Anthropologists uncover evidence of first hybrid product.

RaconteursNet 2/5/2297 8:23:04 PM: "It's hard to imagine what owners mostly did with this thing", said Ms Randi Verision, Anthropologist. Nonetheless, she offered, "it's certainly a hybrid product, and, because of the electronic component, we think of it as a distant precursor to the hybrid cars that helped 21'st Century citizens escape their addiction to oil".Back to the present, we face the same dilemma as our future Anthropologist would. Here's a current example to illustrate.

What subcultures buy and actually use most aspects of the multi tool? And the green factor is what exactly? Answers to these questions get easier if we define the "functional unit" of the product. That's what the next three paragraphs are about.

I suspect many hybrid-tools become drawer-fill. The non-wired one is too fat and heavy to fit in a trouser pocket, airlines are likely to confiscate it, and its less convenient than it looks. With the cutting blade, the main tool, set off to one side, for example, simple cuts are awkward. With this rather extreme example, I'd propose a time-dependent functional unit called "F". Although hypothetical, it indicates relative resource intensity. "F", then, starts as frequency of successful actions, or "SA". Action means cuts, twists, pokes, slices, rips, screw-downs, or downloads, per unit of time. As a formulae: F=SA/Year.

Your car key executes 500+ SA/year. Let's assume a drawer-fill hybrid tool gets 1 SA/year on average. For simplicity, we'll add a single, surrogate environmental debit to "F": carbon dioxide emitted during manufacture and distribution. Lets peg that arbitrarily at about 0.5Kg CO2-emitted for the key and 5.0 Kg for the knife, an order of magnitude difference associated with the relative mass of metal in each. Let's assume design life is 10 years for the key, and 50 years for the hybrid tool. Order of magnitude, not numeric accuracy, is the focus of this analysis, by the way.

F-hybrid tool = 1/(5*50) = 0.004 SA/Kg-Yr
F-car key = 500/(0.5*10) = 100 SA/Kg-Yr.

The key comes out about 5 orders of magnitude more environmentally "functional" from this simplistic point of view. The longer you leave the knife in the drawer, the worse it compares to the key. The more you start your car, the better it looks for the key. Even leaving out the CO2 emissions, the difference in functionality is still 3 orders of magnitude. Buy on impulse, and make it drawer fill, and its a collective hit to the global commons with no SA accruing.

Generalize this principle and you become a life cycle thinker. Life cycle thinkers want to know:

· Why cars with automatic transmissions often include tachometers, which have no functionality in that context?; or,

· Why conventional grocery carts have the basket made integral to the wheels? Make the basket "function" separable from the cart "function" and you'd seldom again be asked "paper or plastic". Wheel up to the back of your vehicle. Disengage the basket from the cart and lift/push basket into your vehicle's back storage area. Take it home with groceries left right where the clerk put them in the first place. You have your own cart function waiting at home. For apartments and condos with elevators it would be a wonder.

Is there a danger of stereotyping with this type of analysis? Of course. Here's an example that breaks the rule for a niche application.

This hybrid is clearly made for camping. But, it might also be nice on a picnic or in the glove compartment. A slight pull on longitudinal axis lets it dissemble into a separately functioning knife and spoon, each with a knife blade that folds into its respective handle. If you camp regularly, that's useful. But it's the disassembly that makes it work. Without disassembly, use and cleaning would be hard. Then its drawer-fill.

I had this tiny knife/hybrid in my travel kit for years. Now however, Homeland Security regulations have made it drawer-fill. I can take it on a road trip, but if I'd forget to remove it from my kit on my next flight, airport screeners will confiscate it. And at that point the "F" numerator becomes infinitely small.

Suppose that we wanted to include beauty and sustainability. How would than shape the F factor? Keeping it simple, look for a firm that has been in business as long as the design life of its premier products. Here's one example. And another in the US:

Then see if the products look good and are likely to keep those good looks over the years (fit, finish, reputation, repair policy, etc).

Finally, I'd look into the apparent "green-ness" of the manufacturing process, and any visible social responsibility indicators.
Try these links to a few of the most famous old-line blade makers, the ones often emulated. I found little attention to sustainability or environmental values and, where there is some, language and style barriers exist. The market seems not to drive much transparency.


by: John Laumer

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