It is interesting naperlou, and something I am always trying to get across. Often times folks don't think twice about changing something material or mechanical and don't expect it to have an impact on the electronics. This story certainly proves otherwise...
Somebody needs to forward this to cochlear implant maker Advanced Bionics, which has been struggling to seal their implanted electronics for over a decade, causing losses of upwards a half-billion dollars.
It appears that on many occasions "epoxy" material is not suited for many kinds of electrical applications. I am aware of some antennas that don't work right when they are insulated with epoxy material, although one would think that they should. Moisture leaching out salts to short circuit a connector is a long way to go, though. It took good troubleshooting skills to find that problem.
The moisture absorption of polyamide is often overlooked in design. We manufacture a polyamide product that is used on average two years before discard. Consumers that were keeping the product over the two year mark complained of premature breakage of the product (non-safety related). Investigation showed that the PA absorbed enough moisture to push out the plasitcizer on the product making it brittle. As there was no other material available, we opted to put use by dates on the product to guide the consumer to when the products life was ending.
Thanks for your insightful comment Charles. In this case the change was made for the right reasons (reliability; cost was a secondary benefit) by the system engineering folks, but it had an impact on a sub-system (the sensor) - an unintended consequence. Lesson learned - evaluate everything that might be affected by a change, not just how it affects "your own stuff."
The interesting aspect of this is that the change was made, not just for cost reduction reasons, but for reliability purposes, as well. It makes me wonder if the original PTFE insulation had a problem, too. Was this a case of replacing something that wasn't working well with something that was even worse? Or was it a case of, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it?"
This story provides a good example of how a secondary effect (insulation change) caused a tertiary effect (shorted contacts). New engineers must keep these types of problems in mind when they look for the root cause of a defect. That cause isn't always obvious. Nice work.
Yes, Naperlou, this is a good example of attention to detail. Something as simple as wire insulation made difference between sensors that worked and sensors that failed. This is excellent Sherlock sleuthing.
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