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Made by Monkeys

Monoxide Detector Balky About Batteries

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naperlou
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Failure of engineering
naperlou   3/22/2012 9:24:23 AM
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You have to wonder what type of testing was done with the unit.  Considering the law in California, you know they, and their competitors, will be selling millions.  I wonder that the retailer did not do something about this. 

pjones
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Re: Failure of engineering
pjones   3/22/2012 4:04:15 PM
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Mr. Muren is partially wrong about the California requirement.  All homes are not required to have working carbon monoxide detectors.  A detector is not required if there is no  natural gas, propane, butane etc., service.  We have a rented-out condominium in San Diego that is "all electric".  I had a hard time convincing the property manager, to not spend several hundred dollars & have a c-m detector installed.

 

John Muren
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Re: Failure of engineering
John Muren   3/23/2012 8:19:28 AM
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pjones,

Thanks for the correction.  My house happens to be one of those that does use natural gas, so in my case it was required.

John
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Re: Failure of engineering
John   3/23/2012 9:32:46 AM
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Ahhh you don't need one of those detector things.  Keep your chimeny and burner clean and no worries.  Just a bit of maintenance every winter before your first lighting is all thats needed.  Kind of like changing those 9v batts, but less frequent.  Those things are made in CHINA and they probably can't even read your complaint letter.  And so what we have here is a crummy design built in a foreign land that's known to output some really sorry stuff and it's susposed to save lives in an event something happens.  But it's a law to have one and they all come from the same country and hopefully not the same factory.

Matt916
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Re: Failure of engineering
Matt916   3/23/2012 4:59:51 PM
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I'd like to offer an alternative to this being a poor product design.  It is entirely possible that the design was validated and performs as intended, however, a manufacturing blunder may have caused the problem.  If the injection mold was not assembled correctly then the latch could have been molded with the ramp on the security tab facing the wrong direction.

I have seen/heard of many injection molds where the inserts are not keyed to prevent improper assembly.  The mold may have been assembled properly for the design validation and acceptance run only to later have been taken apart for maintenance and re-assembled wrong.

John Muren
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Re: Failure of engineering
John Muren   3/23/2012 11:37:42 PM
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Matt,

     I think it's more likely the designer was confused as to which direction the alarm screwed into the base.  If I could figure out how to upload pictures from my PC, I'd show you...

Ann R. Thryft
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How could this even be sold in California?
Ann R. Thryft   3/22/2012 2:05:19 PM
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That's a mind-boggling Made by Monkeys example. I live in California too, and I find it hard to believe this thing is allowed to be sold here. The writer didn't actually say whether the retailer did anything about the problem product. If they didn't, it's not surprising--they're a typical big-box store. Especially with products this important, I prefer to buy from smaller, local places where the staff is knowledgeable and more likely to care about such problems. 


Larry M
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Larry M   3/22/2012 3:15:16 PM
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Ann wrote: "If they didn't, it's not surprising--they're a typical big-box store."

Not so, Ann. There's money to be lost in accepting customer returns.  My son works for a manufacturer of consumer products. The big box stores send all returns to a sort point where they are sorted and returned in bulk to the manufacturers for credit.  Some smoke detector/CO2 monitor manufacturer is going to see a big box of detectors in opened packages but with covers stuck on and will figure out what went wrong.

 

OLD_CURMUDGEON
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
OLD_CURMUDGEON   3/22/2012 3:42:12 PM
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Regarding "RETURNS TO MANUFACTURER"...... I was friendly w/ a HOME DEPOT floor person several years ago.  At that time, I had reason to purchase many items for my employer on a very frequent basis.  And, since we had a Commercial Account, I always went to the same checkout station. A particular woman was assigned to this one station, and over the course of my many visits, we started a friendly chat session each time I went through her checkout line.  At any rate, at a much later date, she wasn't there anymore, so I asked one of the other checkout persons, where Linda had gone.  The answer was that she was no in the RETURN TO VENDOR area in the back of the store.  So, being inquisitive, I went there to say hello.  We started chatting about her new "assignment", and one of the things she mentioned was that it is HOME DEPOT policy that when there are customer returns for certain items that they DO NOT return them to the vendor.  They are disposed of in a secure trash area.  Now, this was on the order of 10 years ago.  She had since transferred to a different store, and when I caught up w/ her there, she told me that the family was moving back to the state from whence they all originated.  Is this still HOME DEPOT'S policy, I haven't a clue, but it was back then.  So, maybe it is that given that this CO / Fire / Smoke Detector nmay have been made in China, it is NOT unreasonable to suspect that HOME DEPOT'S policy is to "eat" the loss, and toss these "defective" units.  I'd be willing to bet that there is no policy in place with the distrubutor to send defective units back to China for refurbishing and/or testing, etc.

