Back To The E Lab

I am impressed. Boozealler has been kicking ass working Mini-Rel. In less than a month he’s picked up quickly on every aspect of the job. Boozealler is a fast learner and his communication skills have been top notch. He’s my day shift counterpart while Greasy Guy is in Malaysia again. I’m seriously considering approaching our department managers to ask if we can keep Greasy Guy in Malaysia permanently. I don’t want him around here anymore. Greasy Guy left for Malaysia a few weeks ago and just like last time I was able to rapidly get our operation back on schedule. Now with Boozealler’s assistance we’ve even got a little ahead of things which is a first. That’s freed me up to spend more time in the environmental lab supporting vibration and shock testing.

Engineering needs more test data on our latest designs of instruments because they’ve had too many electrical failures. Personally my feeling is the latest generation of boxes we’re producing are flimsy. Bad mechanical design and shoddy workmanship from our subcontractors are serious issues. Older product platforms were built like tanks compared to this new shit. During the vibration tests I’ve observed brand new units go completely dead, the black and white front panel display screens suddenly are color (which they aren’t supposed to be able to do), power supplies arc and short out, smoke belches out of the instrument case, and other totally random stuff. For a new design I’d say none of this bodes well. These things are probably not going to last long in the field.

With each hard electrical failure both mechanical and electrical engineers are called to investigate. We’re short on time trying to introduce these products to the market before our competitors come out with a similar offering. So not enough time is being devoted to reaching solid solutions. Instead engineers are forced by time constraints to come up with band-aid fixes that won’t last.

One trend I noticed in failures at vibration test had to do with PC boards backing out of their connectors on the motherboard, which causes the instrument’s power supply to automatically shut down. Kills the unit instantly. That means there might be a hardware problem with those motherboard connectors themselves. Rather than really get down to it to discover what the root cause of the problem is, mechanical engineers opted to place a couple of foam rubber pads inside. That’s supposed to help force the boards down into their sockets. Pads like that disintegrate rapidly though so that problem will eventually surface again when those units have been in use for a while. They’re also using plastic tie-wraps all over the place to secure rigid cables throughout the units. That’s fine, but when you’re using defective plastic tie-wrap anchor points that pop off the instrument you might as well not bother.

Out behind the shock and vibration room where I spend hours at a time thrashing instruments there is a specially built room we call the Isolation Booth. Inside it reminds me of a sound studio because the walls and ceiling are covered in a pattern of special blue foam cones. The booth is used to test RFI (radio frequency interference) and EMI (electromagnetic interference) leakage. Noise like that from high end gear can affect a wide variety of electronics in a bad way. For example they might screw up someone’s Pacemaker and kill ’em. There are industry standards we have to abide by with our products so we also have to test them to see how much RFI/EMI they might be leaking and how much each box can dampen down from outside. There is a workshop pegboard just across from the isolation booth’s front door that is loaded with what look like miniature TV antennas. You know like the kind of antenna you might see towering over someone’s house. We use those to sniff the units for interference. I might be back there doing some of that testing soon. If you’re a nerd like I am shit like this is kinda cool to be working with.

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~ by factorypeasant on September 21, 2006.

2 Responses to “Back To The E Lab”

  1. Are they LCDs or LEDs, the magic B&W ones that sometimes display color? And how is that even possible? Kooky.

  2. those screens are custom built black and white displays. i forget what kind they are. i’ll find out what they’re called again… they should not be able to display anything other than that so how they were able to suddenly go bright red and yellow i have no idea. might have been a slight prism effect maybe when they got all whacked out. dunno. wasn’t a good thing though.

    here’s a breakdown of our front panel displays by decade

    1950s-1960s mechanical/nixie tubes
    1970s LEDs
    1980s VFDs/LCDs
    1990s-present ?

    that’s just for sig gens. other product lines used all sorts of weird shit we cooked up or bought from outside vendors.

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