iFixit launches a crusade for the repairability… of ice machines

iFixit tackles a subject on which we did not expect it. In the United States, the group wishes to change the legislation to facilitate repairs on McDonald’s ice cream machines… renowned for the frequency of their breakdowns and which can only be contractually repaired by their manufacturer.

The technicians of the specialized site iFixit answer in video a question that you may have asked yourself if you have ever been to a McDonald’s restaurant in the United States: why are the ice cream machines there so often broken down?

Behind this question, an endemic problem (which has also become a even across the Atlantic) about which McDonald’s itself allowed itself to joke on Twitter a few years ago. We now know that not only is the fast food franchise not a big part of it… but that the affair is actually more political than it seems. The whole issue is linked to a very topical issue: the right to repair.

The manufacturer of these ice machines singled out

To find out more, iFixit bought the same model of ice machine as those used in McDonald’s restaurants and carried out a disassembly to try to understand the origin of the breakdowns and the reasons for their recurrence. Quickly, the site technicians understood that despite “easy-to-use parts and components replace” such as the circuit board, motor, belt or even the heat exchanger, repairs cannot be made easily. For what ? Because the machine is somewhat restricted on the software level.

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We discover that in the event of a breakdown, bug, or simple overheating, the screen displays extremely varied and complex error codes which prevent third-party repairers from operating. Regarding these codes, iFixit also explains that they “are absurd, counterintuitive, and seemingly random, even if you’ve spent hours reading the manual“. In other words, broken machines at McDonald’s can only be repaired by the technicians of the manufacturer of these machines: Taylor, an industry giant who is the only one certified to decipher these error codes.

As The Verge and iFixit point out, a third-party company (named Kytch) did indeed design and launch a machine to decode these error messages to enable quick diagnosis and on-the-spot intervention by potentially more diligent repairers, but due to an old agreement with Taylor, McDonald’s prohibits its franchisees from using this very relevant solution. Worse, a copyright theoretically prohibits using this type of device on an ice machine manufactured by Taylor.

iFixit strikes back… where we least expected it

This is where iFixit wants to move things forward. “We would like to be able to make a device like Kytch’s that can read error codes from the ice cream machine we own, but we can’t because of copyright law“, explains Elizabeth Chamberlain, one of the executives at iFixit. In this case, the law in question is none other than the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) which effectively prevents people from circumventing controls or digital locks to access a copyrighted work.

To change this, iFixit and Public Knowledge have filed a new request for an exemption from this law, for ice machines. An approach that iFixit had already undertaken (successfully) for Xbox, tractors and smartphones. In addition, the two organizations are calling, this time on the American Congress, to reintroduce the law “Freedom to Repair» which would make it possible to distribute tools allowing, precisely, the repair of these machines by the franchisees themselves.

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