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Elizabeth M
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Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/8/2013 5:53:09 AM
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This is another case in which it would be good to hear from the company's designers to see why exactly they made the washer this way. You say that "the designer group had very little knowledge of reliable solid-state electronics." But shouldn't the company know better? And shouldn't they be held accountable somehow or try to improve this situation?

TJ McDermott
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Re: Design questions
TJ McDermott   7/8/2013 9:40:39 AM
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Elizabeth, sometimes you run across a system that has the feel of being designed by a bunch of fresh-from-school engineers without enough experienced supervision.  This story has that feel.

The company as a whole may very well know better, but the company isn't a homogeneous whole.

As to accountable, the only time that happens is for safety (think automobile recalls).  If the interior door cosmetic panel has a push-in plastic fastener that fails after the warranty expires, and fails consistently, I doubt the automobile company will recall the panel.

lbeaty
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Iron
Re: Design questions
lbeaty   7/8/2013 10:43:14 AM
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Elizabeth,

I agree with your comment.  This washer had class action law suits against the company.  I suspect that got the attention of the designer of the washer!

For many years i learned how to build reliable electronics.  But i spent many years learning!  Here is the value of an old engineer!

Larry

tekochip
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Platinum
Re: Design questions
tekochip   7/8/2013 5:09:08 PM
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The Calypso was a nightmare.  I tried to hang onto mine, I figured since I didn't pay for it, I could afford a few repairs.  First the level sensor went.  Then there was a huge problem with the suds lock sensor on the pump.  Some pumps worked, some pumps didn't even though there wasn't really anything wrong with the pump.  Then the transmission would get grease all over your clothes, and that was a big issue.  Finally, the transmission in mine failed, so I bought a new machine. 
 
This machine also has the cute change cup to catch foreign material like coins before they eat the pump (sometimes guitar picks, too), but you have to take the machine half apart to get to the cup.
 
The guys at Whirlpool tried to make a nice machine with unique features, but they really over-engineered the machine and then rushed it to market without fully testing it- probably because the project had already taken so long to develop.


Charles Murray
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Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/8/2013 7:10:56 PM
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I agree, Liz. The design group should know better and maybe they do. As you correctly point out, this is another case where we need to hear from the manufacturer.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/9/2013 3:58:32 AM
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Yes, Chuck, I'm thinking the idea to hear from the manufacturers on some of these design-flaw issues is not just a great idea, but almost becoming necessary. People spend a lot of money on products and we are meant to trust that the people designing them know better than we do how to make a solid project. With all the consumer fixes we see in Design News columns, it's clear that many times this isn't true. There needs to be some accountability, I think.

J. Niiranen from ABB
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Iron
Re: Design questions
J. Niiranen from ABB   7/9/2013 8:55:03 AM
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Interesting to hear about the capacitor problem. Is this the same issue that there was with several brand refrigerator/freezers? The power supply of the electronics was apparently done by capacitive divider. The film capacitor lost gradually its capacitance (self healing action due to transients or faulty lot) until it was so small that the electronics started to work intermittenly manifesting itself by the lamp blinking (thus causing the syndrome to be called as disco syndrome).

Because of the number of these incidents and the high price of the replacemet control board there is a DIY instructions how to change the capacitor:

http://www.elisanet.fi/mtj/santo/AEG-Santo-fix.html

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Design questions
Rob Spiegel   7/9/2013 3:21:40 PM
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Hey J. Niiranen. Your reference to problems you've seen would make a good Made by Monkeys blog. Please write it up and send it along to: rob.spiegel@ubm.com

J. Niiranen from ABB
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Iron
Re: Design questions
J. Niiranen from ABB   7/10/2013 3:07:02 AM
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Dear Rob Siegel, this fridge capacitor issue does not make a good Made by Monkeys case because it is difficult to say who to blame.

The capacitor has 275 V AC rating according to the photograph and thus it should be OK for 230 V supply. Thus most likely the reason has been either wrong labeling of the capacitors, defect in manufacturing of the capacitors or even fault in the manufacturing process of the metallized foil.

