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This Isn't Your Mother's Iron

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Fudge factors...
cgosnell   8/30/2012 10:03:25 AM
Read 'To Engineer is Human' by Henry Petroski for some insight to reasons we do this.

When using pencil and paper (or slide rules) you did not 'push' the slenderness of features of parts because of the cost testing all scenerios and the cost of failure was high and that there were so many things you could not test for that could come up to compromise the design in the field.

Now with FEA on every Engineers desktop, designs are made just good enough to fullful ther expected life cycle and no more.  Reliability is only 'good enough' to statistically (99.8%) make it to the end of the warranty period.

I hope for a backlash against this type of consumerism thinking, and can see a case where MORE analysis again increases the longevity of our products, or at least accounts more fully for real world useage.

MAybe with the widespread adoption of additive manufacturing, etc... a cottage industry will emerge to supply the need for 'improved' components and devices.  This is if the liability lawyers don't get involved...

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But cheaper, too
Battar   8/30/2012 10:39:49 AM
Yes, decades ago the stuff was better quality and built to last. But it also cost a lot more, too. Todays consumer item is far far cheaper than the items we bought in the 70's. You CAN buy quality tools and applicances, but be prepared to pay a realistic price. (most consumers just want to pay less.

By the way, you might like to compare the length of the cord supplied with the iron with what you got 40 years ago. I've noticed a creeping reduction in power cable length over the years.

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Not just consumer driven
npitech   8/30/2012 12:39:33 PM
There is actual demand for lowering the quality of test equipment. When the pace of change was slow, it was good idea to pay a premium for test equipment that would last for decades. Now, bandwidths, busses and formats are evolving yearly and that piece of test equipment with sheet metal covers and extruded aluminum chassis might still be functional but no one can use it. Manufacturers and labs don't want to pay for longevity, they want reliable low cost equipment which they know will all be obsolete in their processes in a year or two and have to be replaced. Plastic covers, folded sheet metal and just enough performance at a price that that doesn't require five years of depreciation and IRS accounting is where the market is driving.


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Not your mother's iron?
dbell5   8/30/2012 1:45:38 PM
I hate to say it, "An Iron? What's that?!?"

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(NO) QUALITY Appliances.
OLD_CURMUDGEON   8/30/2012 2:38:19 PM
Speaking of clothes irons, last year we went to a local BED, BATH & BEYOND to purcahse a new ion.  Although the field was crowded, there were several from noted manufacturers that lookes cheesy, cheap & ineffective.  These were "sponsored" by familiar names, HAMILTON BEACH, BLACK & DECKER, etc.  However, there were also several foreign brands represented, among them, ROWENTA, supposedly an upscale (in price, anyhow!) manufacturer of German origin.  Well, the (ROWENTA) irons that we looked at were all labeled, MADE in CHINA, but were considerably pricier than those of the other manufacturers.  One model was in the $300 range.  For that money the iron should operate itself, including retrieving & storing the ironing board!!!

Guess which one we chose?  The ROWENTA, of course!  And, now I hear comments from the "other" room about the iron.  Next time, I'll stay home to watch the sand in the back yard melt!

p.s.  It's just as "plasticky" as all the others.  Wonder if it will last as long as the one my mother had when she departed this beloved Earth 20 years or so ago???

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Where to begin?
bdcst   8/30/2012 3:05:53 PM
The quality of modern appliances, tools and other equipment varies widely depending upon the category, industry, end user.  Balancing profits and service (financial reward versus feeling good about doing good) is the equation.

If you are a firm believer in free market capitalism then the primary goal is growth and expansion of wealth be it corporate, personal or nation.  You hope the market will steer a course between profit and fullfilling a market's needs.  Unfortunately this is a very noisy endeavour.  Sometimes all you get is hollow expansion of profits at the expense of the end user of the product or service.  The mortgage industry stands out as a prime example.

Globalization of manufacturing, moving off shore, is an old story.  It started with post WWII Japan.   When I was a child, anything from Japan was cheesy, flimsy and not much better than a novelty toy.  Candle driven putt..putt boat and toy brightly painted tin cars whose innards were still imprinted Coke or Pepsi.  When grand old compnaies such as Harmon Kardon moved their presigious line of hifi audio products to Japan, the design engieers had to camp out there to insure product integrity and quality.  Today, its China.  Product quality varies wildly depending upon whom the contract manufacturer is and how well they are policed.  I have on my personal bench a $400 DSO that is every bit as good as any domestically sold instrument at 3X the price.  Funny but that Chinese brand is manufactured in the same factory as some US branded products.

When your market consists of mostly of folks for whom money is tight, price trumps quality.  The common denominator in appliances will be cheaper, poorer construction.  Manufacturers who buck the tide will either lose the profitability race or have to settle for a much lower volume high ticket product that only the wealthiest will purchase.

