A Few of My Least Favorite Things Print E-mail
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Written by Dr. H.J. Zapfardt   
Sunday, 30 November 2008 19:00

The industry’s leading curmudgeon is back and ornery as ever.

Better ManufacturingEd.: It’s December and the weather is turning cold in many parts of the land. Who better to warm things up than our favorite industry curmudgeon, Dr. Helmsley J. Zapfardt III?

Like a tented via with flux trapped inside, I have to vent. Hey, a little outgassing can be a good thing. Here are a few things that really pull my rickshaw.1

We love going to conferences. But our craws stick thinking of audience members who ask questions just for the sake of asking questions. What are you, running for office? We’re not going to make the 11 o’clock news. So can we just get on with the talks already? (And no, I’m definitely not referring to the editor of this esteemed publication. I need this job.)

Industry awards. Your product has won an “important award.” Hoo-hah! But just how did you win this prestigious prize? Was it through innovation, global recognition or forward vision? Or was it – and this is a rhetorical question – that entry fee you paid? Whatever happened to the Malcolm Baldridge Award? That was a truly coveted award, one that spoke volumes about a company. Accordingly, very few earned it. Our industry seems a little looser with the judging, if you ask me. Well, at least those trophies look good in the lobby. I say save your money and put it toward something useful, like R&D.

Unsupported equipment. Hey, that was one heckuva deal you got on that new wave solder machine. It was made in China and bears a remarkable resemblance to a higher-cost Euro-American-Asian machine in features, industrial design, even graphics. But from whom did you actually buy it? How long have they been “distributing” this brand of machine? Did you buy it from a catalog or on the Internet? Are they specialists in wave soldering, or do they also sell microscopes or catapults? In fact, as you read this, are they still distributing it? Further, where are you going to get service and applications support? To be honest, I’ve seen some pretty good knockoffs of wave-solder machines and reflow ovens coming from China; they’re relatively good at cloning these. But unless you’re incredibly self-sufficient, you need to depend on local applications, training and service support. Yet, once that crate leaves the People’s Republic, you are often on your own. So much for that bargain. You wouldn’t buy a car under these conditions, so why stake your production line, your company and your reputation on a piece of process equipment purchased that way?

Advertising in movie theatres. Nothing to do with our industry, but it jerks my chain that, after paying over $10 a ticket to see “Mama Mia”2 I have to sit through the same stupid advertisements for cellphone service, cars, video games and other crap I can see for free at home on TV. You can keep the Coming Distractions, but get rid of those damn commercials and bring back some good cartoons (showing my age here).

Bluetooth sanctimonia. You see these jerks everywhere: downtown, airports, etc. Mostly male, they walk around oblivious to the world with their Bluetooth devices in their ears, talking loudly and looking sanctimonious and important, like cyberheads with high-tech earrings. Annoying!

Cellphone distractia. Technology can be a wonderful thing and what our industry has accomplished in telecommunications is nothing short of a marvel. Cellphones and PDAs are, for the most part, a wonderful technological contribution (except for those aforementioned Bluetooth dingdongs). But cellphone use and automobile driving is a bad combination. So is texting while driving a car, truck or train. Hang up and drive!

Counterfeit components. You thought RoHS was a crisis. Ha! Compared to the new plague upon our industry, Pb-free conversion is a minor annoyance. Welcome to the scary world of counterfeit components – already in a product near you. It has been estimated that 12 to 14% of electronics products in the field contain counterfeit components. And not just cellphones, PCs and TVs, but high-rel products, including automotive, avionics and medical devices. According to the head of research for Naval Air Systems Command’s Aging Aircraft Program, “up to 15% of all spare and replacement components purchased by the Pentagon are counterfeit.”3 In most cases they resemble the “real” component in every detail, including logo and serialization. But they are bogus and will not function as their real counterparts, assuming there is anything in them at all. They’re manufactured everywhere, from “real” factories with “fourth shifts” to back-alley hovels with blacked-out windows. And they include everything from expensive ICs and memory devices to passives. We heard of one case where what the assembler thought were tantalum capacitors didn’t contain tantalum (which became apparent during burn-in). Why, you ask, would anybody counterfeit a $3 component? It’s like counterfeiting $1 bills. Because it was an order for two million parts. We’re talking about an industry worth $10 billion – and growing. Gather all the information and learn what you can. And be afraid, very afraid.

  1. This is a common colloquial expression and not a socioeconomic statement concerning our trading partners in Asia. (That will come later.)
  2. A funny movie, although no one admits to having liked ABBA.
  3. Brian Grow, et al, “Dangerous Fakes,” BusinessWeek, Oct. 2, 2008.

Dr. H.J. Zapfardt is a member of the National Academy of Arrogant Engineering and an inductee of GIT’s International Hall of Fame. He is a sought-after advisor to industry and government, or basically anyone who will put up with him. A popular speaker on the SMT “rubber chicken circuit,” he was recently cited as “a personality to avoid.” He has written more than 300 articles and textbooks, including the acclaimed A Children’s Garden of Flux. Dr. Zapfardt holds a doctorate in metaphysics from the University of Bonghit; This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .



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