According to the discussion forums the problems started around 2005 typically after 2-3 years of operation and thus this kind of failure mechanism is difficult to find at factory testing even if you do some acceleration testing.

The problem with these kind of slowly developing faults is that quite a many products have been made before there is any indication that something is wrong.

Good question is if the faulty capacitors could have been detected by overvoltage testing of them.

Naturally it would be nice to hear what was the actual reason for the problem.

By the way, regarding capacitors and possibly related with this, it may not be a well known fact that "Y" RFI capacitors are designed to fail to open circuit due to safety reasons (short circuit would make the chassis under line voltage) and thus it is typical that these lose gradually their capacitance. Thus it may be that old equipment does not anymore fulfill the radio frequency emission limits.

 

Analog Bill
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Gold
Re: Design questions
Analog Bill   7/9/2013 12:16:44 PM
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Based on my experiences, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting to hear from the designers!  I'm an (analog) electronic circuit designer and do a lot of teaching via trade-show seminars and writing (was even an invited lecturer at MIT in 2007). My company specializes in solving signal interface noise issues (hum and buzz in audio or "hum bars" in video) and, as a result, I end up talking technicians through troubleshooting steps to identify and fix the problem. Many times, the problem is due to a design defect in the equipment. If I call the equipment manufacturer to get more information or point out a design issue, it is *extremely* difficult to actually get to the designer. Sometimes, I have to actually create a partial schematic of the product myself (manufacturers often treat the simplest "me-too" designs as if they were top secret). Since they won't lift a finger to help ... I then use their faulty design as an example in my seminars (as a "don't do this") and I identify the make and model. Students love this honesty but, when word reaches the manufacturer, the reaction is very different. Usually, the threatening e-mail comes first ... whereupon I remind them that I tried to enlist their cooperation but they refused and that it's not libel unless the information I spread is false, whereupon I challenge them to refute any of the facts ... and call off your lawyers. A few times, I've been visited by the company's PR and marketing folks (acting a bit like a "goon squad") to intimidate me to shut up. I tell them I'll happily spread the word that the problem is fixed ... if they're willing to be part of the solution rather than the cover-up. It doesn't always work, but I find public embarrassment to be a powerful tool. I can recall only two cases where the manufacturer not only supplied my requested inforrmation, but actually implemented the design change I suggested ... and sent me one of their power amplifiers as a "thank you" gift!  The company is Rotel, by the way.  - Bill Whitlock, president & chief engineer, Jensen Transformers, Life Fellow of the Audio Engineering Society, Life Senior of the IEEE

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/9/2013 6:56:11 PM
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Thanks for the input, Analog Bill. It's disappointing to hear that the manufacturer's designers are often so reticent to respond. But the top secret mentality has always been there among appliance manufacturers. We've seen it repeatedly in the press. So, yes, it's disappointing but not surprising.  

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/9/2013 6:59:33 PM
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One more point about the "top secret" mentality, Analog Bill. Over the past 25 years, I've learned that I can get a quick callback from most automakers when I call with a question. Not so with appliance makers. Usually, I run into dead ends and unreturned calls.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/10/2013 4:52:33 AM
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That's really interesting, too, Chuck. So it seems like the automakers are a little more forthcoming about things, whereas manufacturers want to bury their heads in the sand. Like I said i my previous comment, this is not good news for people using potentially defective products.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/10/2013 7:54:55 PM
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Yes, Liz, most of the automakers have teams of PR people who help answer questions. Appliance manufacturers, in contrast, have PR departments, but they often treat journalists as adversaries, and seem to believe their role is to keep us at arm's length.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/11/2013 6:18:33 AM
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Sounds similar to how some companies would deal with me when I covered the business side of the technology industry. It wasn't really industry-specific like this, though. Some companies had PR people that wanted to help and work together with journalists, while others, like appliance manufacturers, viewed journalists as the enemy. It's really a shame that they behave in this way, especially since it really hurts the consumer, who is investing hard-earned money and trying to make good buying decisions. They deserve the truth.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/11/2013 6:06:43 PM
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A few years back, Liz, we gave a quality award to an appliance manufacturer. A year later, I called with a question, and they wouldn't respond. I guess I should have offered them another award.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/15/2013 5:27:33 AM
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Ha, Chuck, that is funny...and quite telling! I did sometimes feel when I was having a hard time getting answers that the only way to get the info you want sometimes as a journalist is to offer a company a "good" article about them. But that would be fair, would it? And isn't that the point of what we're doing--to be fair? Manufacturers of consumer goods in particular should be more, not less interested in this concept.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/17/2013 7:47:13 PM
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I have to say, Liz, that I am also baffled by the manufacturers' unwillingness to speak to the press. I'm more impressed if a manufacturer steps up to a forum like this one and says, Here's why we had (or didn't have) this problem."

