A philopsophical problem regarding board assemblers

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Recently I had a batch of boards assembled by a company and they were found to have counterfeit ics in them and the boards didn't work.
It was up to me to find out why these boards didn't work and to determine that the ics were counterfeit. I was not happy. After much too-ing and fro-ing the board assembler replaced seven ics on each board with hopefully non-counterfeit ics. After getting the boards back, I asked for evidence of the source of these ics. It seems they used another non-franchised supplier for these ics (which I thought was rather stupid considering the initial problem) and the supplier didn't want to state their source. After a bit of negotiation the supplier exposed their source and luckily it was a known and franchised distrbutor. The net result was that a lot of my time was wasted solving a problem that shouldn't have happened. Who is liable in this instance?

My question is: do you think it is important that your board assembler ensures they have a traceable supply of components? What is the usual practice in other countries?

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Well, on small lots, my assembler purchases from DigiKey. I have not yet had large enough jobs to get beyond that threshold.

I can see where this might be a real problem with assemblers. They don't have the same stake in the outcome as you do. Clearly, they could loose your business if you are not satisfied, but that is muted if they are the only practical one or if their margin is really squeezed. In commercial integrated manufacturing, I always worked with purchasing to validate sources and I don';t know what one would do on a contract bass. Sounds like a really rough spot to be in!

Jim

 

Until Black Lives Matter, we do not have "All Lives Matter"!

 

 

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You really need to control your supply chain. Especially when doing business or subcontracting your assembly to China. This is much easier said then done as not many IC or passive vendors will not want to deal direct, and if the order quantity is small even distributors won't always want to deal with you (or your contract assembly company for that matter).

As time goes on its a good idea to develop relationships with vendors and suppliers you can trust. You should specify brands for the parts you want, if dealing with Chinese assembly vendors its often a good idea to listen to suggestions / substitutes they have (eg MIC rectifier instead of Fairchild).

Specifying a board covered in ST and Fairchild chips to be made by a small scale China assembly company is often a dangerous plan.

You should also ensure you have a board test plan in place to help ensure the product is tested before it ends up in your hands.

Hope this advice helps.

oddbudman

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oddbudman - I have no control over the supply chain - the board assembler does this and the board assembler is local.

All this is before testing happens.

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For me this is fraud.

If my assembler is from the far east, then I would expect to have to deal with this at least to some extent and make sure I can live with the annoyance.

I local assemble I would expect to be much more expensive but honest. It looks like this is not the case for you. Without knowing what the situation is (contractual, financial) it is difficult to advise.

Markus

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Markus, I'm sure the assembler was not trying to be dishonest, but considering there had been a case of counterfeit ics beforehand, one would think they would've been extremely careful the second time around. Unfortunately, this is only one instance in a number of problems that really shouldn't have come to my (the customer's) attention.
The litany of problems thus far:
wrong components loaded - board reworked by hand but that introduced an number of defects.
poor soldering - the solder was all very blobby. Not a operational problem but tends to suggest the process is not controlled too tightly.
warped boards - in two dimensions! These boards had been made before, so it wasn't a design issue.
wrong components loaded again - crystals in this instance but shouldn't have made it as far as me.

When this supplier gets it right, which is most of the time, its what I expect, but they don't seem to be too interested in quality - basically shove the bits on the board and send it out. Unfortunately, that seems to sum up my experience with the other companies I've dealt with. They all talk about quality and how there'll be no problems...but I've become quite cynical.

One supplier ,that I'll quietly refer to as alfa, supplied boards that had a poorly cured soldermask along with all the connectors in backwards. After the connectors were reworked, the flux cleaner caused the soldermask to delaminate. They didn't want to take responsibility for that. Also they liked to tag down components with acetic cure Silastic! We ran away quickly. It wasn't worth persuing them legally.

So, I've had a bad run it would seem.

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Kartman wrote:
... the board assembler is local.
Local to Melbourne? I think that I would want to know who to avoid ... even if only via PM.

Ross McKenzie ValuSoft Melbourne Australia

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I have a different philosophy.

I would guess that you actually like your assembly company, and you would like to continue business with them.

So you come to a mutual arrangement over you or they supplying components.
And you provide them with a hardware diagnostic jig / program.
And you sign a contract.

No doubt, you will be testing the boards yourself. Possibly with you / they programming the final firmware.

OTOH, you may want to be punitive. I doubt if this is to anyone's advantage. If you feel they are dishonest, it is your duty to save others from a similar service.

David.

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I understand, the assembler was the victim of the counterfeit components, but as he does no testing he did not found out himself.

I think it is important that he does a minimal amount of testing. Either your assembly has a self-test procedure or you can supply him with a test rig/procedure. I'm sure quality would go up very rapidly if he can run test after assembly. The agreement should be that he ships only assemblies which pass the test, so caring for it to actually work becomes and immediate motivation.

At the moment there is a disconnect as the builders can ship broken stuff and let customer care people fix it later.

Markus

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I kit my own parts and ship to the assembly house along with the blank boards. I have asked large vendors about fake parts and they have admitted that they could in fact get into their inventory. Big and small customers can return parts unless they are NCNR orders. So bad parts could end up anywhere. I have been lucky in that even when I got parts from HKong Inventory they have been legit.

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Sounds to me like you had a number of (reasonable) expectations, which the company failed to meet...

Hence the creation of lawyers and contracts...

In life support equipment, (pacemaker, ventilator, etc.), every part is trackable back to the manufacturer, lot number etc. If a problem is recognized after the fact, one wants to know exactly which units have which components.

