The solution to our e-waste problem? Repair, do not lose

The modern world works on electronic systems that are designed to last for many years. Tons of natural resources are being dug every day to produce semiconductor chips and other components. Eventually, they will be mounted on printed circuit boards (PCBs) and will become effective the brains of most parts of industrial technology. These expensive circuit boards are used in industrial applications to help control our vehicles, production machines, aircraft, wind turbines, etc. Typically costing from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars, they end up being used for power management, safety systems, surveillance devices, quality checks, and many other features.

The problem is that over time, the components that make up these boards get tired and die. Software “upgrades” can also slow down or otherwise affect their performance.

In any case, a technician or engineer armed with the right diagnostic tools and training could diagnose the problem, replace damaged and generally inexpensive components, and save other components in the device from being discarded along with the board.

So why do so many PCBs, and sometimes entire pieces of equipment, keep being discarded?

The problem with e-waste

Replacing defective industrial technologies with new ones is wasteful, unnecessary and exacerbates the problem of e-waste. According to the UN University, more than 50 million tons of electronic waste are produced worldwide every year. Time for mentality that cannot be repaired to be phased out across the business spectrum. This is an essential step in eliminating waste, reducing emissions and saving valuable resources.

In a conversation earlier this year, Scott Sullivan, an electronics technician at a major U.S.-based railroad repair company, said high-value defective board fuses were routinely dumped into the container. Hating to see the rubbish, he took some of the boards home and found that most were easy to repair. His suggestions for repairing the boards were ignored. If senior management understood the size and value of the waste, he said “heads will roll.”

Using new boards to maintain equipment is not only expensive, but also a poor use of resources. The use of new boards requires maintaining an inventory of these boards. If the boards are not in stock, they must be ordered. The time required to acquire the boards is equal to the downtime of the equipment. Depending on the type of equipment, this can mean a loss of productivity and a loss of revenue or worse.

Industrial there was electronic waste allowed to grow exponentially in recent decades under the mistaken assumption that the system was repaired I can not is presented as new. OEM (original equipment manufacturer) policies are common stop the repair of the board. In cases where they do not, technicians often do not receive the appropriate tools to make the necessary repairs.

Thus, billions of dollars go into the sewers, and tons of natural resources are turned into toxins of nature, especially in developing economies, which are destinations for garbage around the world. Heavy metals used in the manufacture of electronic components poison the soil and water. Other parts poison the air when burned.

A better solution for e-waste

The pandemic reminded us that without electronic components you can do nothing. The shortage of chips has led to limited supplies of vehicles, electrical appliances and even military equipment. It is also limiting the economy, with the car industry losing $ 210 billion in 2021, according to consulting firm AlixPartners. The business is trying to find parts to manufacture and tend to look for supplies from sources they would not use in normal times.

The risk of counterfeit components has never been higher.

In stores that repair some boards, technicians use oscilloscopes and digital multimeters. These are staples on each test bench, but they are not intended to troubleshoot circuit boards. Isolating the problem on a range and multimeter board takes hours or days longer than with tools and software that are designed to isolate faults, such as the universal BoardMaster testing equipment. Collins Aerospace engineers have found that this tool can test chips with optocouplers in seconds compared to 3 to 5 days using traditional tools.

It is difficult enough to hire and retain good technicians. Providing them with the wrong tools for the job makes the job more stressful. This is a formula for motivating the best technicians to go first for a better position.

In 2015, an international movement called Repair, Don’t Lose was formed, founded by the company I work for, ABI Electronics, to emphasize the sustainability and cost-effectiveness of repairs before replacement. After all, equipment that is already in place and monitored by the maintenance department and can be quickly fixed in place offers more time to work and availability. Plus, the cost of repairs is on average about 10% of the cost of a new board.

Following movements such as #RepairDontWaste and Right to Repair, universal troubleshooting technologies, training and standards have been successfully used by leading public and private organizations working in defense, mobility, space industry, manufacturing and renewable energy to deal with waste and internal emissions.

Decision with proof that it works

In 2019, a study conducted by the car manufacturer PSA Group, which produces the brands Peugeot, Vauxhall and Citroen, revealed that the repair of electronic circuits according to the right standards produces 85% less emissions than the supply and purchase of new ones.

While many OEMs are associated with the model of selling new capital equipment as often as possible and as much as possible, the world is changing. The life of the equipment will be extended, one way or another, either by the customer, using special electronic diagnostic systems and training from organizations such as ABI Electronics, or the original equipment manufacturers can do it themselves. The service model, followed by companies such as Schindler Elevators, which includes a long-term commitment to offer valuable and life-cycle support for critical assets, can provide a significant revenue stream for OEMs.

It is remarkable to see big players stretching their muscles and turning off the lights for the ejection mentality. The railway sector is a great example. Organizations such as the Sao Paulo metro, the world’s third-largest suburban train system, repair all electronic boards internally. These panels control the braking and traction systems, door controls, air conditioning and more. As a result, in the last decade alone, the organization has reported savings of $ 50 million. Since the mid-2000s, more than 60 rail operators around the world have adopted “Repair, don’t waste.”

Semiconductor manufacturers such as Samsung and NXP maintain their production lines with internal predictive maintenance and repair of their automated systems. GE Renewable Energy, Lockheed Martin, Collins Aerospace and Thyssenkrupp elevators are among the companies that have recently developed or improved their e-services.

Collins Aerospace, a division of Raytheon Technologies, is not just repairing its own production systems. They have contracts to repair the electronics of a number of military aircraft and commercial aircraft of more than 90 of the world’s airlines.

For years, the defense sector has relied on internal repairs. The U.S. Army National Guard recently used its intelligent electronic diagnostic system to put a mobile command post back into operation. Vehicles like this are loaded with expensive computers and security equipment, which is packaged in an airtight, RF-protected steel housing. Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) are not a luxury for this sealed space – it is a necessity. So when the HVAC at one of the mobile command posts recently failed, it had to be decommissioned.

OEM said parts were no longer available for this HVAC system and a third service provider was overwhelmed by the problem. But a determined army technician, using the right tool for the job, repaired the HVAC to put the command car back into operation, saving something to US taxpayers in the order of $ 10 million.

More needs to be done to make the Repair, Don’t Lose movement to become mainstream. There is a need for help from all levels of education. It is a challenge for the media, and not just for technical publications, to change the old ways of thinking. The progress of the Right to Repair movement will encourage original equipment manufacturers to stop hindering customers who want to maintain themselves.

And more companies need to announce on social media, as Collins Aerospace recently did: “We are proud to join the #RepairDontWaste community.” The whole world is making huge profits from the continuation of industrial electronics.

Willian Santos is Head of Sales and Marketing at ABI Electronics.

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