 

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Ann R. Thryft   3/22/2012 4:33:56 PM
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Larry, I know that customer returns mean lost revenue. But then, lots of practices mean lost revenue and I see lots of companies keep doing the same things that lose them revenue, many of which we've covered here at DN. What I meant was that most big-box stores I've complained to about crummy product quality--like this one--don't care and keep selling the same crummy products. And I've had the same experience with the manufacturers of the same crummy products, even when they get lots of returns. I'm glad your experience seems to be different. But I wouldn't hold my breath assuming that the monitor manufacturer will even notice that the covers are stuck on. In my experience, if the product can be sold at a big-box store and costs less than $100, there's little motivation to change much.


TJ McDermott
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
TJ McDermott   3/22/2012 3:15:50 PM
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Mr. Muren, would most of us recognise this product as a name-brand?  And did you contact the manufacturer to let them know the magnitude of their ineptness?

John Muren
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
John Muren   3/23/2012 8:09:23 AM
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TJ,  Yes, I contacted the manufacturer and told them they had a major defect in their device.  I even wrote to them to email me for specific information regarding the defect, but that was almost three months ago, and the still haven't contacted me. 

Jon Titus
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Jon Titus   3/23/2012 10:44:46 AM
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John: Many companies will not acknowledge receiving a complaint about a product defect, let alone reply to ask about your experience. Corporate lawyers tell them doing so would admitting to a design flaw and liability, and open them to lawsuits.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Rob Spiegel   3/23/2012 1:52:51 PM
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Jon, I didn't realize the legal implications of discussing product problems with customers. Hard to believe something as simple as quizzing a customer about a design flaw could backfire. 

John Muren
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
John Muren   3/23/2012 8:16:53 AM
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TJ,  It was not a name brand, but one of the less-expensive combo fire/CO alarms Home Depot had available.

Charles Murray
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Charles Murray   3/22/2012 6:28:39 PM
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Good point about the smaller retailer, Ann. My guess is that the big store probably gave the author a credit, sold him another one, and left the rest of the old ones on the shelf.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 12:46:10 PM
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Chuck, that's unfortunately my experience with big-box stores, as well as with being a consumer in a major metro area. I'm glad to be now living in a small-town type environment where the local stores don't carry a huge variety, but you can order what you need. In this setting, they can't get away with really lousy products because everyone talks to everyone about it, and stores are dependent on a smaller number of local customers, who are often their neighbors, their doctors, their kids' teachers, their grocery store clerks. It's a very different world.


John Muren
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
John Muren   3/23/2012 8:06:42 AM
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Hi Ann. I don't know if Home Depot did anything with this product. I do know I contacted the company that made it and told them of the defect, giving them my email address so that they could receive detailed information regarding it, but I never got a reply. Worst of all, this is an American company.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: How could this even be sold in California?
Ann R. Thryft   3/23/2012 12:48:00 PM
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John, I've had the same experience way too many times with both manufacturers and big-box stores. The cruncher here is that it's for a safety device that could save you and your family's lives--or not. While I would generally agree with what Jon Titus says about lawyers, etc., regarding product defects, the safety device factor is why I'm so boggled that this can be sold in a state that mandates their use. 

And to the other John, yes we do need these: California uses natural gas, and, in my area, propane (LNP).


