This is a very timely story for me because I just spent my Saturday morning replacing a broken switch in our Washer, so this article caught my eye right away. You have to wonder about process flow in appliance manufacturing, as your example indicates a sever break in communication between development engineering (the product), technical publications (the manual), and manufacturing (Magnet-? What magnet-?). It's also very confusing today as to whom the actual manufacture is. A closer look into Corporate Names will show very blurred lines between the major plays, Whirlpool, Maytag, Kenmore, Frigidaire and others. Folks in the industry know the interrelationships but the public doesn't.
Good point on the brand name blurring, JimT. It is hard to tell. And if it's hard to tell what brand name blends with other brand names, then the whole notion of the value of brand names seems to go away.
I also think Jim has a point about the question of who's actually doing the manufacturing, i.e., multi-conglomerate companies that offshore their manufacturing to contract manufacturers. I wonder to what extent that diffusion of responsibility has created the problems we keep seeing in this column.
A few years ago I was bidding a contract at a very large Contract Manufacturer in TampaFL. The opportunity was in their division called "White Goods". Turns out they were doing the development engineering design and manufacturing for home appliances, and all the designs were distributed to 4 separate name-brands: Frigidaire, Electrolux, GE, and Whirlpool. Talk about blurring the lines. None of the 4 "Name-Brand" even did their own development work. Ergo, appliance purchases ought to based on, pretty much, the price alone.
I have to defend the manufacturers....... at least a little bit. Yes, the controls are typically the same across several brands, but the feature set is different so that the higher end control does perform a little better or has features that aren't available in the lower end unit. This is similar to automobile manufacturers developing the same car for different brand names but then adding better interior or suspension to the high-end line. Although the manufacturers do not design the controls, they do specify how the unit will operate, leaving the control as a black box for them. The manufacturers do have labs for cooking and cleaning and develop algorithms for how the appliance should operate and test the product to insure it operates as specified, they just don't use a soldering iron or a debugger.
Perhaps you're right, Tekochip. Yet sometimes it doesn't seem like they've tested their systems sufficiently. Sometimes it seems they haven't worked out all of the quality issues with their equipment. Otherwise there would be no Made by Monkeys column. It could be that manufacturers have worked out most of the bugs, and then faulty components lead the system to fail.
Is that common, Tekochip, that with retail products marketing makes the final decision? On what basis would they make the decision? Seems the needing it out in the market is not a sufficient reason to make a determination that the product is OK to produce ship.
In my experience Marketing writes the specification of what the device does and Engineering determines how to make the product. Features don't come from Engineering they come from Marketing. Certainly, there is a relationship between the two departments and a product benefits from technical and non-technical people brainstorming on what to include in the latest widget, but the specification on what a button does and where the button is located comes from Marketing.
So that means they are trying to anticipate features their customers will desire before their customers are able to articulate that desire. Are the engineers involved in the process to determine what features to develop?
I think there are two different discussions here. Rob and tekochip ended up discussing how features do (or don't) end up in a product. But the missing magnet is not a feature: it's a design flaw. Jim and I were talking about what are, in effect, organizational structures that can blur the lines between brands, in the context of situations that dilute responsibility for product QA and testing and lead to the problem discussed in the article, the design flaw of the missing magnet.
And, that corporate line is even more blurred thanks to the ingenious designation of "LLC", replacing the time-honored, "Inc.", "LTD", or "Corp." All in the name of shielding them from litigation, so as to increase the gross profit margin. Every HARVARD BUSINESS SCHOOL, WHARTON graduate should be proud!!
It doesn't surprise me that the troublehooting guide was worthless. Too often, tech manuals and troubleshooting guides appear to be afterthoughts. By the time someone puts the manual together, the company is already itching to get the product out the door, and they end up doing a poor job on it.
What happens more often is that the manual is an afterthought, and the next version of the product is already on the production schedule. Product lifecycle for many of these products is very short. easier to extract money from those folks who have to have the latest and gretest, if for no other reasn than it is the latest and greatest.
Those of us who have the ability to make a part or troubleshoot some electronic component are getting far and few between, what with most of our education system abandoning hands on tech for the much safer and cheaper theoretical tech. When I was in school we still had some shop classes and such. Today many kids have never used a tool and have never even assembled a model car. Many in the educatonal establishment think that any training that gets a students hands dirty is beneath them. If we want future engineers and technicians we need to have more classes doing dangerous stuff like building gocarts and kitcars where they can actually find out that things are made by people and not just bought at the store.
