The Product Life Cycle: Where Does It Really End?

The annual Consumer Electronics Show – CES 2013 – is underway. The Las Vegas Convention Center is awash in devices, gadgets, and apps (oh, my!) that lure us with their familiar siren song of making our work and personal lives easier.

CES 2013 Home Page

CES International 2013’s Home Page

And, as always, we get more features – increased functionality – for less money.1 More choices and improved quality, too!

Something you’ve probably noticed is that the useful life of our electronic devices keeps shrinking. For instance, no sooner did I get my current “smartphone” than the device manufacturer slipped an ad – in my first bill, post-upgrade – that they had a device with a larger screen, more power, and more features that I “might be interested in”.

So, what am I supposed to do with the device I just bought? Trade it in immediately for another upgrade? And what does the seller/service provider do with that obsolete piece of junk?

For that matter, what’s happened to all the other devices I’ve had for the last – oh, I don’t know – 10 or 15 years? Several desktop computers…the monitors that went with them…probably a dozen cell phones. It’s only relatively recently that device makers have begun addressing the afterlife of electronic devices.

Electronic waste litters a Nigerian landscape (NY Times)

Electronic waste litters a Nigerian landscape (NY Times)

Does a product’s useful life come to an end when we lose our desire for it? Not really. The raw materials that go into the product persist indefinitely, yet we fail to recycle 100% of those materials. We’re still not serious about recycling and reuse – the CES has a little sideshow on “green” products but green is primarily a marketing gimmick. In reality, the environment counts little, if at all, at the beginning and at the end of an electronic product’s life.

This is a serious problem I believe electronics manufacturers – and ISO 9001 – need to address immediately. ISO 9001 fails to address the entire product life cycle. It starts with product planning, continues with design and development, on to manufacture, testing, and product release, and culminates in the customer’s satisfaction. ISO 9001 does not address a product’s afterlife.2 It doesn’t reference, except in a tangential way, the environmental management standard, ISO 14001.

We need to consider what happens to products and services after their so-called useful lives have ended. We need to extend the quality life cycle into the afterlife of products – to plan and design products so their useful life is virtually infinite. It’s a responsibility we have to consumers, as well as our children and our planet.

Thank you for your time. Let me know how you feel about this topic. Leave a comment here or send me an email. And if your organization needs help with this or any other quality related issue, I’m ready to help. Call now.

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“How E-Waste Is Becoming a Big, Global Problem”, NPR Science Friday (Denise Chow, Associate Producer) —


1 While the devices are becoming relatively cheaper, the plans are not.

2 ISO is readying ISO 9001 for a 2015 release; the update will apparently include “risk management” and “risk-based auditing”.


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Posted in Product Life Cycle, Quality management, Sustainability

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