Cost-Effective Incompetence?

In this time of Covid-19, I suspect more than a few of us are ordering items for delivery. In order to be able to get better ventilation while teaching singing, my wife the voice professor needed two enormous floor fans. Since there were no such fans to be had in Cedar City, she ordered them. Given their size, I was the designated assembler.

The first fan arrived. I got everything out of the battered and enormous cardboard box, and tried to make sense of the directions. It soon dawned on me that two critical parts were missing, one of them the lower support for the fan. How it vanished from the box I have no idea, but considering that it was a steel tube nearly three feet long, I definitely couldn’t have misplaced it. So everything went back in the box, and I carted it (literally, since the box declared it was a “two person lift) to the SUV, levered it inside, and drove to Home Depot to return it. That took over an hour, and I reordered the same model (they couldn’t just replace it; they had to refund the money, and then order another new one), which wouldn’t arrive for a week.

In the meantime, fan number two arrived, just slightly smaller. I got the base and fan assembly together, despite the instructions, which insisted that I place the high tension spring inside a tube that was smaller than the spring itself, but when it came to attaching the fan motor assembly to the support structure, I ran into a “small” problem. The support bolt was round on one end and was to be secured in place by a hexagonal nut, which fit into a hexagonal hole. The problem was that to tighten the bolt meant tightening the round end of the support bolt. Even with channel lock pliers, I never could fully tighten it, despite gouging the metal of the bolt head. What idiot designed the end of the bolt that had to be tightened as round? I did manage to get it assembled and working, but I had to set the fan higher because the motor assembly drooped slightly.

Then the replacement for fan number one arrived, with all the parts. Once again, the directions were less than clear. There was no mention of where the support spring went, or the bolt cover assembly, but the biggest problem was that the diagram for the fan motor assembly was printed in faint gray ink on shiny paper. Now, although my vision is about 20/25, the only way I could read the directions was under high illumination with a magnifying glass. But I did get it together, and so far it’s working well.

These are certainly not the only problems I’ve run across in goods requiring assembly, but a little more competence in directions would be useful. And, of course, it’s unlikely that my recently acquired expertise in fan assembly will be of much use when the next item of a different type arrives with similarly inadequate directions.

7 thoughts on “Cost-Effective Incompetence?”

  1. Josh says:

    What’s the old joke about IKEA? Instructions written in a different country than where its made with instructions translated to English by people who never saw the product.

  2. Tom says:

    The quality of the instructions are the problem.

    How does such a problem arise with all the freely available software for writing and translating which can be found on the internet? Does this problem come back to laziness and the associated problem with “couldn’t care less” quality in our society, or is it something else?

    If it is an IKEA type of problem then, maybe, when all those overseas jobs come back to the USA we will get clearer instructions with the made in US products?

  3. Martin Sinclair says:

    IIRC, the IKEA products that we’ve purchased in the last decade or so have all had pictogram-style assembly instructions, probably to circumvent those translation issues in a global market. It’s not a perfect solution – you need to be extremely vigilant to ensure that you’re not putting something in the wrong way around 🙂

    I’m becoming more and more convinced that the underlying issue is the “built by experts” problem. LEM alluded to this when he mentioned his “new-found expertise” – these people do it for a living and probably have no recollection of what it’s like to be a complete novice. From this standpoint, IKEA is probably best-of-breed when it comes to providing instructions for people who want to put this one item together then never have to do it again – I have dealt far worse.

    And then there’s the cases where the parts just don’t do what the instructions say they should or are not really fit for purpose. LEM’s experience suggests that the manufacturer didn’t really care about shipping a product that works 100% – just well enough so that returns are kept down to an acceptable level

    1. Hanneke says:

      In my experience, Ikea instructions are complete and detailed enough, and the parts manufactures precisely enough, that you can follow them exactly and achieve the desired end result.
      Similar instructions (recently) on another selfassembly cupboard and ventilator fan from another firm, not so much: both required some backtracking and guesswork, one had pre-drilled holes in the wrong place, the other had a screw-thread going the wrong way.
      Everybody grumbles about Ikea instructions, but I far prefer them over any other I’ve had to deal with.

  4. Michael Creek says:

    I’ve found a technological solution to small writing on difficult materials. The camera on most smart phones! You can enlarge, increase contrast, etc…

    1. Tim says:

      Michael. Thanks for a great solution. My most recent issue was some instructions in very small print printed black on vivid green!

    2. R. Hamilton says:

      Also great for model and serial number plates when ordering replacement parts, “before” pictures to know how to put something back together, etc. When the folks that do it for a living start using them (perhaps partly for CYA to prove they didn’t mess anything up), it becomes obvious, if it wasn’t already, that the phone cam is a really handy tool indeed.

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