In March, attorneys general representing more than half of the U.S. states delivered a letter to Congress urging action on expansive right-to-repair legislation. The idea behind such proposals is to enable consumers to have their products repaired wherever they wish, rather than having to go back to the manufacturer. As an example, John Deere agreed in January to allow third-party repair shops access to parts, tools, and information for fixing its agricultural tractors.
Right-to-repair legislation has already been enacted in three states—New York, Massachusetts, and Colorado, according to The Repair Association, with much of the attention focused on the automotive and consumer electronics industries. Several measures are currently before Congress that would affect automotive repairs and possibly establish a path for other industries to follow.
I certainly can see how consumers would want choices when it comes to fixing their cell phones and computers—particularly if it could save them money. Plus not everyone has access to a Genius Bar, which means they’d have to ship their devices somewhere to have them repaired.
But is the right-to-repair right for our industry?
With cell phones, computers, and other consumer goods, buyers have a wide range of places to buy products and obtain tech help. For instance, they can buy a cell phone from the manufacturer, a cell service provider, an electronics store, or a big-box retailer.
That’s not the case with complex material handling systems, like forklifts and robotic devices. The manufacturers and dealers of automated warehouse equipment work closely with their customers to provide them with products tailored to the client’s specific needs. Their service teams are trained to work on these complex systems and know exactly what’s needed to assure optimal performance. Would allowing just anyone to work on these machines produce similar results?
My concerns are primarily around safety: Could someone—whether intentionally or accidently—modify a system in a way that would disable its built-in safety features? Could inferior parts be used that would compromise safety if they were to fail? Could an untrained technician alter an internal combustion engine on a forklift, resulting in dangerous emissions when a vehicle is used indoors? Could someone disable software on a lift truck in a way that would allow an uncertified worker to operate the vehicle?For these reasons, I believe material handling systems should be considered for exemption in right-to-repair legislation—at least until these issues can be resolved by industry and regulators.
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