Quality and Ethics

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Quality and Ethics

More and more it seems that companies, governments and individuals see business as a zero-sum game. Rather than producing something of value, they try to grab more of the pie for themselves while contributing nothing to it. Rather than doing R & D themselves, large corporations buy up smaller more innovative companies, thereby reducing competition and allowing them to charge inflated prices and make higher profits without producing anything of real value.

Far from trying to help this situation, government is pushing it forward faster and faster by its low interest rate cheap money policy which enables and encourages the behavior. Production of useful durable goods generates wealth. Consumption of non-durable goods depletes wealth, yet the government’s measure of economic activity, GDP or Gross Domestic Product,  which they present as a measure of wealth, would more accurately be called Gross Domestic Transactions. It does not distinguish between money spent building the Hover Dam, which has provided vast amounts of low cost electrical power for decades after completion, and money spent ripping up and re-paving perfectly good roads, as I saw done in my own community as part of some government stimulus program.

Hong Kong provides an example of the benefits of ignoring government financial data: Sir John James Cowperthwaite was a British civil servant and the Financial Secretary of Hong Kong from 1961 to 1971. His introduction of free market economic policies are widely credited with turning postwar Hong Kong into a thriving global financial center. He was asked to find ways in which the government could boost post-war economic outlook but found the economy was recovering swiftly without any government intervention. He refused to collect economic statistics to avoid officials meddling in the economy. Commentators have credited his management of the economy of Hong Kong as a leading example of how small government encourages growth.

Quality:

People used to have an intuitive feel for quality, but government and business sponsored Quality Assurance programs such as the ISO 9000 family have perverted the concept of quality to the point that I have heard people state with confidence that quality and reliability are two unrelated things, that quality equals performing to specifications, no matter what those specifications are, and regardless of how quickly the product falls apart. The programs purport to assure quality by adherence to documented procedures, while in actuality, the programs, even if actually followed after the auditor has left the building, will at best only aid in providing a consistent product. Quality is primarily determined by the design, and only after proper design can it be assured by adherence to procedures.

At Nanodyne, a quality product must be pleasing to use, simple to set up and operate, and durable. Of course cost will impose certain trade offs, but the added cost to improve quality is usually less than one might think. The cost to produce an ergonomic design that is pleasing rather than unpleasant to use may only be a little time by someone with more than half a working brain thinking about how the product will be used. As described in more detail below, a 20% reduction in maximum LED operating current can almost double the operating life, for an insignificant reduction in light output.

For microscope illuminators, the components most likely to limit the life of the product are the LED, the adjustment potentiometer, cooling fans,  and the case.

LED: The life of the LED can be drastically extended by operating it at less than the maximum rated current and temperature. All of our products are designed to keep the LED temperature less than 85 C, Vs. the maximum rating of 150 C. the majority of our products use the CREE XLAMP XT-E LED. It has a rated maximum current of 1.5A, but no life test data at that current. At 1.25A and 85 C, it loses 10% of its brightness after 19,300 hrs and 20% after 41,400 hrs. While this still gives it a respectable life span, it does present a definite limit to the useful life. We limit the maximum current to 1.0 A, where the time for a 10% loss of brightness is increased to 35,500 hrs, and the time for a 20% loss is increased to 67,700 hrs. At a 30% loss, the time is 104,000 hrs. Given that many of our systems provide 10 times the light output of what they are replacing, they will likely be operated at well below the maximum level, and the expected useful lifetime of the LED is likely many hundreds of thousands of hours. We could save something like $0.50 by using a smaller LED rated at 1.0 A, but since the savings is insignificant compared to the total cost, the only reason to do it would be for planned obsolescence, which we consider to be unethical.

As of 2-19-2015 some of the above LED life data was not yet published by CREE, but was made available by them to Nanodyne, and the report can be accessed here.

Potentiometer: Since the adjustment pot is a mechanical component with sliding parts, it is subject to wear and has a finite life. Some pots which cost less than $0.50 have a rated life of 200 turns or less. A rated life of 5000 turns is common at a price of $1-2. Our products use a precision audio pot with a rated life of 50,000 rotations which costs about $6. The rotational life criteria from the manufacturer for this pot is a 5% change in resistance, which will have negligible effect on the operation of our circuit, which was designed to be insensitive to absolute change in the pot resistance, and only sensitive to the relative resistance from the wiper to the two ends, so our circuit will continue to function well beyond 50,000 rotations. Even if the pot eventually fails completely at some point, the control circuitry will then go to either full or mid scale output, depending on the model, rather than zero output as many original illuminators we have seen.

Cooling Fan: Nanodyne does not use a cooling fan in any of its current LED illuminators. We use a larger heat sink that provides more than adequate cooling by natural convection, rather than a smaller heat sink and a fan. Fans have a limited life of typically 3 to 5 years under normal conditions, and produce noise and vibration varying from tolerable for more expensive units to horribly irritating for some of the cheaper ones (for certain extremely sensitive measurement instruments such as nanoindenters, no fan has a tolerable level of vibration). Our convectively cooled units are completely silent and free of vibration.  We also thought that since many of our systems will be used in clean rooms, using a fan to blow air through an impossible to clean out dust reservoir just before spewing it out over your work area might be good to avoid, but maybe we’re just picky about stuff like that.

Case: Many microscopes made in the last 10-20 years have illuminator housings made of cheap, poor quality plastic which is prone to damage at the slightest abuse, or even from normal use due to material degradation over time. Nanodyne uses 6061 T6 high strength machined aluminum for its cases, making them indestructible for all practical purposes. Our fasteners are high strength socket head cap screws with a minimum yield strength of 162,000 psi, rather than the cheap, easily stripped low strength phillips head screws commonly used by the microscope manufacturers, with a strength as low as 30,000 psi.

Last words on quality and reliability: Like Hewlett-Packard and Tektronix test equipment equipment that was still used by university labs, small start ups, hobbyists and other cost-conscious users 20, 30, even 50 years after production, we expect there will still be functional Nanodyne microscope illuminators from today after more than 30 years. With formerly great companies like Hewlett-Packard selling their souls to Wall Street and changing their name to Agilent (wtf does that mean?), and the original name being used to sell little plastic containers with $0.25 of ink for $25, Nanodyne strives to be remembered as one of the great technology companies, operating in the old and now nearly defunct tradition of delivering a solid well-built product at a good value, without hidden cost traps like planned obsolescence.

Ethics Policy:  The closest we have to an official ethics policy is on this page. Detailed and specific policies seem to be created to obscure unwritten approval of unethical and sometime illegal behavior for short term profits, as with Enron and their 64 page Code of Ethics.