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Author Topic: Transceiver Service Period  (Read 4327 times)

Posts: 1376

« Reply #30 on: August 22, 2011, 06:09:37 PM »

I work with industrial grade communications gear for SCADA systems as a factory certified rep and there have been several products out there where they have tens of thousands of radios in the field and suddenly some component manufacturer announces EOL (end of life) on a component and there is a mad scramble to stock up on parts. Suddenly they need to design a new product that is backwards compatible with the existing technology yet also support the latest in narrowbanding or cyber-security, etc...

When I design a communications system the question inevitability comes up, "how long will this system last before it becomes obsolete?". That used to be a fairly easy question to answer, the manufacturer would even give a written guarantee that they would provide replacements and repair parts for x number of years and it could be written into the contract. Today all bets are off, that new radio may be EOL in a year or two years. It just depends upon parts availability from a third party.

Here is an example of how I ended up in a pickle by recommending a specific product to solve a very specific problem. In the 928/ 952 MHz MAS spectrum there are a great many licensed SCADA systems in use by utilities. One of the downsides is that in the 928 MHz band you also are in close proximity to digital paging services (those alpha numeric pagers). The pager transmitters put out enough power to completely overload the front-end of the MAS repeater, desensing it and making it deaf to weaker sites trying to access the repeater. You think of that and go, "yea, put a filter cavity on that repeater and just shut down those nasty interfering signals". Well, I found a filter called the "Ultra-Q" made by a little company called Bartley. It was a mechanical filter that had some sort of stepper motor/ servo setup and it could significantly attenuate a signal as close as 12.5 KHz away from the pass frequency. It was the dream in fixing a great many problems as the insertion loss was very low, you could program the filter with a custom app and a USB cable... Very neat.

One day, Barklay just could not deliver the filters any more. I had an outstanding order for seven filters that were needed to fix a major problem for a utility. Months of delays began to stack up and finally the folks at the manufacturer told me that a certain company stopped making a single component and their design was dead in the water. If I was Japanese I would have been obliged to open my belly up with a short sword as I had committed to this customer that I could fix their problem. Bartley is back in the filter business but the delays ended up in a lost opportunity for the company I worked for at the time.

(BTW, if you own a repeater that has problems I really suggest you consider this route, they are nice people) (I have no financial interest in this recommendation)

That is how easy it is for a single product to die an early death due to parts obsolescence. There is no way that this little company that made those filters could make the manufacturer restart the production line for them.

Now think of the hundreds of special run components that are inside of each modern radio in the amateur radio market. As has been mentioned, ASIC's, FPGA's, mixer modules, power transistors (Yaesu FT-100d), etc... are made by companies that do not really give one whit that a production line shutdown or product lineup change can have a ripple effect through a manufacturer.

I restore and use boat-anchors, not just because I find them something that I can repair fairly easily but when they are fixed properly they can be very reliable. I have enough tubes, caps, resistors, etc... to probably rebuild every boat anchor I own several times over. For the solid state stuff I buy used and I buy a spare rig that can act as a hangar queen to rob of critical parts. Yes, I will probably get a K3 because I like the specifications, form factor, etc... and it would be nice to own a few rigs that are designed for ham ops (some I own are not so friendly as they lack amenities like RIT, oodles of filter options or even a BFO).

One bunch of lunatics with just a few gadgets can knock back the fragile pyramid of high-tech to 1955 and frankly there just are not that many folks out there who could start over and re-learn the art of homebrew or the advantages of a pentode over a triode.
« Last Edit: August 22, 2011, 06:17:12 PM by AA4HA » Logged

Ms. Tisha Hayes, AA4HA
Lookout Mountain, Alabama

Posts: 473

« Reply #31 on: August 23, 2011, 08:37:58 AM »

That sounds painfully familiar.

I have had a few similar experiences (One of which convinced me to figure out how to build high Q notches from coupled stub lines, not hard if you have a VNA for tuning), got to hate it when a upstream suppliers supplier drops something unique (National Semi looking at YOU!).

I admit to still being surprised by seriously custom parts going into ham grade kit, guess I don't see the point, even something like a FTdx5000 does not actually push the receive performance limits that hard (I can beat the IP3DR by 10db with a homebrew radio (not easily, and not small, but it can be done using off the shelf sand)). I mean at the end of the day filters, mixers & local oscillators (which are the performance critical parts) are fairly well understood and are for the most part things you can build with parts second sourced from multiple suppliers.