For instance - I have made a pulley for a high end color printer that was no longer made and no parts available. My church was able to use it for 6 more months and didn't have to replace it in a rush with money they didn't yet have. Replaced a transistor in the ignition module on my sons motorcycle. Module was limited availability and over $200. Looked up the part number and got a $2 FET at Radio Shack and got it going. Most folks just have to throw things out over a simple part, but they have no skills to be able reproduce it.
The manuals are generally crap. I have hundreds of manuals that I have downloaded, purchased or scanned in the last 40 odd years and the quality of them has slowly dropped to being almost useless. Schematics are getting to the point where a complete system is on half of an 8x11 sheet, too small to follow (or is it just my eye sight?). With a bit of digging around and knowledge, a lot of this stuff can be repaired quite inexpensively.
However, with the widespread use of lead-free solder and bal grid array chips, more and more consumer products are going to end up in the recycling centres or dumps. Most people can not repair these products. I have tried with some success. The problem seems to be the lead free solder as it either cracks or developes microshorts over time, rendering a product useless. Refowing with a heat gun, or if your lucky, through a reflow oven, will get a lot of these devices working for a while, but they all seem to break down again. It's great for the manufacturers as it means that they get to sell a new device, but bad for the environment. WASN'T lead free solder supposed to be beter for it?
I do a lot of repairs in my off hours on vintage audio equipment. Most of my part time customers ask if their antique gear is worth fixing. Hey, if it was working for 40 years and just failed, I would say for the few dollars it takes to get it going again, it is probably worth it. The quality of the older product is much better than anything produced today. The new stuff dies within months of the waranty expiring, the old stuff will last for another 40 years. The person doing the repair just has to have some smarts and the desire to do it. I have a radio that is over 80 years old, and it still works!
Getting back to the washer in the article, I forgot to mention that there was obviously a magnet in this thing at one time, otherwise it would never have worked. There was no obvious place on the detergent tray for it to go, other than beside where the switch was (but on the detergent drawer). I was able to squeeze a cylindrical magnet in this area and then GLUED it in place. For an extra penny, this could have been done in manufacturing, but I guess manufacturer figured that friction fitting it would be enough.
Then there are the manuals that blur out the details of the schematics to protect their intellectual property! No way to use it to flesh out a problem. The I/O edge pins are shown but that's about it! Why they bother to show any images in "the manual" is unfathomable to me.
The manuals are not very good these days. One reason, I think, is that the repair philosophy is to simply replace FRUs (Field Replaceable Units) instead of evaluating the problem at the component level. This makes field repair faster and simpler (thus you can use less highly trained labor), but it also makes it more expensive.
I think I have written before about a double oven I had. We had the vendor's repair guy come out. He isolated the problem to the FRU (the control module). The problem was that they no longer made that FRU. His solution was to replace the whole oven. That would cost $2,000 or more. Oh, and by the way, the new ones were slightly larger, so we would have to cut a bigger hole for the unit. Now, I isolated the probem down to a power transistor or two. I did not fix this myself, as I found that there were places that would repair the FRU for a fixed price. Since there was one near by, I took it to them. The price was under $200, and the work was warranted for at least six months. I did the removel and replacement myself (it was not hard) and the unit has been work great ever since.
That is just a long way of saying that, for the manufacturer, the manual is not important.
It is interesting how the repair tech said that it was the controller that was out while the problem had nothing to do with the controller. Had the neighbor spent thehigh dollars he would have disappointed again.
1.- The guy is making MONEY selling the NEW controller board, he buys at 50% discount (and even that price is astronomic, were the manufacturer and parts reseller are making a ton of money) and the customer pays FULL LIST PRICE.
Plus an OURAGEOUS hourly LABOR COST, you will be amazed how pervasive this practice is in the USA. you name it wether it's your car, to a applience, AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN.
That's why this country is WASTELAND, it costs more to fix something than the original, BRAND NEW item price, so... throw it away and buy a new one.