Nancy Golden
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place of manufacture
Nancy Golden   3/22/2012 3:20:42 PM
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I am wondering where this product was manufactured? The only thing I can think of is that it is in a place where these types of products are nonexistent – therefore their use is not properly understood and so the manufacturer is unaware that a problem exists...mass production of consumer products used in the U.S. that has moved to foreign soil has created similar issues which are sometimes simply a matter of cultural differences that once discovered are easily corrected, although not typically to the extent noted here...

Larry M
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Re: place of manufacture
Larry M   3/22/2012 3:31:37 PM
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Nancy Golden wrote:

I am wondering where this product was manufactured? The only thing I can think of is that it is in a place where these types of products are nonexistent – therefore their use is not properly understood and so the manufacturer is unaware that a problem exists...mass production of consumer products used in the U.S. that has moved to foreign soil has created similar issues which are sometimes simply a matter of cultural differences that once discovered are easily corrected, although not typically to the extent noted here...

Don't confuse manufacturing with design. These products could well have been designed in the Western hemisphere, regardless of where they are manufactured.


Nancy Golden
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Re: place of manufacture
Nancy Golden   3/22/2012 3:35:07 PM
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Or not...and my desire for diplomacy and mutual respect drove my response ;)

ViragoMan
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Re: place of manufacture
ViragoMan   3/23/2012 11:17:48 AM
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Based on my understanding of the submitter's description about this "design flaw", the solution is to provide a large bold print warning tab or label that needs to be removed prior to installation which warns if installation is done improperly device will be unuseable. The real problem is not the design, but the lack of a warning about a specific design feature that is not intuitive to the average DIYer.

I would probably not read the installation instructions (thinking... what could be complicated about this?) unless I saw a large warning tab that needed to be removed before installation. Then I would study the instructions to understand the warning.

Manoffewwords
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Re: place of manufacture
Manoffewwords   3/23/2012 12:35:28 PM
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I'd guess this is a classic case of two errors in one.  The mechanical engineer who designed the latch assumed that nobody would ever put the base on the unit without installing a battery first, so he/she never tried that combination.  The packaging engineer, who didn't talk to the ME, wanted to save space in the package so he/she specified that the base should be installed.  This is why you always have "nonstandard application" testing done, to make sure that using the product in a plausible, yet nonstandard way, does not cause it to fail (within obvious limits of safety).

ViragoMan
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Re: place of manufacture
ViragoMan   3/23/2012 3:46:45 PM
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Manoffewwords your scenario is very plausible.

I see at least two lessons learned solutions: 1) {long term} Get everyone collaborating better. 2) {short term} Pre-install the battery.

DMS
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Re: place of manufacture
DMS   3/23/2012 7:05:07 PM
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It is interesting reading all these threads.  I suggest you read the book "poorly made in China".  I have worked directly with our suppliers in China and there is a good correlation between my experiences and those quoted in the book.

 

cvandewater
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Re: place of manufacture
cvandewater   3/24/2012 3:04:56 AM
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Viragoman,

I have seen many smoke detectors, have been installing them in my house since some 20 years. All follow the same essential basis rules, including the *inability* to close the cover when there is no battery installed, to avoid malicious people from making it "look good" without actual battery as well as to force/remind you to purchase a new battery (after it started beeping in the middle of the night and you yanked the battery out) for that dangling-open smoke detector...

Having a detector that not only closes without battery but even locks you out unless the battery is already installed is exactly what you don't want and a typical case of a design spec saying "must have locking feature" and the engineers faithfully implementing each of the line items. I have seen a lot of specs that in their context were not ambiguous, but when read line by line, you could clearly see how the engineers implementing the literal text of the spec got it exactly reversed. This product is yet another example of such. The product should not be sold if the store is aware of the problems with it though.... That is just bad service to your customers.

QuailHillTony
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Re: place of manufacture
QuailHillTony   3/22/2012 3:42:55 PM
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Where it was manufactured is irrelevant to design flaws.  The pertinent question is where was it designed.

TJ McDermott
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Re: place of manufacture
TJ McDermott   3/22/2012 3:43:33 PM
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Nancy, that was my first thought, but many, many products manufactured off-shore are designed here.  That's why I asked about the brand-name.

