Bill Bumgarner


Xerox Shredder: Stupid, stupid, stupid

A couple of years ago, we picked up a heavy duty Xerox cross cut shredder. It was supposed to be extra heavy duty with all metal blades, blah, blah, blah.

Recently, the blades stopped moving. The motor was clearly chugging away, but the blades just wouldn't move at all.

I disassembled the unit thinking that I would be able to fix it. Instead, I discovered a remarkably stupid design decision.

The motor was clearly a fairly heavy duty unit with a nice little cooling fan on one end. The other end ended in a metal worm gear. The gear mechanism between the worm gear on the motor and the blades was made entirely of plastic. not only that, but the teeth on the worm gear and the first gear in the plastic gear train didn't even match in size or angle.

The entire gear showed signs of wear, but the spot where the gear had stopped rotating was completely chewed to hell. It looked more like someone took a Dremel to the plastic and chewed a big chunk out of it.

Metal to plastic in a high torque environment? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Not that I'm surprised. In general, consumer robotics suck. The art of manufacturing consumer devices is focused on minimizing the cost of manufacturing by using cheap components and using designs that cut tolerances as tightly as possible.

Not such a bad combination with electronics in that the inputs are controlled and there are no moving parts. With mechanical devices, the wear and tear of moving parts means that the tight tolerances and overall focus on cheapness yields a fragile product that can easily break when faced with the chaos of real world use.

When I'm buying any random piece of equipment, I always consider it from a complexity standpoint. The less complex, the fewer things can go wrong and the fewer cheap parts to fail. When CD changers first hit the streets, I picked up a 5 disc carousel unit. Simple design, few moving parts. Many people I knew picked up 6 disc cartridge style changers at about the same time. The carousel player lasted over 7 years of heavy [ab]use while most of the six disc changers failed within the first few years.

Update: We decided to drop a whopping $35 on a Michael Graves Cross-Cut Paper Shredder (Target). Of course, I didn't look at the reviews before buying it. This may be another adventure in stupidity. It was really the built in pencil sharpener that sold us.

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