European Commission logo
English English
CORDIS - EU research results

PRemature Obsolescence Multi-Stakeholder Product Testing Program

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - PROMPT (PRemature Obsolescence Multi-Stakeholder Product Testing Program)

Reporting period: 2022-05-01 to 2023-04-30

Resource use and waste generation related to electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) has been significantly increasing in the past decades. In 2019, the world generated 53.6 million tonnes (Mt) of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). In the EU, WEEE is considered to be one of the fastest-growing waste streams.

Different pieces of EU legislation have been put in place to organise collection schemes for WEEE, restrict the use of hazardous substances and incentivise recycling. However, WEEE is a very heterogeneous and complex waste stream and many critical materials still cannot be recovered in recycling processes. Therefore, a promising way to keep precious resources within the economy and reduce waste generation lies in the extension of the useful lifetime of EEE. Product lifetime extension goes hand in hand with the European Commission’s strategy to move toward a Circular Economy and is anchored in a variety of roadmaps and directives.

The term ‘premature obsolescence’ describes the phenomenon that products cease to be used at a point in their lifetime that arrives too soon. Premature obsolescence can have technical and non-technical underlying reasons. From a technical point of view, flaws in the quality and design of a product can lead to low reliability and a lack of reparability. Non-technical reasons for premature obsolescence can be linked to factors such as technological progress, advertising and fashion, consumption patterns and trends, and status, among others.

The main objective of PROMPT is to develop an independent testing programme to support the assessment of the longevity of consumer products, when they are put on the market. It has the goal to enable testing bodies, consumer organisations, market surveillance authorities and other interested stakeholders to rely on tangible definitions and to methodically assess premature obsolescence. It will contribute to ongoing and future standardisation efforts and provide designers and policymakers with recommendations on improving the durability and reparability of products, empower consumers to make informed choices, and create awareness of market conditions.

In PROMPT a test programme with improved testing protocols has been demonstrated for smartphones, TVs, washing machines and vacuum cleaners. The testing enables product comparisons with respect to a comprehensive set of criteria, which were covering the aspects of reliability, reparability and resistance to psychological obsolescence. Challenges identified for future research were time and cost of testing, standardisation gaps and the need for more data.
Data was collected on 16.000 consumer reports/complaints across seven EU countries. Numerous media campaigns accompanied the launch. The most common product failure modes, consumers’ attitudes towards repair and the outcome of consumers’ repair actions showed similar trends. In 1 out of 3 cases no repair has been attempted. The cost of repair is a very important factor in consumers’ decision between repair and replacement. Consumers not only consider the financial cost but also factor in the time, effort, and risk (e.g. warranty) compared to purchasing a new product.

Concerning the test of reliability the team identified test approaches. These were developed for rechargeable batteries and management, for electronics in washing machines and mechanical parts in washing machines and vacuum cleaners. The learnings from these development have been summarised in a general guideline and recommendation to reliability testing of electrical and electronic equipment.

Regarding design for repair and reuse the project partners developed a framework that relates design principles to the ease of diagnosis, maintenance and repair. The team performed a design analysis of products (10 of each category) through teardowns. Partners looked at the time required for each action during disassembly and gained insights into design features influencing reparability. Furthermore, the team developed a framework to assess design aspects linked to safety. The ease of disassembly method (eDiM) was simplified and additional categories and actions were added.

To address user and market aspects the project team performed reviews of literature and consumer reports as well as a legal analysis. The team members conducted numerous interviews (in the Netherlands, France and Spain), and international quantitative surveys on replacement, repair, and design guidelines. Furthermore, the team organised workshops with experts to uncover design features. Afterwards, the partners formulated testing criteria based on design features from a user/market perspective that fed into the draft product testing programme.

The above mentioned findings were combined in a general product test program that was adapted to four product categories (smartphone, television, battery-powered vacuum cleaner and washing machine). With this programme tests have been conducted and analysed on sample products. The test programme has proven to be feasible and mostly repeatable. However, most reliability tests have been time-consuming and costly (e.g. cycling test for washing machines or battery test for smartphones). The results of these tests may not be available until long after the market launch of a particular model.

Interaction and collaboration with stakeholders play a major part in the PROMPT project for which reason the consortium organised and participated in several workshops, conferences and other events to increase its visibility and participate in technical and political debates. A final public event with public discussion closed the project successfully to form the basis for future product tests and test developments.
With the web tool initially developed by Test Achats being available in five EU countries now, millions of consumers have the possibility to signal their faulty products to the national consumer organisations. Since the web tools are structured in a similar way, it becomes for the first time possible to analyse and compare the data between different EU countries and identify similarities, but also differences.

The product analysis enabled defining the most relevant priority parts and test methods for the four product groups and to identify gaps. The design and disassembly analysis provided insights into the reparability aspects of product groups and is highly relevant for ongoing initiatives such as standardisation work (CEN/CENELEC), sustainable product initiative, right to repair, etc.

The project also provides insights into non-technical reasons for product replacement that can be used to drive sustainable consumer behaviour. Results from WP3-5 were summarised in a draft testing programme that is the first of its kind and is currently being validated in laboratories. The project involves many stakeholders through the Advisory Board, the Supporting Board and other cross-project activities, allowing them to share knowledge and contribute to ongoing policy debates.

The impact and wider societal implications are challenging to measure, but the project is visible and well-received by stakeholders for which reason the impact can be considered as high.