A significant advantage of material things is their ability to be charged with memories and, thus, emotions. Remember the record collection you owned, all the lovely books on the shelves? If you appreciate technology, you might be attached to an old but noble amplifier or a fancy espresso machine.

But when the beloved devices give up, the frustration is incredible. For example, the boiler on my espresso machine was defective, and on my colleague’s mountain bike, the clamp on the brake lever was malfunctioning. The items are too good to go—but what to do?

The solution would be to fix it. This maintains the emotional bond and protects the environment and the wallet. Because disposal often only works on paper. In many cases, discarded consumer goods end up in landfills, incinerated, or exported. The subsequent replacement purchase requires new resources, costs energy, and spoils the personal CO2 balance.

Anyhow, repairing is often a significant hurdle for people who are not technically gifted. At least at first glance. Often enough, it’s more of a cultural barrier. Because there are now promising approaches for a new culture of repair, which we would like to present here briefly.

Relearn to Repair

Repair Cafe

In big cities and even the countryside, there are more and more initiatives where experts help with all sorts of repairs. The focus is often on repairing household appliances. So, the espresso machine mentioned would be in good hands there. There’s even a global organization that allows volunteers to open repair cafes in their area. Here is know-how shared, and the life of devices increased.

If you google, you might find a corresponding initiative in your area. There is even one in Buxtehude, where rabbits and hedgehogs say good night. A fantastic group of 16 volunteer engineers and technicians are active there.

As modest as the idea of the repair café sounds, the effect can be immense: According to the organization One Earth, the facilities involved in the Repaircafe.org initiative alone helped save 350,000 products from the landfill in 2018 (and an equal number of new purchases impede).

Service offerings from manufacturers

If you want to repair a device, you not only need technical and professional advice – but above all, spare parts. Once you get into it, a surprising number of companies willingly (and if you’re lucky, free of charge) help with spare parts.

My headphones got new ear pads this way. An outdoor jacket ripped during a fall was patched from the inside with a waterproof patch, and the rip was sewn up professionally. My colleague’s noble and durable large garbage can received a new hinge within two days (and all this as a digital process with just a few clicks). Direct contact with the manufacturer is worthwhile in many cases and helps to avoid waste.

If you want more, you must learn. For example, how to use a screwdriver and exploded drawings.

Do-it-yourself

Some devices are easier to fix than you think. A large market for spare parts has been established, especially for popular household appliances. Old portafilter espresso machines often contain more air than parts. If you are savvy with a screwdriver, you can easily replace blown fuses and small details such as boilers, pumps, and hoses. There are many repair videos (read: tutorials) on the Internet. Advanced users tackle even complex devices such as smartphones. Providers such as ifixit.com offer very detailed instructions and sometimes also spare parts.

If you don’t trust yourself to do this, you can combine research “troubleshooting” online, order spare parts, and visit a repair café.

Become a creative Fixer-Upper

Print-it-yourself

The next step in the expanded repair culture is manufacturing spare parts yourself if 3D print files already exist. As an experienced industrial designer, my colleague Günter made a broken clamp for his mountain bike brake as a CAD model and had it printed out in metal by a service provider.

When buying tools, accessories often must be purchased separately. If they are still intact, sometimes only the suitable adapter is missing. These small parts can usually be quickly produced with a 3D printer.

There are extensive online platforms for spare parts, such as thingyverse.com, where all possible details can be found as 3D print files. These include Lego building blocks, laptop holders, and protective caps for pliers – the list is endless.

Some libraries (for example, https://www.myminifactory.com/category/brands-spare-parts) explicitly offer spare parts for branded devices. But please check carefully whether you have the right to use or if the manufacturer’s rights are violated.

Print-it-yourself is also an opportunity for manufacturers. Offering suitable parts directly as a file—possibly in connection with the appropriate printing service partners—is a massive driver for customer loyalty. On an industrial scale: the trend is toward building digital warehouses instead of physical ones. The 3D data is stored, and the critical parts are printed on demand. Several service providers now help build these digital inventory databases and the 3D printing process.

Advance-it-yourself

The last category is dedicated to real specialists and nerds. If you can produce your print files in CAD, you can add a few new features to old devices, improve stability, use other materials, and much more.

The Delft University of Technology provides detailed guidance on the systematic development of spare parts via https://www.tudelft.nl/io/onderzoek/sustainability/sharepair.

Design for Repairability

Many consumer goods repairs are subject to strict limitations: connections are glued, components are connected so they cannot be separated without destroying them, or the processes are so complex that special tools are required.

This is where companies have an obligation: Those who pay attention to a modular structure and thus easy repairability when redesigning or redesigning products automatically have a more extended customer retention period. Combined with excellent and intelligent client service, the relationship between the device and the customer can last a lifetime.


Note to the numerous links: We are not affiliated with providers or work for them. But based on our personal experience we can recommend them. Of course, we cannot be held liable for their content/services.

Michael Leitl

Innovation & AI Strategy

After studying chemistry, being a long-time editor at “Harvard Business Manager”, a member of the innovation team at “Der Spiegel” and more: Michael brings a wealth of knowledge to the team and our partners.

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