Nancy Golden
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Re: place of manufacture
Nancy Golden   3/22/2012 3:49:18 PM
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I agree TJ - and it is definitely a valid point. Poor design is poor design, wherever it takes place. My husband and I designed a product for the company he works for and they manufactured it in China. Any design flaws if they exist are our responsibility - not China's. I was simply suggesting another possibility as to why what happened could have happened...it is almost more plausible to me that a designer was given a project that he did not understand properly because he had no prior experience with the product, then for such a blatant design flaw to occur in the U.S. where these products are common. I could certainly be wrong, it was just a thought...

naperlou
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Re: place of manufacture
naperlou   3/22/2012 4:19:04 PM
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Nancy, you post bring to mind a disturbing trend I have run into consulting over the last few years.  Many of the products made off-shore are not made to the design.  Changes are made in manufacturing without telling the "customer".   My experience was with small companies so I assumed that the problem was that these small companies just didn't have the resources to do the proper quality control.  I was telling a friend of mine who worked for a large company about a particular example in the industry he was in.  He related that his competitor, another very large company ran into exactly the same problem.  The only difference is that the large company had the resources to correct the problem.  The small company I was consulting with did not. 

What ever happened to design for manufacturing where the engineering team was colocated with manufacturing???

Nancy Golden
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Re: place of manufacture
Nancy Golden   3/22/2012 4:51:21 PM
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Naperlou, I agree. We have seen that happen as well – for multiple reasons, often cost or availability related. There may also be engineers at the other end who simply disagree with the initial design...or perhaps they have an overstock on one type of connector when the initial design calls for another...

Your lament:

"What ever happened to design for manufacturing where the engineering team was colocated with manufacturing???"

While that would be ideal, I believe it is simply a matter of driving down the cost by manufacturing in other countries, but companies still want to maintain control of the design inhouse. One company I worked for, I worked in R&D where we developed the test sets that would be used to test the products manufactured in our plant in another country. A LOT of money and time was devoted to our test engineering staff travelling back and forth to initially set up the test sets and then to maintain them. Finally, our department was transferred to that country which made better sense and was more cost effective for our company. Unfortunately, it also eliminated the need for my job...

There are no easy answers, what works well for one company may not work well at all for another, depending on cost, staffing and industry contacts just as much as anything else. Yet another challenge of our global economy that continues to be a mixed blessing.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: place of manufacture
Rob Spiegel   3/22/2012 7:02:52 PM
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Naperlou, I didn't realize that changes in the product was yet another of the hazzards of outsourcing. Are brand owners unaware of this? I would think they would examine their products carefully as they roll off an outsourced manufactruing line.

naperlou
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Re: place of manufacture
naperlou   3/22/2012 11:06:34 PM
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They should be.  Yet they do not do the level of quality control they would do in their own factory.  The latest public example is here in Chicago.  The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) bought $1.1B of new trains.  The manufacturer was Bombardier.  They in turn got some structural steel members from an overseas manufacturer.  These were all defective.  The CTA will not use the trains until all of the sub-standard members are fixed.  The situation I mentioned as my first experience was transistors in a power supply for lighting.  The overseas manufacturer substituted what they assumed were equivalent parts when they could not get the specified parts. These failed in less than six months in a product that should last many years.  There are many others, but in most cases I am under non-disclosure agreements.  I have also seen this in software. 

The problem is not that the overseas manufacturers or deveopers cannot do the job.  What I am seeing happening is that the customers assume that the supplier does all the same quality control that they do and have all the same standards.  When you are outsourcing just for price, that is what happens.  You are still responsible for quality control.  You are the one with the name on the box.  Assuming tha that quality is a cost, not an advantage, is the problem.  I am talking about quality in design and manufacture.  I thought we learned that with the auto industry.  Come to think of it, it was an overseas company that took those lessons from the US and applied them when US companies stopped. 

David12345
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Re: place of manufacture
David12345   3/23/2012 11:09:10 AM
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Naperlou,

Interesting points about manufacturing in far east or other lower-tier sourcing.  I don't tend to take the suff for granted, but didn't think about INTENTIONAL design changes.