I would be very surprised to see any more then a minimal amount of single sourced components going into a amateur service radio (Some of the Analogue devices stuff is a potential problem in this respect (DDS and VGA parts mainly), but push comes to shove there are other ways to do those bits), the risks of single sourced parts are just too great for the manufacturer to design them in without good reason. 

I still say the biggest liability when it comes to being able to get the things fixed is the custom buttons, knobs and (particularly) LCD  displays. These tend to be both custom parts and the ones that take damage, a custom BGA package is (Provided you are not dumping massive amounts of heat in it ("Playstation"/"X-Box" video chip style), actually really **very** reliable.

Custom OLED is actually worse as that has a very finite life expectancy due to the organic polymer breaking down with use.

BTW: I am very much an amateur at this stuff, having not worked in electronics for a long time and having no formal training in the subject whatsoever.  If anyone in the UK is looking to hire a self taught radio hacker, please talk to me!


Posts: 3833

« Reply #32 on: August 24, 2011, 04:01:31 AM »

I admit to still being surprised by seriously custom parts going into ham grade kit, guess I don't see the point, even something like a FTdx5000 does not actually push the receive performance limits that hard (I can beat the IP3DR by 10db with a homebrew radio (not easily, and not small, but it can be done using off the shelf sand)). I mean at the end of the day filters, mixers & local oscillators (which are the performance critical parts) are fairly well understood and are for the most part things you can build with parts second sourced from multiple suppliers.

You have to consider the bigger picture.

The typical high-performance-and-features amateur HF transceiver is expected to do a whole bunch of things in arelatively small box. Transceive, split, memories, multiple modes, computer control, etc., etc. The market is small but competitive and the expectations high. Custom parts are a way to keep the cost and size down.

Building a one-off or specialized rig for your own use is a very different game from mass production for a "consumer" market.

73 de Jim, N2EY

Posts: 473

« Reply #33 on: August 24, 2011, 07:54:21 AM »

Granted the expectation is a lot in a small box (Rather too small for my fingers in some cases), but when you look at the actual feature set on something like a FTdx5K (Sorry Vertex Standard for picking on your radio, other high end sets are similar), what you discover is that ok, it needs a DSP core and possibly also a microcontroller (You can combine the two), but once you have those anyway things like split, multiple modes, memories, audio processing on transmit and CAT become "A trivial matter of software".

I still say the major custom parts consumer is the front panel, and the major repair risk is the LCD, followed by the digital bits due to inability to obtain the image files needed to flash a stock part and as ever the power supply (Custom switcher transformers are a bigger pain then custom line frequency iron ever was).

I note that they make a marketing feature out of a custom DSP part, which I really do not see the need for, there just cannot be that much going on to warrant it.

I would note that anyone buying such a radio is going to ship it back to the manufacturer for repair and that they are going to keep a reasonable stock of spares (Kind of embarrassing to sell something like that then be unable to fix it a few years later), the real risk is probably far more in the midrange and cheap sets that are going the same way.

Of course some of us consider a broken high end rig at a rally for a few percent of its new price to be a gift from the gods, so bring it on.......

Of course commercial production has a different set of marketing imperatives, fixed costs and per unit costs then my building a radio in my basement does, that is obvious, but the architecture is very similar in both cases in all probability.

Regards, Dan.


Posts: 3833

« Reply #34 on: August 28, 2011, 01:45:21 PM »

Y'know, this business of custom parts isn't exactly new.

Way back in the 1950s and 1960s, Heathkit stuff was very popular with hams. Particularly their transmitters. The DX- series were pretty straightforward - with one exception: they used reallly oddball power transformers.

From what I've read and heard, Heath put their entire transformer-and-choke business up for bid every so often, and the contract was big enough that they could get custom parts for no extra charge. So their designers had a free hand in designing the power supplies for maximum simplicity and minimum cost.

Not only did such freedom reduce costs, it eliminated the problem of knock-offs by other companies (compare the Johnson Viking Adventurer to the Knight-Kit "T-50" - Knight simply copied the EFJ design).

This approach also helped eliminate homebrew copies of Heath designs. This was probably less of an issue, because the typical homebrewer couldn't build an equivalent rig from all-new parts for what a Heathkit cost anyway.

It also meant that when a part failed, the only place to get a replacement was Heathkit.

Sometimes this backfired - the DX-35 and DX-40 were famous for power-transformer failures, to the point that many have been modified to use standard transformers and a bridge rectifier circuit.

Of course the really cool thing about rigs of that era is that, with a little ingenuity, they can be kept working almost forever.

73 de Jim, N2EY
« Last Edit: August 28, 2011, 01:47:01 PM by N2EY » Logged
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