Friday, February 24, 2017

The Happy Curmudgeon: Made in China

Technology: 1:1
“Happy is the man…”

I introduce here a new column, “The Happy Curmudgeon.”
Has anyone noticed that the cost of computers has not gone down, but has instead risen the last few years, while the quality is uneven at best? Laptops are a good example. While there are low-priced laptops for less than $1,000, the old adage that “you get what you pay” for applies. In the last five years, our family has purchased three Acer laptops (for between $500 and $850), and all of them soon had problems with their keyboards—the last one only a month after I bought it (in February 2016). Acer, I found out, is a company with headquarters in Taiwan, but the laptops are all made in China.

Acer Aspire E15: My younger son’s computer keyboard stopped working last week, less than two years after we purchased it. But this is not a record for failure; my oldest son’s newly purchased Acer computer’s keyboard stopped working after only one month. The computer-repair shop did not have a replacement keyboard for it, so he suggested attaching a stand-alone keyboard as a workaround, which I did. I am not yet sure what I will do with my younger son’s computer, since he refuses the same solution that his brother accepted; for now, it is non-operational.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

While planned obsolescence has a long history in mass production, this is taking it to new heights, or rather, new lows. Either the quality control is lacking at the overseas factories where these laptops are put together or the components themselves are of inferior, substandard quality. I would expect that these large manufacturers would look into their manufacturing process, in particular the quality-control aspect of their operations.

Let’s get to the point. I don’t think that our family has hit a streak of bad luck in our computer purchases. I suspect, with good reason, that a good percentage of the electronics products shipped out of China do not meet high quality-control standards and are defective in some way. I also suspect that computer manufacturers are intentionally pushing the boundaries, seeing how far they can compel consumers into accepting shoddy products. They likely do so with the knowledge that China makes most of the world’s computers.

Made in China: Like most of the world’s computers, this Acer computer is made in China. We purchased it in April 2015.
Photo Credit & Source: ©2017. Perry J. Greenbaum

This is one approach to capitalism, but one that is rather short-sighted. Another Asian nation took a far different approach. At one time, back in the 1960s and ’70s, Japan had such a reputation and it was said that “Made in Japan” was a epithet for poor quality. I remember getting a cheap wristwatch then made in Japan. Unbeknownst to me, the nation was then in the midst of a change in manufacturing processes, notably the use of statistics in quality control (William Edwards Deming gets a lot of credit for the changeover). A decade later Japan was known for excellent manufacturing and quality control, first in its electronics and later in its cars.

Perhaps China ought to take notice, particularly if it wants to have an honorable reputation and become a nation known for superior electronic products. This is currently not the case. “Made in China” currently means low cost and low quality.