand the boom in the worldwide self-repair movement, which manifests itself at repair festivals such as the "Makers Fair" or the "Fixfest". People want to learn how to repair things themselves, but they have to be given the opportunity to do so. When it works, it's even fun. At least more, so than constantly complaining in repair forums on the Internet.

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