from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Obsolescence in which economy and particularly in the industrial obsolescence of products - or even knowledge - by the limited shelf life of technical components and the change of fashion or technological progress .

If this process is consciously brought about by the manufacturer for strategic market reasons, one speaks of planned obsolescence .


The word obsolescence stands for "wear out, grow old, go out of fashion, lose prestige, lose value" ( Latin obsolescere ). The associated - and more frequently used - adjective obsolete in the sense of "no longer in use", "obsolete" or "out of date" denotes generally obsolete, mostly outdated statements, norms, facts or therapies.

Objects of daily use are intended for repeated use , which is accompanied by constant wear and tear , material fatigue and, finally, wear and tear , until they finally lose their functionality . They then no longer fulfill their original purpose and are therefore unusable. For this reason, the natural lifespan of all utensils is limited in time. They must - if the need continues - be replaced by at least equivalent. From the point of view of the industry, it is a part of the product life cycle during which there is a constant readiness for delivery for items that are no longer functional.


In the US, the obsolescence ( English obsolescence ) a term commonly used for the shorter useful life of goods, especially in the context of the "Throw-it-away" psychology ( English drop it ), as of knowingly inferior product quality or short-lived technical durability . It appeared there as a marketing strategy for the first time in the automotive industry . While Ford propagated longevity, General Motors began using “planned obsolescence” for the first time in 1923 with Alfred P. Sloan , in order to achieve the highest possible sales volume through quick model changes . The management relied on artificially reducing the durability and accelerating the wear and tear. In the Phoebus cartel , the world's leading light bulb manufacturers agreed in January 1925 to artificially limit the service life of light bulbs to a maximum of 1000 hours under threat of sanctions. Consumer Goods ( english durables ) should the Consumer Engineering Handbook from the year 1932 are designed according to the users they like consumer goods would treat. The consumers thus mediated feeling older by the possession of products not modern ( English up to date ) to be ( English out-of-fashion ), was the pioneer of psychological obsolescence. In 1954, in the face of falling demand, Brooks Stevens demanded that the expiration dates of American manufactured goods be lowered.

Volkswagen pursued the opposite strategy with the VW Beetle ("it runs and runs and runs ...") and began advertising in the USA in 1959 with the campaign that VW would not exchange cars just for the sake of exchanges. In 1960, Vance Packard criticized planned obsolescence in his book The Waste Makers as a systematic attempt by big industry to "turn us into wasteful, indebted, eternally dissatisfied individuals".

In Germany, the idea of ​​obsolescence in the context of industrial product design was first taken up in 1968; Burkhardt Röper was able to identify “no example of planned wear and tear” in 1976, which was already met with heavy criticism in 1977 as “denial of reality”. Legal questions on this were first dealt with in 1983 when obsolescence was planned in the fashion industry .


A distinction is first made between natural and planned obsolescence . The natural obsolescence occurs in age-normal wear and tear, if items have reached the end of its expected life and lose their ability to function. The planned obsolescence , however, is conceptually provided by the manufacturer artificial shortening of product life cycle so that products are prematurely unusable. It consists in the deliberate limitation of functionality, although a longer service life would be possible. In the French Consumer Code, Code de la Consommation (CdC) , planned obsolescence ( French obsolescence program ) is even defined as "all techniques with which an entrepreneur intends to intentionally reduce the life of a product in order to increase the replacement rate" (Art. L 213-4-1 CdC).

It can be divided into material, technical, psychological and economic obsolescence.