Customer Service in any business is a mind-set, and a way of doing business. Either they "get it", or they don't. Those that get it want to produce quality products/services, and want happy, satisfied customers.

You are paying for a service... If you are not getting what you contracted for, then take your money, and your business, elsewhere!

JC

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David P, I've been down the road of trying to negotiate a means by which we can ensure more consistant quality. The issue of testing is a thorny one, I've not yet put testing across to this company as they have yet to demonstrate that they can consistantly assemble a board to the required standard (which is standard commercial grade - no bga or difficult stuff). Having them do testing hides their inadequacies methinks. In one instance a 3V part was loaded instead of a 5V part that would've passed the electrical test but most likely would've failed in the field. A visual check identified this problem. Similarly a full size crystal was loaded instead on the miniature (HC49 vs HC49s), again electrically ok but would've failed mechanically in the field. The problems I've mentioned have not been a small percentage of the batch, but the whole batch and the problems have been able to be visually identified.

As for being punative, I would think the punishment of non-conformance is them not making their money - as non-conformance means the customer has to wear the outcome. Conformance means they make their money and the customer is happy.

Note that we're talking 6 figure sums here.

Doc, in medical, military,aerospace and automotive, traceability is crucial as you mention and is part and parcel of the whole process. In commercial though one rarely needs to follow the supply trail except in the instance of counterfeit components where once bitten, you'd probably want to ensure the source is genuine.

As part of a quality system, when a non-conformance is raised one would normally seek to find the root cause and implement a strategy to prevent the same problem occuring again. So ensuring the source of parts that have been subject to counterfeiting previously would be a reasonable strategy (to me at least). Would you consider it reasonable that the component supplier would be unwilling to divulge their source?

The downside of moving the business across to another supplier is the learning curve and the cost of retooling. Once you've got a number of products 'bedded down' with one supplier you then have to pay for the new supplier to setup the programs for the various machines and then go through the first board sign-off. BTW first board sign-off isn't quite what I thought it meant. I found a defect on the 'first board' but the whole batch of 300 were already made! They weren't happy when I suggested they scrap the boards but I relented. Net result is the customer had excessive field failures and wore the rectification cost that exceeded the cost of the whole batch cost.

This has turned out to be a bit of a vent for me!!! Am I expecting too much??

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Kartman wrote:
This has turned out to be a bit of a vent for me!!! Am I expecting too much??

No, you don't expect too much.

However, you might expect too much of that specific supplier. Unfortunately you started out being a (too) nice guy too (the first board) and you/your customers paid for the errors, not who made them.

The current dynamics of the situation are not good, your supplier has no incentive to improve the quality you are just the overly critical customer.

You either live with the current situation, put the foot down and insist on good quality and contracts who say that bad quality = no payment or change supplier and bear the associated costs.

All of those are painful, I'm afraid.

How much is the top management of this company aware of the situation ? Sometimes escalating problems helps. In some situations I ask my customers to send in official complaints as this gets management attention and priority. My employer is a large IT company, shit happens, but management is ready to deploy effort to make things right.

Markus

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My view is this: If the assembler has agreed to supply specific parts and you get counterfeit parts then you essentially did not get said parts agreed upon so it should be up to the assembler to make it right.

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Quote:

I think it is important that he does a minimal amount of testing.

I agree, based on our experience. Sometimes we go half-way to real (bed of nails, varying frequency, the whole ATE bit) testing with a purpose-built test rig. Sometimes we go with no testing as you are doing, but that is rare--usually when it is easier to do the testing after integrating with other parts of an assembly. More typical is for the board house to load a test firmware that does "stuff", and gets us 90% of the way there. Messages come up on the display; LEDs and outputs sequence; made inputs are noted.

From your litany it doesn't seem up-to-par with our local board houses. There are very few failures; the board house catches most of the problems; rework is clean; testing (and even rework) are inexpensive (considering the costs to you of crap).

Now back to the original post: with the current parts shortage our board houses are scrambling to get AVRs and relays among other components. (There is a recent thread about using Mega164 in -AQ 'cause those are the only TQFPs around for that model. So we, and the board houses, have been purchasing parts out of Guido's boot --- errr, from other than primary distribution channels. Most of the time it is still distis or traceable to them.

The rudimentary firmware and having the board house run that means we don't see the oop-ses. The sloppy quality--you have to decide that.

Lee

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig.

I've never met a pig I didn't like, as long as you have some salt and pepper.

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Here in mumbai, i can do all the sourcing of the parts and give it to an assembler who does nothing but assemble the boards, Or i can tell him to do the sourcing and insist that he source particular parts from particular suppliers.

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I am about to get 1000 boards made & stacked in Taiwan. They source all the components. So far the company has supplied 10 rapid prototypes, followed up by 100 Rev 1 boards. Before the Rev 1 boards were completed we were sent to samples to test. All boards have now been utilized with no problemsthout any problems. So far the numbers have been small, so the risk has been small too, but when you talk of thousands of units the risks become significant. Having dealt with them, they are very good in liaising and they will do anything to keep us as a customer.
The cost/unit is about 20% what we can make them for in VK, so even of we have a few duds it would not be an issue and I am pretty sure the manufacturer would come good as they are after a long term relationship. As well as doing boards they are also doing our cable looms & enclosures.

Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin & Murphy are always lurking about!
Lee -.-
Riddle me this...How did the serpent move around before the fall?