[rescue] Slightly OT: Bad Cap Saga

Geoffrey S. Mendelson gsm at mendelson.com
Mon Aug 18 13:10:24 CDT 2008

On Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 10:33:20AM -0700, Curious George wrote:
> Well, we know the *final* manufacturer who sells to John Q Public
> does!  Are you saying that the rest of the chain is all "caveat
> emptor"?  So, the poor fool who walks into a Wal-Mart and "takes
> a chance" on some cheap piece of kit is actually getting a
> *better* "deal" than the rest of the folks in the chain?  :-<

Yes. But they are paying a higher price because of it. The companies
who buy a component, whether it's a capacitor, or a board, or a complete
unit, don't get warranties anymore, they just figure a certain failure rate
and pay accordingly. 

> You don't have to "take it back for repair".  E.g., most
> of the items that I've designed are *examined* when they
> fail "under warranty" (i.e., to figure out *why* so we can
> determine if there are component or design issues to be
> remedied to reduce those costs in the future)

First of all, who examines them? Is Wal-Mart going to box up each broken
DVD player and send it to the "Long March DVD company" in China?
Is anyone at the Long March DVD company going to care? The batch that
went to Wal-Mart and is on sale today, was finished, boxed up and shipped
six months ago. They've gone on to three or four new batches, with different
designs, different components, etc.

> How (seriously) do you come up with an "anticipated failure
> rate" when you are using components outside their specs?
> Rely on past similar "abuses"?  :-/  It would seem too costly
> to *test* a marginal design too try to come up with a reasonable
> confidence interval for this figure -- especially with the short
> product development cycles nowadays...

It's a gamble. But engineers who are used to building things at the edge
of their specs, are used to it. As much as you are used to knowing how
much to overspec something so that you don't have to "beam down" a 
satellite for a quick repair. :-)

> OK, I can buy that for "cheap" consumer kit.  (e.g., $100).
> But, are you saying LCD monitors are just "produced" with
> no testing or other means of quantifying your quality?

Yes, especially the $200 ones.

> Ditto for PC's?  (I'll have to start looking at some of the
> "failed" medical instruments and see if they are suffering
> the same sorts of "bad cap" failures!)

Yes, especially the $200 ones.

> The common thread in your examples seems to be "cheap" (as in
> "inexpensive" and "not generally thought of as high quality")

Yes, that was my point from the begining.

> But $20 DVD players are different than $200 LCD monitors
> or $500-1K computers!  People almost *expect* the failure
> ("Well, it was only a $20 player, anyway... let's go buy
> *another*...").  I'm not sure that extends to *everything*
> made "for the (John Q Public) consumer".

No, but it's close in $200 LCD monitors and TV sets, and
$200-$300 computers.

> So, in effect, these folks (the people who ultimately sell the
> items to you) have placed their company's fate almost entirely
> in thehands of these suppliers -- and are *comfortable* with
> that relationship?  :-(

Yes, they know what to expect. They live on small margins already, and
if they can get a lower price, it matters. If they sell devices with
a 90 day warranty and all of them fail on the 89th day, they are really
pissed off, but if they fail on the 91st, they smile and sell you another

> Every time I've had to meet with a Japanese supplier there have
> been *lots* of reassurances ($$) exchanged prior to beginning
> any sort of serious relationship (since this was potentially
> a significant "dependancy" being established... if the Japanese
> company just saw us as "one of many customers", we weren't
> very reassured since an entire product line could end up
> depending on how faithfully that Japanese company held up
> its end of the arrangement!)

But that's a different class of device. Just the fact you are talking with
the Japanese puts you in a class above the Koreans and Tiwanese, and two
classes above the PRC. (and three classes above India, but they don't
export much yet.)

> But, these same problems are manifesting *in* PC's.  So, why
> is it OK (to the cheap DVD seller) to one seller and *still*
> OK (to the PC vendor)?

Same thing, different device. People learn to expect the same reliability
from all devices from cheap PC's to cheap DVD player's to cheap MP3
players, telephones, etc.

Look at Kitchen Aid mixers. Hobart sold the brand name in 1993 or 1994
and they are made "in the USA" with Chinese made junk inside. Yet people
insist on spending $1,000 for one that sells in the U.S. for $300, while
an equivalent Kenwood, made in the EU, has 3 times the power, 
works much better and lasts as long as the old Hobart ones.

BTW, Hobart still makes the same mixer as the KA, it's now about $2,000.

> Again, these are inexpensive devices.  What happens if the same
> quality issue presents with large LCD TV's?  Or, PC's?
> I wonder how that sort of problem would be met here in the
> US if it afflicted these new "HDTV converter boxes"?
> (imagine 1 out of 5 ATV user losing their TV reception because
> of a flaw in that design... (I'm told several boxes have
> noticeable firmware bugs))

They won't care. They will just go to Wallyworld and buy a cheap HDTV 
and say it was the problem with the old TV anyway, and it was old, and
I'm not going to spend another $40 to keep that POS going.......

> I seem to recall Gateway having a big problem with Plasma
> screen TV's -- clearly a "consumer item".  Yet, *they* were
> sued for failures that were "out of warranty".  And, I
> believe it was probably a big issue in their demise.
> I think this reinforces my "what is 'cheap'" notion as
> a threshold for pain for most consumers.

It depends, Plasma TV's IMHO stink anyway. But they just got stuck on
the wrong end of a product liability suit. IMHO the suits all should
have been dismissed, but you can get away with a lot in the U.S.

> Perhaps if iPods cost a few kilobucks, Apple's response
> would have been less palatable (for all parties).

Of course. They replaced the batteries on dying powerbooks.

> No.  I just don't like threats of lawsuits when a device fails
> and a customer's production line goes down for several *hours*
> (note:  not *days* or weeks!) and he's looking at how he's
> going to recover those losses -- and *you* (me) are the only
> likely candidate!  :<

That's a different issue. You are selling to a different market.


Geoffrey S. Mendelson, Jerusalem, Israel gsm at mendelson.com  N3OWJ/4X1GM

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