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Modern Electronics.  

By Glenn

The following is nothing more than a gripe, a whine. But it's a subject that has been on my mind for a few years now and I'm sure others share my views.

Although I've played with electronics since I was 10, it wasn't until I started work for Telecom ( the Australian telecommunications network, now called Telstra ) in 1982 that my formal training began. The training provided by Telecom was first class, and covered just about everything from electronics theory, power supplies, microwave transmission lines to the likes of computer programming and diesel engine repair. Back then Telecom was well staffed and we spent most of the day maintaining the equipment. Maintenance included things like regular servicing of the remote diesel generators, replacing all the electrolytic capacitors in power systems every 5 years, and testing everything, so we could predict if a unit was going to fail in the next few months and we would replace it before it did. The Telecom service was very reliable and rated 3rd best in the world after Japan and Sweden.

But the powers that be didn't see any profit margin in maintenance and our staff levels were decimated. As an example when I worked at the local phone exchange, catering to 10,000 lines, we had 30 staff members. Now there are 2.

I was made redundant as part of the down sizing in 1989, no regrets and took with me some excellent technical training and know-how.

I then started working in consumer electronic repair, including stereos, tvs and video players. At first it took a little time to get used to the lower quality of this type of electronics compared to the high quality of telecommunications systems, but that was only the start. In the mid 1990's I started to see a lot of very cheap equipment appearing from "new economy" Asian countries. This was not the usual good standard from Japan, but very poor quality from countries like China. Now let me say that some equipment from China is excellent, especially industrial electronics, but a lot of the consumer electronics is absolute rubbish. While it is true that you get what you pay for, some level of quality AND SAFETY is still expected. It even got to the stage where I could open up a stereo or tv and know it was made in China without even looking at the sticker. I also believe some gear was designed to fail just after the warranty expired. As an example, a common CD player used 2 small black rubber belts, one to drive the lens carrier back and forward, and the other was used to eject the cd tray. After about 1 year, just past the warranty period, one of the belts would turn into black rubber gunk, a bit like uncured silicon. This stuff would stick to everything and metho was needed to clean up the pulleys. The other belt was in perfect condition. So the manufacturer chose to use belts made from two different materials, one that would fail and one that would continue to operate for years.

My own home entertainment system consists of a 30 year old Sansui stereo, and a 20 year old NEC TV, both performing well. Friends have ask me why I dont get a new system. Something about it would look better, match the carpet, etc. Could I expect to get the same service life from a new system? Why not?

When I applied for and received my electrical ticket I had to pass a lot of safety tests and procedures. I learnt about the Australian safety standards and what was defined as legal to use in Australia. As the ticketed electrician it was my duty to check if something was safe and if not I was required to cut off the power lead and deem it as unsafe for use. Well let me tell you that most of the cheap electronic goods imported into Australia is not safe and it would be illegal to plug into a power point. I dont understand how this rubbish is allowed into the country. I had to tell a lot of my customers that their faulty stereo or TV was not safe and I couldn't legally repair it.

This is also a problem with electronic components purchased from the local electronics store. In Australia we have a local home grown electronics supplier, I wont mention the name but the company was founded by a young aviator with a well known name. He sold the company in the 1980's ( I think ) and moved on to better things, best of luck to him.

Now I have purchased resistors from this store that had incorrect colour codes, remarked transistors, or components that were dead. Recently I purchased a full wave bridge rectifier, a 35amp 50v unit. The rectifier was marked AC and + on one side, well this was wrong. When I connected the rectifier it blew a fuse and I couldn't work out why. It wasn't until I grabbed a multimeter and checked the internal diodes that I realised the rectifier was marked wrong! The markings were printed on the wrong side of the rectifier package. Looking at the pins there is one pin at a different angle to the others and this one ended up being the + terminal, even though it was marked as the AC terminal. I figured it was a once off and connected it as per the readings on my multimeter. It later shorted out when feeding only 10 amps, so I bought another one and would you believe it was also marked wrong! So there could be hundreds of the incorrectly marked rectifiers on the market. And where was the rectifier made? One guess.

I understand that you get what you pay for in consumer electronics, if you pay peanuts you get monkey poo. But components should be another mater. I cant choose the make or country of manufacture of a 10 cent resistor. I have no choice but to buy rubbish and hope its what it says it is on the case. I now test all components with a multimeter, you cant trust the markings.

© TheBackShed 2011