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Epson printers are scheduled to stop working

Image for article titled Some Epson printers are programmed to stop working after a certain amount of use

Image: Gizmodo

Printers remain one of the most frustrating pieces of consumer electronics, but it turns out that thirst for expensive ink and sometimes chewing and choking on paper aren’t the biggest challenges when using an Epson printer. What some users have discoveredthe hardware may be programmed to just stop working one dayif used too frequently.

The phrase “planned obsolescence” is thrown around a lot with consumer electronics, as a practice where a product is specifically designed and built with a limited lifespan, so it must be upgraded or replaced in just a few years. Most companies deny using this approach, or will cite very specific but questionable reasons as to why it’s necessary, as recently discovered Mark Havenwriter and professor at the University of New Haven in Connecticut.

Haven recently took to Twitter to share a frustrating experience with his wife’s “very expensive @EpsonAmerica printer” that, seemingly out of nowhere, displayed a warning message saying it had “reached the end of its useful life.” Then he just stopped working, requiring service to get him back or a complete replacement.

So what was the problem with the printer? A dead engine? A faulty circuit board? No. The error message was related to porous pads inside the printer that collect and contain excess ink. These wear out over time, creating potential risks of property damage from ink spills, or even potential damage to the printer itself. Usually other printer components wear out before these pads, or consumers upgrade to a better model after a few years, but some high volume users may end up getting this error message while the rest of the printer seems to be perfectly fine and usable.

According to Fight to Repair Substack, the autolock issue affects the Epson L130, L220, L310, L360 and L365 models, but it could affect other models as well and is at least five years old. there is already videos on YouTube showing other Epson users manually replacing these ink pads to get their printers working again. The company provides a utility of rWindows-only inkpad setting which will extend the life of the printer for a short period of time, but it can only be used once, and then the hardware will need to be officially repaired or completely replaced.

A few years ago, Epson launched its EcoTank line of printers, which were specifically designed to address the extremely high cost of replacing ink cartridges for color inkjet printers. The printers featured large ink reservoirs that could be easily refilled with cheaper bottles of ink, and although Epson’s EcoTank printers were more expensive as a result, they would be cheaper to run in the long run, especially for those printing lots of color images. But that assumes that they actually continue to work in the long run. Videos of users manually replacing the ink pads on their Epson printers seem to indicate that the company could redesign the hardware to make this part easily serviceable by the user, which would significantly extend the life of the hardware. But as it stands, the company’s solution risks contributing to a growing e-waste problem and forcing consumers to pay for new hardware long before they actually need it.

We reached out to Epson for comment on this functionality and asked the company which models are specifically affected by this limitation. We’ve also asked if the service is covered under the printer’s warranty, and what the cost might be if not, and will update this story when we have an answer.

Update 8/8/22:

As some readers have pointed out, absorbent ink pads are an inherent and crucial part of the design and functionality of all inkjet printers, including those made by other companies such as HP, Canon, Lexmark, and Brother. As anyone who’s had an unfortunate encounter with a leaking inkjet cartridge or had a mishap trying to refill cartridges with third-party tools can attest, you don’t want those things to end up anywhere other than the printed page.

The problem at hand, as Mark Haven’s tweet demonstrates, is that printer manufacturers aren’t properly educating users about the possibility that the life of the expensive printer they purchased will be limited, or that mandatory service will be required. in the future. That’s something to be expected with other expensive purchases, like a car. The dealer will explicitly describe the required maintenance he’ll need in the future, but at least with models aimed at the average consumer, printer manufacturers aren’t as forthcoming. The first time you hear about this problem it shouldn’t be a dull and unexpected error message saying that your printer “has reached the end of its useful life”, especially when most of its parts are working perfectly.

Epson has already taken steps to reduce the amount of e-waste its printers produce through the EcoTank line, which allows ink tanks to be refilled rather than having to buy new inkjet cartridges and dispose of the old one, each which has real electronic components inside. But it could definitely be doing more, particularly with problems like this. For certain models, such as those expected to see high usage, the company has implemented hardware designs that allow the end user to easily replace the ink collection devices through maintenance kits.

But it’s not a feature you see on consumer-facing models. Instead of betting that the printer itself or other components will become obsolete or fail before the ink pad needs servicing, companies could be more transparent about potential life limits from the start. Inkjet printers are very eager to let you know when ink levels get low, so let’s make information about a printer’s possible need for maintenance obvious too, even if a user will never come close to actually needing it.

As it stands now, there are no doubt many users who get an error message like this who just replace their printers entirely, when they would no doubt be happy to pay for a $15 maintenance kit that gets them back up and running quickly, keeping more devices outside of recycling facilities or landfills.

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