::: nBlog :::

A few weeks ago I visited a garden sale at an old farmhouse near where we live. I was just planning to stroll around and see some old machinery and furniture, in order to learn something of the farm’s history.

Just when I was about to leave, a wooden Philips radio caught my eye. It was covered with dust and had plenty of cupmarks on it. The power cable was reduced to copper, apparently eaten by mice – the thing was most likely stored in a cold barn for the last 30 or so years.

So I ended buying the radio for 5 Euro, just to perhaps polish the wood and replace its internals with a modern tuner. It was, anyway, carefully hand-crafted in Vallila, Helsinki, with all those historical stations listed on the tuning console. A quite beaufitul object in many ways. In addition to AM, the thing sported LW, MW and shortwave bands.

Opening it revelaed even more dust, but to my surprise everything else but a fuse assembly were in quite decent condition – five vacuum tubes, an intricate web of soldered wires (circuit boards were not used much in 1956) and beautiful tuner capacitors. After some thin oil, the tuning system and band selectors were working as new.

I replaced the fuse assembly, a few electrolytic capacitors which had certainly dried up in 60 years, and the power cord. And lo and behold – the radio sprang back to life, with its beautiful bass tube sound. I just listened to it in the garage for some good half an hour in amazement.

The most thought-provoking part of the resuscitation process was the original service manual, attached to the bottom plate. It was an all-encompassing guide to fixing every single part of the thing, and it had a logbook in the end – this unit had been fixed three times, in 1960, 1965 and lastly in 1975, proven by the repairman’s signature. For a radar engineer like me, the guide could not be better formulated.

Modern manufacturing processes and mass production have largely delivered us very short-living products like today’s mobile phones, which rarely last for more than three years. In many cases this is actually degenerative when it comes to sustainability and technical development, as the product lifecycle and holistic development get less and less attention. There is also quite poor feedback loop between the manufacturer and the customer. All effort is put into making the production process more effective. 

In the coming spime era, however, the 1956 radio can teach us many lessons. The manufacturer back then had a sustainable business model with feedback loop – a network of repairmen – who also acted as consultants for the radio buyers. This particular specimen was in active use for approximately 30 years, and the customer bought a turntable, additional speakers and a long wire antenna from this vendor, along these years. 

Now with spimes in the Internet of Things, we can reach the same, sustainable feedback loop with ever smaller products. This will make companies more robust and agile, and the customer is once again in the center spot.


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