  • The plant material obsolescence is caused by the lack of performance of materials and components . In notebooks, for example, hard disk drives , RAM , graphics chips and batteries (all very often) as well as motherboards , power supplies , processor fans , peripheral interfaces , screen and covers (hinges) and notebook cases (all very often) can fail.
  • The technical obsolescence is made up of functional and qualitative obsolescence:
    • An existing product becomes obsolete with the introduction of a new product that does its job better. Examples are the development from the gramophone to the record player and cassette recorder to CD players or from the VHS video device to DVD players and DVD recorders. The causes of functional obsolescence are the rapidly changing technical and functional requirements for a product. Functional obsolescence is particularly common in rapidly changing industries such as the computer industry. For example, functional obsolescence becomes apparent when an update of the operating system of the personal computer means that the older PCs cannot meet the minimum requirements of the new operating system. In washing machines , functional obsolescence is related to the development and use of new detergents and textiles. The early replacement of vehicle parts during an inspection also results in increased consumption, since the parts are not used until they are finally worn out (often even borne by early wear indicators). In the software sector, the open source movement can be seen as a countermovement: In the case of software products that are subject to a free software license (e.g. GPL ), the guaranteed disclosure of the source code means that there is an opportunity to prevent the availability of the software from running out .
    • In qualitative obsolescence , a product fails or wears out at a specific, planned, usually not too distant point in time. Existing or economically feasible technologies or materials that would enable the product to last longer are not used. Qualitative obsolescence as the main factor behind early device wear is often seen in television sets . Herein are often inferior electrolyte - capacitors fitted with a shelf life of up to five years, although twice as long working capacitors are hardly more expensive. This is why this species is also part of planned obsolescence.
  • The psychological obsolescence includes premature aging and the exchange of functional products due to fashions , new technical trends and consumption patterns. When it comes to cell phones , 68% of respondents said they would change cell phones within 3 years, either because they simply wanted an even better device (40%) or they regularly get a new device through the contract (28%).
The fashion is part of the visible obsolescence because certain fashion designs or styles a fashion trend subject to a new fashion direction is evident. As a result, fashion-conscious consumers are forced to replace them through peer pressure, although full functionality is still available. Therefore, fashion can be defined as a collective adaptation . The popularity of a product is significantly influenced by its image , which in turn can be manipulated through changed (updated) designs and marketing, including advertising. Design is therefore a tried and tested means of artificially inducing obsolescence.
  • The economic obsolescence describes the decline of the performance characteristics of a product because necessary repairs , maintenance or repair fail for reasons of cost and the difference from the purchase price is for new products too low. Reasons include, for example, short product development times, rapid drop in prices, repairs-unfriendly design, high repair costs and a lack of availability of spare parts, tools and repair services. The frequently failing television set components such as the display or screen unit and power supply card result in higher repair costs that are out of proportion to the overall falling purchase prices of TV sets, so that consumers can no longer have the TV set repaired in the event of a defect. but buy a new device instead.

It is therefore in the interests of producers to artificially shorten the product life cycle in order to increase the sales volume.

Obsolescence management

Obsolescence management ensures that components that are no longer produced and that are built into products are replaced in good time with comparative types or are deliberately stocked for repairs. The aim of this management process is to ensure that the life cycle (production and repair) of your own product is not adversely affected by the availability or failure of the required components. If carried out correctly, it serves to avoid or at least reduce production or service failures. Further goals are cost savings and the avoidance of supply bottlenecks. As part of risk management , obsolescence management is used in all sectors of the capital goods industry (capital goods, infrastructure, durable goods, consumables, software products, etc.).

Objectives of obsolescence management:

  • Extending the life of a product,
  • timely information of customers about discontinued products,
  • sustainable design, component selection, use of resources and raw materials,
  • Suppliers and developers are looking for substitutes together ,
  • Storage of the total demand expected in the future.


  • VDMA standard sheet 24903


The average initial period of use (the period of use only by the first-time user) of large household appliances fell slightly in Germany between 2004 and 2013 from 14.1 to 13.0 years; in the entertainment electronics sector, flat-screen TVs had an average initial period of use in 2007 from 5.7 years, this value fell to 4.4 years in the years up to 2010, and then rose continuously to 5.6 years in the following years up to 2012. In the case of notebooks, the analyzes of material obsolescence show that there is a different level of obsolescence between devices for private households (consumer notebooks) and commercially used notebooks.