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/18/2013 5:59:06 AM
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You're so right, Chuck. I don't think they should just see it automatically as a negative and perhaps take the opportunity to educate people about their products..maybe people are using them incorrectly or are misinformed about features or technology. But not everyone sees it that way, obviously.

Charles Murray
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Charles Murray   7/19/2013 6:46:10 PM
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I believe that the auto industry views reporters as a free marketing arm, whereas these guys obviously don't.

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/22/2013 8:56:05 AM
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Ah, that would make a difference, wouldn't it, Chuck. Not exactly the best view to have, but at least it makes them more responsive!

wbswenberg
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Gold
Intimidation to Answers
wbswenberg   8/18/2013 12:45:40 PM
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How to get answers?  I was doing worst case design analysis and needed the substraight thermal resistance.  I would call and ask. Stone wall - no reply.  I would inflate the number required.  And said that if I don't get an answer I will have to find another device.  Quick finical calculations 10000 devices at $3 apiece.  I was actually designing for MX missile basing and there are just not that many silos.  

Elizabeth M
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Blogger
Re: Design questions
Elizabeth M   7/10/2013 4:51:03 AM
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Thanks for that real-world perspective, Analog Bill. I am not surprised the manufacturers act that way but it is a bit disheartening. You'd think they'd want advice on how their products could be improved and even potentially be less dangerous to consumers.

Tool_maker
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Platinum
Re: Design questions
Tool_maker   7/10/2013 4:50:27 PM
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Elizabeth: Before the manufacturer can want to help, they have to admit that they made a mistake. Lawyers make millions from manufacturers who admit to a poor design. Perhaps they think it is better to be quiet and hope the problem goes away.

  There is also the internal problem of finger pointing as to who screwed up. I have worked places where it is more important to lay blame than solve problems. I also think the earlier post about greenhorn engineers often plays a role in these messes.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Design questions
tekochip   7/10/2013 5:14:17 PM
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I read about a motorcycle manufacturer that had developed a driveshaft system for their bike. Unfortunately changes in torque, like accelerating or downshifting, would cause the the driveshaft to apply force to the rear suspension. The rear suspension would then get a little taller or a little shorter with the changing torque and this would change the rider's center of gravity, which would cause handling problems, particularly if the rider downshifted and then accelerated through a turn.

When the trade magazines reviewed the motorcycle the Engineering Department developed a new rear suspension that would have eliminated the shaft effect, but the Legal department said that making the change on the next model year would suggest that there was a safety issue with the previous model year and expose the company to legal action.

So much for product improvement.

William K.
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Platinum
Re: Design questions
William K.   7/10/2013 9:25:05 PM
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It is a real pity that our lawyers act like a bloodthirsty mob of hungry ants, and worse yet that the judges approve of this. So it goes, that many omprovements are met with "why didn't you do it right the first time? ", which is certainly an attitude that would tend to stifle any desire to provide real improvements. Even the quite intensely regulated auto industry suffers from it a bit. 

As for the problems with the Whirlpool washer, they were about what I would expect to see. I know that is quite a cutting remark, but true it is.