Years ago, I had a young business unit manager show me a print package from a company in Taiwan selling a turn-key design, and manufacture of a commodity commercial connector product.  I reviewed the design, corrected some tolerance stack-up issues and wrote-out detailed recommendations on technical program management/purchasing defining tooling ownership, tooling quality, contract terms tied to milestone deliverables, auditing the manufacturing location, first article inspections, etc. 

I didn't hear any more about it for OVER A YEAR until he left the company. His replacement manager came across my memo of recommendations in the file.  He laughed and practically cried.  He explained that my advise was not taken, but virtually EVERY WAY that the company could have been ripped-off they were.  He claimed the measures I defined to protect the company would have either protected the company or shut-down the losses early in the process.  The "supplier" company had taken $50,000 for tooling the product line and evaporated.  The supplier company bascially became an elaborate scam.  Working overseas, even contracts without the umbrella protection of the Uniform Commercial Code overseas become difficult to enforce if jurisdiction and venue are not clearly defined.

To continue with the story, the new manager started over with another company, worked with me to follow a step-by-step game plan, and successfully launched the product.  It took awhile for the company to dig-out of the losses from the first failed attempt by the previous manager, but they did. The original supplier and money was never found. I don't believe the first manager was dirty, I believe he was just inexperienced and thought I was being overly paranoid causing a more awkward process.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: place of manufacture
Rob Spiegel   3/23/2012 12:17:49 PM
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I would imagine we can take your story and multiply it a thousand times. I would think the inspection of outsourced products would be more diligent rathe rthan less so. But I guess everybody's busy, so it's just grab the products and go.

Charles Murray
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Re: place of manufacture
Charles Murray   3/23/2012 6:46:35 PM
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You're right, Rob, you can probably multiply this by a thousand. What always amazes me is that there are so many of these kinds of problems, and that it takes so long for companies to notice them -- or, more accurately, to admit that the problems exist.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: place of manufacture
Rob Spiegel   3/26/2012 12:38:16 PM
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This is a perfect example of the need for PLM systems to bring in the important voice of the customer to the design and production functions. In an earlier story Beth Stackpole covered the move to bring service into PLM: http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1394&doc_id=239660

Bringing in the voice of the customer may also big a huge help.

John Muren
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Re: place of manufacture
John Muren   3/23/2012 8:12:33 AM
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Nancy,  As far as I can tell they are an American company, but may have Contract Manufactured in Asia.  I think this was just a case of poor design validation.  The mechanical engineer who worked on the latching feature should have known better, so I have to believe he was inexperienced.

Andrew P.
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The real mystery is ...
Andrew P.   3/22/2012 5:32:26 PM
... why legislators think they can mandate private citizens in the United States to buy anything, be it CO detectors or health insurance.  How did we ever survive before the Nanny State came along?

FinnickyFinn
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Re: The real mystery is ...
FinnickyFinn   3/22/2012 9:37:07 PM
They also mandate that they can take our tax dollars to buy atomic bombs and gun down innocent civilians in foreign lands. They also mandate that an electrician needs a license and not every bozo can monkey around with stuff that can kill you. Same applies to car mechanics that work on the breaks and steering of your car. Same applies to you who is mandated to buy car insurance.

Governments do dumb stuff, but sometimes they put something really decent in place, such as mandatory health insurance. Otherwise you end up in the hospital without insurance and have the choice to either file for bancruptcy or die, because you either opt for the care or reject it.

The health insurance mandate is no different than taking your income tax and use it for road maintenance. It is a thing that works better when everyone in the community pitches in. Otherwise you would have a toll booth at the end of your driveway.

Aside from that, the majority of the federal health care legislation isn't even in effect yet, but that doesn't stop some from mindlessly bashing it as 'not working'.

As for CO detectors, a 20$ gadget can save lives. Not having a CO detector in your home is just stupid. I agree, it is shocking that a law is needed to make people take such simple and basic precaution to protect themselves, it should be obvious. But common sense went out the door for many.

