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What is Right to Repair and How Will it Affect Product Design?

Someone fixing a dish washer

Recently, the European Union (EU) passed right to repair legislation for major appliances, including washing machines, refrigerators, lighting and dishwashers.

This means that starting in 2021, businesses in the EU who sell these products must:

  • Make them easily repairable with common tools
  • Provide spare parts for up to 10 years after the last unit is sold

There are strong indications that this is just the first in a wave of similar legislative activities designed to extend the lifetime of consumer products.

For example, several countries, including the United States, are following the EU’s footsteps. In 2019, over 20 U.S. states were considering right to repair legislation. In addition, the EU is also contemplating expanding its legislation to include consumer electronics including TVs, computers and cell phones.

To meet the requirements of this legislation, corporations are already changing the way they design products. Their experiences can provide key insight into how electronic manufacturers will eventually need to change their overall design strategy.

To meet upcoming right to repair legislation for electronics, learn how to bring reliability physics into a design process.

Right to Repair Legislation and Product Design

The new legal obligations to make products easily repairable with common tools is already influencing design decisions on mechanical parts such as connectors, seals and enclosures.

An image of gaskets

Permanent attachments, such as welds or glued joints, are being replaced with separable connections, such as latches or gaskets. Even separable connectors are being redesigned to be more accessible.

For instance, corporations are starting to ensure that the force required to insert and remove the connectors follow best-in-class human ergonomics. Modeling and simulation will play an increasing role to understand the repairability of these products.

How Simulation Helps Corporations Meet Right to Repair Requirements

Internet cables

To see how simulation can help companies align to right to repair laws, consider Ansys Mechanical, which can provide:

  • Mechanical simulations of connectors
  • Insights into the effects of extended repairability
  • Comprehension of the forces required to disengage connectors

Design teams can use this simulation to ensure the force required to disengage connectors is practical given the location of the connector within the system.

For example, the average key pinch (easy-to-access) and tip pinch (hard-to-access) connectors can differ in strength by up to 45 Newtons (or 10 pounds of force).

Mechanical can also predict the number of insertions before the connector fails. Each insertion and removal introduces stresses that can induce low-cycle fatigue in the part’s polymer constituents. Design teams have typically assumed that the part will need to survive one to five insertions. However, with right to repair, these connectors could see 10 times the number of insertions and removals.

Therefore, manufacturers will need to consider materials that will be able to retain its form and fit its function after 10 years of use and storage. This adds two key challenges to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

The first hurdle is that the lifetime of certain parts may now double (assuming 10 years in storage and 10 years in the field). Typically, this is not a risk for metal structures because warehouse environments are more benign than field applications. However, extended storage can be an issue for connections, plastic parts and electronic hardware due to oxidation, plasticizer evaporation and other processes.

The second challenge is that the expected field lifetime will also be extended. While not explicitly stated in the legislation, its intent is not met if the parts of the product fail immediately after another is replaced following its 10-year lifetime.

As a result, these two challenges combined could potentially double or triple current product lifetimes.

Risks and Mitigations in Incorporating Repairability into Electronics

The effect of the EU legislation on electronics will depend on whether the OEMs view the minimum field repairable unit as:

  • An electronic part (CPU, electrolytic capacitor, relay, etc.)
  • A printed circuit board assembly (PCBA)
  • The entire box or enclosure

Repair at the part level will require storage of individual parts for up to 10 years. More importantly, the printed circuit board (PCB) needs to withstand multiple heat exposures during repair processes. Most companies qualify PCBs to withstand four exposures to assembly temperatures (around 245C or 473F) during:

  • Primary reflow
  • Secondary reflow
  • Wave
  • One rework

Each repair attempt will require two additional exposures to these temperatures to remove and attach parts. This means that if design teams need products to withstand at least two repairs, the number of heat exposures will double from four to eight.

This is a difficult requirement for PCBs and the introduction of unseen physical damage is a real risk.

As a result, OEMs will either need to eliminate part level repair or evaluate the robustness of their design. Costly physical tests have been the typical evaluation approach, however Ansys Sherlock or Mechanical can affordably simulate the reflow process and determine if internal vias will delaminate or crack due to the additional stresses.

Reflow simulation of 3 stack microvias in Ansys Mechanical.

OEMs will also be challenged to extend the storage and lifetimes of electronic hardware because several components — including relays, connectors and solder joints —can have limited lifetimes. 

The physics behind solder fatigue has been well-studied and the most validated failure models have been incorporated into Sherlock. A wide range of complex storage and use environments can be inputted into the models to produce reliability predictions. This output provides employees with information that can help boost the performance and reputation of the product.

Staying Ahead of the Right to Repair Curve

Broken phones

Right to repair is a burgeoning movement across multiple countries.

While the timeline for implementation will vary, transnational corporations will need to update design and validation processes to follow existing EU legislation.

There are multiple technical challenges with compliance that can cause design and validation costs to balloon such as traditional development approaches and physical testing.

However, recent advances in modeling and simulation, especially regarding electronics, provides the ability to capture potential risks and introduce mitigations that are cost-effective.

Since right to repair laws are coming into place, companies will need to design products that are long- lasting. If electronic manufacturers are going to stay ahead of this curve, they need to start implementing their simulations and solutions now.

To learn more about Ansys Sherlock, read: Reliability Physics in Your Design Process.

Any and all ANSYS, Inc. brand, product, service and feature names, logos and slogans such as Ansys, Ansys Mechanical and Ansys Sherlock are registered trademarks or trademarks of ANSYS, Inc. or its subsidiaries in the United States or other countries.

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