RICKZ28
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Design questions - old shaft drive motorcycle handling
RICKZ28   7/12/2013 12:24:01 PM
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I remember handling was a common problem with all the early driveshaft motorcycles (late 1970's-early 1980's), as I was an avid rider back when driveshaft motorcycles first became prevalent (I read those motorcycle magazines for years).  [Actually, I believe the correct motorcycle term is "shaft drive".]  When accelerating, the rear suspension of shaft drive motorcycles would raise the back of the motorcycle, due to the pinion gear climbing-up the ring gear.  This was easily visible when watching shaft drive motorcycles while riding alongside (I always had and rode chain drive motorcycles).  When letting off the throttle with shaft drive, such as going into a turn, the rear suspension would lower the back of the motorcycle, sometimes causing handling problems or pavement contact.  This was the exact opposite way that chain driven motorcycles reacted (rear suspension compresses during acceleration, raises when letting off the throttle), so probably many new riders to shaft drive motorcycles needed a period of adjustment.

From my understanding, the reason for motorcycle driveshaft is for less noise and less maintenance than chain drives.  Chain drive is more efficient, weighs less, and provides more power to the pavement, so used more on sport bikes.  Shaft drive is used more on cruising bikes, since adjusting the chain is easier said than done on a large motorcycle.

Perhaps the best is the cog-belt drive used on many modern motorcycles; quiet, no need for adjustment like chains, and more efficient than shaft drive.  

I don't ride anymore (I was a sport bike rider), now I'm just a "cage" driver (car driver), but I still admire and like to look at motorcycles, all brands and types, new and old.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Design questions - old shaft drive motorcycle handling
tekochip   7/12/2013 9:33:15 PM
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Yup, I had a Virago back in the Eighties.  I enjoyed the low maintenance of a shaft (I once had a chain wrap around the rear axle of a bike and lock up the wheel at highway speed), but the shaft effect was a real eye opener.  I learned to down shift BEFORE the turn, never IN the turn, and wouldn't loan the bike to anyone because she lived up to her name - if you don't mind a trip to the dictionary.
 
I was appalled when I read in the trades that shaft would not be tamed because of litigation fears.  As an engineer I still find it astounding that a product would not be made better and safer because the company feared litigation on the basis that a change would not have been made if the company had not feared that the original product was unsafe.


Cadman-LT
User Rank
Platinum
Secret combo
Cadman-LT   7/16/2013 9:54:41 AM
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I love it when they incorporate those secret combos into things. The only way to know them IS with a proper service manual, which or course only repair men have. I had a tv like that. It had issues so I called my tv repair buddy over. He hit the code..bam bam bam...it was fixed! They should include the codes with the unit, but I suppose if they did that you wouldn't: A: have to call a repair man or B: just buy a new one.

tekochip
User Rank
Platinum
Re: Secret combo
tekochip   7/17/2013 12:57:24 PM
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There are a few reasons to keep the codes or "key dance" semi-secret.  This is
an Engineering message board, so the readers are more educated than the average
consumer.  If the average consumer had access to the service codes EEPROMs would
be erased, motors would be run through life tests, thermometers would be
recalibrated, dogs would be sleeping with cats.... total chaos.

Kirk McLoren
User Rank
Silver
Re: Secret combo
Kirk McLoren   7/25/2013 12:00:45 AM
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I suppose all that's so but these lads evidently couldn't properly fit a wire.

I am not sure that I like a manufacturer treating me as a mushroom. I usually repair my gear out of necessity. I want that option open.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Blogger
Re: Secret combo
Charles Murray   7/25/2013 9:07:49 PM
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I think the vast majority of readers on our website would agree with you, Kirk McLoren. Many people, and certainly most engineers, would prefer that manufacturers make their products so they can be repaired by the owners.

AnandY
User Rank
Gold
Re-Secret combo
AnandY   7/26/2013 6:02:42 AM
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It is in good course for the manufacturers to keep the secret codes to themselves but they should also consider the impact the move might impose on their customers. Some equipments can break down at the wee hours of the night and force someone to wait till dawn in order to get them repaired, am not disputing their reasoning but the odds are better with the codes out in the open.



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