[rescue] Slightly OT: Bad Cap Saga

Curious George jorge234q at yahoo.com
Mon Aug 18 15:50:00 CDT 2008

--- On Mon, 8/18/08, Geoffrey S. Mendelson <gsm at mendelson.com> wrote:

> On Mon, Aug 18, 2008 at 11:22:41AM -0700, Curious George
> wrote:
> > You're right.  I started my career in the mid 70's (with the i4004)
> > and have *no* experience with "valves", etc.  :>
> Actually the i4004 came pretty late in the game. There were
> all sorts of computers before that. 

Yes, but very few of those coulod be incorporated into products
sold to lobstermen to take on their *boats* with them!  :>

> There are also many different unrelated problems with cheap components
> and again, in use or not, such as lubricants drying out or solidifying,
> heat sink transfer paste drying out, lithum batteries failing or
> leaking, and so on.

Yes.  But, I can identify bad components.  Granted, if I change
vendors on a part, I run the risk of finding my "tenders" exposed.
*But*, once the problem is identified, it goes away (along with
the vendor!)

> A couple of years ago Office Depot brand batteries sold here would
> in a matter of months swell to the point they would no longer fit in
> the device, leak or both. They have since upgraded from PRC batteries
> to Singapore ones, and now they are just short lived crap. 

Yes, this seems to be true of "Chicago Electric" rechargeables
here.  But, they are clearly marked as such (on the price tag!)

> If the same company that made their batteries made the lithum batteries
> that xxxx brand used, they could have the same problem. The electrolyte
> in litium batteries is very caustic and could destroy a motherboard.
> Cheap PRC battery companies are not the only ones with problems, Sony
> batteries used in Apple and Dell laptops had the same problem.
> > ***IT*** wasn't a bad wash.  The point of my post was "are there
> > any *other* things going on, here?"  Stop fixating on this one
> > incident.  50 years hence, will you still be blaming all e-cap
> > failurews on some botched industrial espionage attempt in
> > Taiwan?  When do you start wondering if, perhaps, something
> > *else* has come into play?
> It's the root cause of the fall of the capacitor industry in Tiawan.
> It taught them to improve their product to a point and leave
> it there. Something the Koreans, Indians, North Koreans, etc
> will follow.

But, it's just a *component* (vendor) issue, right?
E.g., not like the consequences of moving away from Pb based
solders, etc.  (which would be industry-wide)
> My wife likes to tell the story of a brand of tomato sauce with
> mushrooms. Every month they removed a small amount of mushrooms
> until their sales  slowed down. That's where they kept it.

Yes.  I have a friend who is a big shot at a multinational
<.....> company.  He makes no bones about telling me:
"We cut staff in a particular department until it stops
working.  Then we start adding back."  I *guess* they
can rationalize this as a valid way of doing things.
But, it ignores the people (customers) they screw-over
in the process!

> The capacitor problem just taught that lesson to the Tiwanese
> and it will spread. I'm sure that in 5 years your Japanese vendors
> will ask you when you spec a component, "how long should it last"?

This is unfortunate as we have very long product lifetimes.

> > I make it a point to look at "failed devices".  I want to
> > understand *why* they failed.  And, if there is anything that I,
> > as a designer, can do to reduce the likelihood of failure in
> > the future (and what the tradeoffs to do so might be).
> That's a noble idea, and you will do well as long as you stay away
> from the "lowest possible price" consumer goods. 
> > I'm not only interested in how the electronics failed but how
> > mechanically something may have died.  How long that item
> > *should* last is a separate issue to me.  Should a Cadillac
> > last longer than a Chevy or a Yugo?  <shrug>  Understanding
> > how they fail is a skillset I actively develop as it lets me
> > add value to the things I work on.
> There always will be a niche market for high end items. :-)

Yes, but the niche gets smaller and, from a consumer's point of
view, *higher*!  :<
> > Likewise, I routinely evaluate the firmware and software in
> > products.  Especially products that I don't use. It helps me
> > figure out what's good about a design vs. bad.  E.g., this
> > past week I played with a dozen LCD monitors.  While the
> > "front panel controls" on most were similar, some were
> > designed in a clearly inferior manner that made using them
> > very unintuitive (and, since I suspect very *few* people
> > read the user manual for their monitor, having an intuitive
> > interface is *essential*).
> Is it? Seriously, how many people buy using price as their
> sole critera?

I don't doubt that!  My point is, the controls on an LCD monitor
*should* be intuitive to use.  Just like changing the channel
on a TV.  So, presumably, you would think that whoever designed the
device would give as much consideration to this as they did to
the *color* of the plastic case, etc.

Regardless of how well they did/didn't do this, I can learn by
looking at their efforts and trying to decide how intuitive *I*
consider the interface and what aspects of it I find annoying.

E.g., I found myself quite annoyed with monitorss that had
two power switches.  I.e., a front panel pushbutton and a
"power disconnect" elsewhere on the unit.  Granted, I can
understand how/why thiws might be the case.  But, as a user,
I would find myself pushing the front panel button and wondering
why it didn't power up.  ("Why doesn't this LCD work like the
last one I played with?")

Of course, in my case, it is possible the monitor was *fried*
(these are not "new" units -- which is why I am tinkering with them)
so I never know if it was *supposed* to power up which means I
have to be a bit more persistent in hunting down other sources
of "no power".
> > The point of this thread was to ellicit any
> observations people
> > had over what types of failure modes they might be
> experiencing
> > in various bits of kit.
> Was it? I thought it was more about busting the urban
> legend of the bad
> capacitors, which it was not. 
> > 
> > So, your summary contribution is "(still) bad
> components"
> > akin to making 0.245W resistors to save a few
> micropennies
> > per unit (resistor).  OK, then I just avoid Taiwanese
> > components and vendors and all is well!  :>
> I would not characterize it as a particular ethnic group or
> country.
> Greed and stupidity are universal.
> Geoff.
> -- 
> Geoffrey S. Mendelson, Jerusalem, Israel gsm at mendelson.com 
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