By Bruce Sargeant
I bought one of these solar powered landscape lighting systems for my yard. You know, the type sold in the hardware stores with a large common solar collector and several LED lights to be set around the yard. The latest versions looked pretty good, with nice water-proof connections for the wiring, super-bright LEDs that offer a long on-time. So I buy one and tested it out and it worked great. Brightest LEDs I’ve seen and over 6 hours of on time. I install the system and it worked for about a month, a month where we had some pretty good rain storms here in California. Nothing compared with the rest of the country but wet enough. So after a month the device just stops working.
When I took it apart, I expected a battery issue or a contact problem on the battery (they were snap in cells). No, that looked OK. On further investigation, I notice all the screws inside of the unit (holding the board for example) were rusted. Humm…not so sealed. I took off the board and discovered heavy corrosion on the chip that served as the controller. It was toast.
In looking at the case, they went to a lot of trouble to make these nice waterproof connectors for the wires and sealed the case halves with a gasket but they totally neglected the battery compartment door, which snapped in and left large gaps into the interior. I guess they don’t test designs in China.
Before I tossed it all in the trash, I decided to design a new control board to replace the old one and then seal the box up tight with RTV. Works like a charm now.
In college and during his early career, Bruce Sargeant was an engineer in the audio industry (that was the high-tech at the time before computers). In 1980, he co-founded Ocean Scientific, which developed medical instruments for the clinical chemistry market. He helped grow it to over 100 employees before it was sold it in 1986. The next company he started (Frontline Technology) developed an indoor training ergometer for cyclists (called the Velodyne). The company was eventually sold to the Schwinn Bicycle Co. a couple of years later. After this, he built up a small software development company which grew into product development consulting. Currently he runs the medical instruments company that he started in 1980, after buying it back in 2004 (now called Source Scientific). He has a big design team now and, and the company actually manufactures here in the USA.