Friday, November 2, 2012

Concerning planned obsolescence and coffee making

My Keurig has been buggy for quite a while. It did work perfectly for at least 18 months, but then started getting increasingly temperamental. At first this manifested as constant requests to "De-Scale Now", regardless of how recently and thoroughly I had done so - following the manufacturer's recommendations, and even buying special stuff. Then however the internal computer that measures cup size went whacky. The machine would either pour about half a cup of coffee into the mug, regardless of the size chosen, or continue a stream of increasingly diluted coffee to fill two mugs and then some - or as tended to happen until I got wise, fill the drip tray and overflow to the counter.

My usual set up with jug.

It has now gotten to the point where I leave a jug under the spout, because it may decide to release some hot water at unpredictable intervals. I have quite a method for getting my coffee. I select either size (doesn't matter any more). The machine draws in some water and stops. If I wait a few gurgly drops may fall, and water pools on top of the pod - so grinds drip out if I lift the handle. So what I generally do is press the power button, wait a few seconds, switch it back on and wait for the Select Size cups to flash again momentarily. Then I press the size again (often only the larger size is available) and the machine draws in more water and starts to brew and pour.

As soon as my cup is full, I exchange it for a jug or other cup, and let it continue to pour, for what seems to be a random time. My sister-in-law experienced a similar problem after some time with her Keurig.

My experience with electronic gadgets and appliances in the past has been that taking them apart and giving them a bit of a clean, making sure all the connections are tight and uncorroded, often does wonders for making them come back to life. I'm fed up with the darn Keurig, so I decided to have a look inside and see if there was any scale build up that I could clean out manually.

After unplugging, of course, I turned the thing upside down and started unscrewing, pleased to see standard sized phillips head screws. This boded well. I took the bottom plate off, and was able to go one more "layer" of screws into the machine, before I came to a realization.

Keurigs are designed to be replaced, not repaired. Evident planned obsolescence. I have read that the company does not repair the machines.

It's not that repairing it would be impossible, just really time consuming and fussy for the technician, and therefore expensive for the consumer - most likely more expensive than a new unit. Nothing is plugged in, everything is soldered. It's not at all modular inside. Some of the screws are nearly impossible to get to without disconnecting every other part - and the wires pretty much have to be cut just to get parts out of the housing. Some screws are so inaccessible I didn't even know they were there until a piece of plastic cracked off in one corner. The water hose is enclosed inside parts or insulation in more than one place, to make it almost impossible to replace in the event of damage. To be fair, the likelihood of damage to the hose inside the machine is vanishingly small.

I can see the sense in making an internally complex machine, to deter industrial competition. The innards are a cautious meeting of water and electronic components, and of course the computerized part and LCD. It is certainly very solid - lots of steel plates. I'm sure there are many safety aspects of how it is put together. But to go further in my exploration I would need special screw drivers, and considerably more motivation. It's not deconstruction. It's demolition. And that is why the reconstruction would be a pain.

Upcycled K-Cup light shades on my holiday garland.

I may bite the bullet and break it down to components, once I have determined on a new course for my morning coffee. I have a bulk box of pods to finish. At the end of that, I may return to the old drip filter way - and my small 4-cup drip machine languishing in the back of the newly organized cupboards behind the stand mixer has a permanent, reusable mesh filter so I don't even need to buy paper coffee filters. They - machine and filter - have lasted for years and years. I also own a very nice single serve french press travel mug. That's the simplest thing of all.

It's been fun, having a single serve instant use coffee maker - or at least it was until fiddling became more prevalent than convenience. Part of the attraction of Keurigs and similar machines, is the idea of a wide variety of flavors and drinks. I do have some nice tea, hot chocolate and apple cider pods. But for actual coffee, I have a strong preference for Fair Trade, so that has limited my flavor choices essentially to one, which negates the main advantage of Keurig.

The more I write, the more I'm talking myself out of getting a new Keurig. I haven't made a cup since I put it back together. Let's hope everything sealed back up properly at the water intake point. I don't like fuss. I don't like having to fuss. I just want things to work. Simple things work simply, don't they?

Any thoughts on coffee makers? Please comment!