Some Epson printers are programmed to self-brick

An image of an Epson printer with two red x's above the screen

picture: gizmodo

Printers remain one of the most frustrating parts of consumer electronics, but turns out the thirst for expensive ink and the occasional paper chew and choke aren’t the biggest challenges of using an Epson printer. As Some users have discoveredthe hardware could be programmed to just stop working one dayif used too often.

The phrase “planned obsolescence” is often used in consumer electronics because a product is specifically designed and built to have a finite lifespan, requiring it to be upgraded or replaced in just a few years. Most companies refuse to use this approach or give very specific but questionable reasons as to why it is necessary Markus Havenan author and lecturer at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, recently discovered.

Haven recently took to Twitter to share a frustrating experience with her wife’s “very expensive @EpsonAmerica printer” which seemingly out of the blue displayed a warning message stating that “it has reached the end of its life”. It then simply stopped working and required either servicing to bring it back from the dead or a complete replacement.

So what was the problem with the printer? A dead engine? A defective circuit board? nope The error message was related to porous pads in the printer collecting and holding excess ink. These wear out over time, leading to potential property damage from spilled ink, or possibly even damage to the printer itself. Usually other components in the printer wear out before these pads, or consumers upgrade to a better model after a few years, but some high volume users might get this error message while the rest of the printer seems perfectly fine and usable.

According to that fight for repair Substack, the self-bricking problem affects the Epson models L130, L220, L310, L360 and L365, but could also affect other models and dates back at least five years. There is already Videos on YouTube shows other Epson users how to manually replace these ink pads to bring their printers back to life. The company offers a Ink Pad Reset Utility for Windows only This extends the life of the printer for a short period of time, but it can only be used once, and after that the hardware must either be officially serviced or completely replaced.

A few years ago, Epson launched its EcoTank printer range, specifically designed to handle the extremely high cost of replacing ink cartridges for color inkjet printers. The printers had large ink tanks that were easily refilled with cheaper bottles of ink, and while this made Epson’s EcoTank printers more expensive, they would be cheaper to run in the long run, especially for those printing lots of color images. But that assumes they actually keep working long-term. 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 user-serviceable, which would greatly extend the lifespan of the hardware. But it looks like the company’s solution risks contributing to an ever-growing e-waste problem and forcing consumers to buy new hardware long before they actually need it.

We reached out to Epson for comment on this feature and asked the company which models are specifically impacted by this limitation. We’ve also asked if servicing is covered under the printer’s warranty and what the cost is if not, and will update this story if we get feedback.

Update 08/08/22 5:10 PM ET:

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 has had the misfortune of a leaking ink cartridge or had a mishap when attempting to refill cartridges with third-party tools can attest, you don’t want that stuff to end up anywhere but on the printed page.

As pointed out by Mark Haven’s tweet, the problem is that printer manufacturers do not properly educate users that the expensive printer they buy may have a limited lifespan or that it may require mandatory service later on. That’s something that’s expected with other expensive purchases like a car. The retailer will be explicit about the maintenance you’ll need later on, but at least for models aimed at the average consumer, printer manufacturers aren’t as accommodating. It shouldn’t be the first time you hear about this problem an opaque and unexpected Error message telling you that your printer has “reached the end of its life”, especially when most of its parts are working properly.

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 ink cartridges and discard the old ones, each fitted with actual electronics. But it could definitely do more, especially with problems like this. For certain models, e.g. For example, those with high utilization, the company has implemented hardware designs that allow the end-user to easily replace the ink collection devices with maintenance kits.

But it’s not a feature you see on consumer-focused models. Instead of betting on the printer itself or other components becoming obsolete or non-functional before the ink pad needs servicing, companies could be more transparent about potential life limits upfront. Inkjet printers are aggressive about notifying you when they’re running low on ink, so let’s also make clear information about a printer’s potential need for maintenance, even if a user is never anywhere near actually needing it.

As it stands now, there are undoubtedly many users who are getting an error message like this who are simply replacing their printers entirely, when instead they would happily pay for a $15 maintenance kit that will quickly get them up and running again and more devices keeps away from recycling plants or landfills.

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