Jon Titus
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How about a better way to replace batteries?
Jon Titus   3/22/2012 6:53:38 PM
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Even when an owner can open a smoke/CO detector, getting to it can pose a problem. I have vaulted ceilings, so to change batteries I must bring in an extension ladder and move it from room to room to get to the battery compartment.  It beats me why some company hasn't figured out how to create a battery cartridge that could go into a detector and latch in place. Pushing on the cartridge would eject it. A long pole similar to the one I use to replace light bulbs would do the trick. Think how a retractable ball-point pen works and you'll get the idea. It sure would save time and energy.

Alexander Wolfe
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Re: How about a better way to replace batteries?
Alexander Wolfe   3/23/2012 10:32:16 AM
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That's definitely true, Jon. I've begun to think that changing smoke and CO detector batteries is one of the most hazardous household tasks. Falling off ladders or a chair, just to change a 9V battery, which seem to be universal in smoke detectors, or AA in CO. Gotta be a better way. Plus, the change-out every year thing is a smart marketing campaign on the part of the battery companies. The 9Vs will actually last much longer than that. Too bad it's not like the old days where I could take the old smoke detector batteries and put them in my transistor radio. Now the single-chip IC xsistor radios take AAs.

cvandewater
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Re: How about a better way to replace batteries?
cvandewater   3/24/2012 3:34:57 AM
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Hi Jon,

The law is probably in the way of making this easy - what I mean is that the usual 9V battery for the smoke alarm makes it a stand-alone device that anybody can install at their ceiling. As soon as you make this device use grid power to avoid the use and requirements of replacing batteries, you are immediately confronted with either:

- use a power supply and a wall/ceiling outlet and run the cable to the smoke detector, a pretty ugly solution but if you can install near an outlet it could still be a customer installable device

- attach the detector to the house wiring, which should require an electrician, though this is a permanent solution and you never have to change a battery again. It can be costly though to run wires, install an outlet and connect each alarm to it.

If you want to go for a system that sounds the alarm in all rooms when there is a problem in one location, then you will need either wireless or the grid connected alarms which have an additional wire installed to communicate with each other and set of the alarm on all units

In a previous century I got so fed up with buying and changing batteries that I used a rechargeable battery and trickle-charged it directly from the grid through two very high value resistors that constantly replaced the fractional mA consumption plus self-discharge, so I never had to worry about it again until I moved out of that house, many years later.

Jon Titus
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Re: How about a better way to replace batteries?
Jon Titus   3/24/2012 11:40:01 AM
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I believe code now requires that all smoke/CO detectors in new homes receive line power, trigger all other detectors, and have a backup battery.  You cannot put a stand-alone smoke/CO detector in new construction. You can buy wireless alarms and use them to replace older "solo" alarms.  That's what I'd do in a home without hardwired alarms.

valuedcus
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qa
valuedcus   3/22/2012 7:04:18 PM
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You can ALWAYS tell a company that does not threat their nerds very well by the qualtity of their products. The engineers should be in charge, not some idiot managers.

Jon Titus
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Preinstall the battery!?!
Jon Titus   3/23/2012 4:16:43 PM
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Many years ago I read an article in the long-gone industry newspaper, "Electronic News." It seems a fire broke out at a... now wait for it... smoke-detector manufacturer!  To save consumers time, the company preinstalled the battery or batteries.  When the firefighters arrived the noise from all the screaming alarms was so loud they had to let the fire burn itself out.

William K.
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Monoxide detector balky about battery installation.
William K.   3/24/2012 9:42:48 PM
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This tale is one more example of the futility of attempting to protect stupid people. On quite a few occasions some stupid interlock designed to prevent one action winds up preventing some other action, until the interlock function and hardware is removed, completely and positively bypassing whatever intent was in the original design. Of course the fact is that the less skilled person would probably do much more damage to the product while removing the interlock function.

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The Continuing Education Center offers engineers an entirely new way to get the education they need to formulate next-generation solutions.
Apr 21 - 25, Creating & Testing Your First RTOS Application Using MQX
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.
Next Class: April 29 - Day 1
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