Manufacturers of professional tools and equipment have to sell to tough critics who look for quality, performance and field serviceability.  It's a way different market.  And with much smaller sales volume, penny pinching on components or design does not translate in huge manufacturing cost difference as it does in consumer land.

As for a demand for disposable test equipment, I don't see it.  If the technology is changing rapidly, you rent rather than own the equipment so you can turn it over faster.  Or you opt for software defined test equipment platforms that can be updated for many years as standards and technology changes.  the problem is building in sufficient universal capability including raw CPU core capacity to meet future challenges.  That would increase the initial cost substancially.  Some of it could be shifted to future firmware upgrade costs making the initial platform more affordable.

Heavy iron is still a good attribute for some products.  Not so good for shaving off mileage for vehicles however keeping a serious chassis or frame, as with the iPhone in comparison to Android phones, means I/O connectors can be mounted so the metal case will take the stress rather than the circuit board connections.

In some instances technology has reduced both weight and costs while improving performance.  Take spectrum analyzer's as an example, especially the portables.  Those expensive RF filters and other brass blocks of traditional analog technology have mostly been reduced to DSP code as well as shrinking mixers on chips, etc.  The result is dramatic weight and power reduction, dramatic improvement on displays and connectivity to other devices, lots of built in mathematical processing, almost unlimited event memory, near zero warmup time and much reduced requirement for calibrations.  There is less to go out of tune or to drift.

Yes, all is not rosy but all newer technology has its issues from time to  time.  Take flat panel displays for example.  Compared to old fashioned CRT's they have very limited MTBF.  Typically a switch mode power supply will fail causing the backlight to go dark or the backlight itself might fail long before anything else in the display goes out.  Modern CRT's just seem to run forever.  I own two Sony professional broadcast TV monitors that use Trinitron technology.  They will outlast all of my HD flat panels.

But back when television was young, late 1940's my family had a spanking new Magnavox table top TV set.  It weighed a ton.  The CRT was a metal tube with a glass face!  We went through a CRT every two years!!  The repairman was at our house almost monthly replacing tubes such as the poorly placed 5U4 rectifiers that were overworked and mounted to the side of the cabinet so their filaments (cathodes) would sag and short out!

Larry M
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Re: Built to a price
Larry M   8/30/2012 4:41:16 PM
Astro-Eric wrote: "I've had to repair many circuit boards with cold or lacking solder joints.  Many times, the electronics will work properly (for a while), if soldered properly.  But on other occasions, an electronic part will fail because of a cold or unsoldered joint, for lack of heat sinking, grounding or other issues."

Astro-Eric, don't blame the workmanship for that. Soldering materials are not what they used to be thanks to our European friends and their misguided RoHS legislation. You try soldering with lead-free solder for a while and you will be convinced.

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Re: But cheaper, too
Tim   8/30/2012 9:04:37 PM
I have heard that prices dropping over time as being called the Walmart effect on prices.  It is normal that cutting edge items get cheaper the longer that they are on the market, but there is no good reason for common items like irons to drop in price over time.  People now expect the prices to come down on all items.  This has driven manufacturers to reduce cost (and mass) to help with reducing prices.

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What to do?
Astro-Eric   8/31/2012 9:08:55 AM
Thanks for all the replys folks.  It's interesting to read everyone's thoughts on the current manufacturing state.

@Droid:  Thanks for the input.  I'm a bit less optimistic, without some major changes.

@cgosnell:  Engineers have more tools at their disposal, than ever before.  Yet what's being designed is less than stellar.  I for one would gladly pay for quality products, if I could ever find them.  

@Battar:  Funny.  Your cord comment reminds me of my Corporate Engineering days.  I worked in Medical manufacturing.  We'd regularly trim products to the minus-side of their tolerances, just to get the annual 3% for the stockholders.  Seems like cords are going the same direction.

@npitech :  You may be right about certain fields.  But the majority of consumer areas are not like what you described.  I'd love to buy a DVD player that did want it was designed for more than a year or two of operation. 

@dbell5:  What's an Iron?  You know that metal thing that's supposed to be heated and flatten the wrinkles from your clothes, when it works correctly :-)

@OLD_CURMUDGEON : Been there and done that!  'Nuff said.

@bdcst:  I remember the Japanese junk and have had the same thoughts about our current products.  Unfortunately, with the Corporate greed as it is today.  As the manufacturing costs rise in one advancing country, products will be moved and manufactured in another developing country.  This might be great for the Shareholders and large corporations, but consumers will continue to "pay the price"

@Larry M :Yep, done that.  There are certainly challenges with RoHS...

@ Tim:  You're right.  It's a mindset of today's consumers.  What's wrong with paying 2X as much for an item that lasts 10X as long?  But most folks don't see this.  I certainly would have no problem with it.

Rob Spiegel
User Rank
Re: Built to a price
Rob Spiegel   8/31/2012 4:49:10 PM
Thanks for the info. Sounds like materials are a really problem as well as the manufacturing process. 

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