2.- Plain OLD IGNORANCE, the so called "technician" does NOT KNOW,
3.- The FLOOD of every year more and more new models with more STUPID gadgets, lights, buttons, bells and wistles, my new washer NOW needs an internet connection... WHAT ! ! ...
well the public will buy it, THE SHOW OFF FACTOR influence.
3.- (as part of # 2 ) Or also lack of well written service manuals, sometimes there is not even a manual... which helps to push the cycle... "throw it away and buy a new one", I think it happens sometimes ON PURPOSE, the biggest interest is in the manufacturer, finally they will sell MORE ! ! ! we will pay.
I wonder how many of these washers will be junked due to a cheap magnet applied with cheap adhesive falling off of the drawer and not having the magnet captured in a molded in area on the detergent drawer!!!
I work for a consumer applicance manufacturer. We have no problem designing quality into our produts, but consumers - you all- refuse to pay for it. They expect this years' model TV/Washng machine/toaster/pool cleaner to be cheaper than lasr years' model, and they will usually buy the item with the lowest sticker price. So either I design cheapness into the product or the consumer will buy an even shoddier - but cheaper- model from my competitor.
Battar; I'm surprised that you equate 'quality' to how good a product is. In Quality Assurance (higher dollar value than Quality Control), 'quality' is 'conformance to specifications'. Which is part of the push to 'Six-Sigma'. Advertising and maketing portray 'quality' as 'high-dollar value'. Designing a product to be 'cheap' is a problem. Improving a design to make a product 'less-expensive' is supposed to be the goal.
I have to agree with you Battar. Everything we do is about finding the lowest BOM when you're designing a high volume consumer device. As a consumer, I would pay for quality, but quality is a hidden attribute and consumers have no means of examining the quality within. How would a consumer know that one design will stand up to a 4.5KV fast transient burst and the one next to it will only handle 2.0KV because that's all the specification called for? No, the engineers in consumer goods are beat down to design the cheapest control possible. There were projects that took an extra four weeks of development so that the software could workaround a hardware issue that a simple capacitor would have fixed. The feeling being that development and software are free. Another phrase that was kicked around was that the device should "just barely work..... every time." I recall a Hardware Engineer returning from testing thrilled that his circuit was 6db above the limit. The manager scoffed, saying that the design was clearly too expensive, since a cost effective design would have passed right at the threshold.
I'm sorry, I must agree with Battar. Hanging on the WALL at your favorite Chinese goods MART the consumer will buy the cheapest appliance possible because the superior engineering and quality of the more expensive unit is a feature that can't be evaluated. Worse yet, the mart will not even stock your device if it costs much more than the competition.
It is typical for one of the general repair crew people to assume that any problem is caused by a part that they don't understand. What we see now is that manufacturers don't choose to have repair teams, but rather to contract with any party that claims to be in the repair business. So the result is that one tech is servicing appliances made by any of a few dozen manufacturers. the result is a "Jack of all trades, master of none" situation.
I often am asked to see what I can do to fix something that has been diagnosed as beyond repair, and usually I find that the actual failure is quick to find and chaep to fix. The very best example is the dvd player diagnosed as having a failed laser, which was repaierd by cleaning the laser with a tissue and alcohol, which took less than two minutes time, including opening the case and reassembling the case after cleaning.
Of course, those electronic control modules that use the cheapest board material and only house-marked parts do present a problem, since a failed processor has no available replacement source, and no information about the maker.
As for quality, most sales people immediately recite a list of features when I ask about quality, and when I ask about reliability they present the stores service contract offers. Most sales discussions end when I find that the warranty is at most 30 days.
It appears that the marketing weasles have convinced most folks that junk is what they should buy, and that a durable product is not available. That is sad indeed.
I ran the company's factory service for about ten years. Troubleshooting was always performed down to the component level in order to find the root cause and improve the design. However, I frequently saw units returned from the field that were serviced elsewhere. Routinely the largest and most complicated component or circuit board was replaced first as a "go no go" and the consumer flipped the bill. It was like the early days of Engine Management Systems in automobiles when the first thing a mechanic would do is replace "the brain box" rather than looking for a vacuum leak.
As a side note, except for the early years of 4000 logic, semiconductors rarely failed in the field unless they were abused. Most failures were to the LCD, knobs, connectors and switches. Pretty much, anything that was handled.
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