See also


  • Bjoern Bartels, Ulrich Ermel, Peter Sandborn, Michael G. Pecht: Strategies to the Prediction, Mitigation and Management of Product Obsolescence . 2012, Wiley Series in Systems Engineering and Management, ISBN 978-1-118-14064-2 .
  • Vance Packard : The Waste Makers . 1960, reprinted by Ig Publishing. October 2011, ISBN 978-1-935439-37-0 .
    • German edition: The great waste . Fischer library, Frankfurt am Main 1964.
  • Niko Paech : Sustainable economic activity beyond innovation and growth. A company-related transformation theory. Metropolis-Verlag, Marburg 2005, ISBN 3-89518-523-X .
  • Niko Paech : Liberation from Abundance. On the way to the post-growth economy. oekom Verlag, Munich 2012, ISBN 978-3-86581-181-3 .
  • Stefan Schridde: botch? No thanks! What we can do to make things better oekom Verlag, Munich 2014, ISBN 978-3-86581-671-9 .
  • Giles Slade: Made to Break. Technology and Obsolescence in America . Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts [et. a.] 2006, ISBN 0-674-02203-3 .


Web links

Commons : Obsolescence  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: obsolete  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Obsolescence  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Ursula Hermann, Knaurs etymologisches Lexikon , 1983, p. 340.
  2. Verlag Dr. Th. Gabler (Ed.): Gablers Wirtschafts Lexikon. Volume 4, 1984, Col. 581.
  3. ^ Giles Slade, Made to Break , 2006, p. 33.
  4. ^ Giles Slade, Made to Break , 2006, p. 43.
  5. Christian Hess, Planned Obsolescence , 2018, p. 52 f.
  6. Egmont Arens / Roy Sheldon, Consumer Engineering , 1932, p. 13 f.
  7. Giles Slade: Made to Break . 2006, p. 53.
  8. Brooks Stevens: Planned Obsolescence in US Industry . 1954, p. 14 ff.
  9. from 1964; a polysyndeton by Michael Schirner
  10. Jürgen Bruhn, Taming the Beast , 2015, no p.
  11. ^ Vance Packard: The Waste Makers . 1960, p. 46.
  12. Klaus Chmielewicz, Fundamentals of Industrial Product Design , 1968, p. 78 ff.
  13. Burkhardt Röper, Rolf Marfeld: Is there any planned wear and tear? - Studies on the obsolescence thesis. In: Writings of the Commission for Economic and Social Change. Volume 137, 1976, p. 46.
  14. ^ Gerhard Wortmann: Planned product wear as a legal problem . 1983, p. 62 ff.
  15. There she is threatened with two years imprisonment and a fine.
  16. ^ Vance Packard: The Waste Makers . 1960, p. 60.
  17. Siddharth Prakash: Influence of the useful life of products on their environmental impact: Creation of an information base and development of strategies against "obsolescence". (PDF) Environmental Research Plan of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, 2016, accessed on July 15, 2016 .
  18. Fernando Cassia: Open Source, the only weapon against "planned obsolescence". In: theinquirer.net. March 28, 2007, accessed January 15, 2012 .
  19. ^ Vance Packard, The Waste Makers , 1960, p. 60.
  20. Federal Environment Agency, Influence of the useful life of products on their environmental impact: Creation of an information base and development of strategies against "obsolescence" , Texts 11/2016, February 2016, p. 28.
  21. Wolfgang Kappeller / Regina Mittenhuber, Management Concepts from A – Z , 2003, p. 258.
  22. Peter Hammann, Werner Kroeber-Riel: Newer approaches to marketing theory . Duncker & Humblot, 1974, ISBN 3-428-43137-5 , pp. 172-173 ( excerpt (Google) )
  23. ^ Vance Packard : The Waste Makers (German: The great waste) , Ig Publishing; Reprint edition (October 4, 2011), ISBN 978-1-935439-37-0 , p. 69 ( excerpt (Google) )
  24. Federal Environment Agency, Influence of the useful life of products on their environmental impact: Creation of an information base and development of strategies against "obsolescence" , Texts 11/2016, February 2016, p. 28.
  25. Wolfgang Heimbach: SmartPCN as a communication standard for digital obsolescence management . In: electronics information . August 2017.
  26. Federal Environment Agency, Influence of the useful life of products on their environmental impact: Creation of an information base and development of strategies against "obsolescence" , Texts 11/2016, February 2016, p. 24 ff.
  27. Federal Environment Agency, Influence of the useful life of products on their environmental impact: Creation of an information base and development of strategies against "obsolescence" , Texts 11/2016, February 2016, p. 29.