Made in China

Wilson’s world

David Wilson is editor of Engineeringtalk and Electronicstalk and associate editor of The Engineer

The design engineering team at the multinational conglomerate was justifiably proud of its new electronic subsystem. Having taken it from a concept through an exhausting prototyping and testing phase, the new product was now ready to start rolling off the production line in volume at its Eastern European manufacturing facility.

But when it did, the design team was in for a big surprise. You see, despite all its efforts, the units that initially came off the manufacturing line weren’t functioning as expected, a situation that was causing the senior management at the company to lose a lot of sleep.

Recognising the fact that something had to be done, the engineers in Eastern Europe were instructed to dispatch several of the malfunctioning electronic subsystems back to the UK design team in order that it could conduct an extensive series of tests to discover what the problem might be.

At the outset, the units looked as if they should have performed as expected. But after a closer examination, the UK-based electronic engineers determined that several of the components used in their design were misbehaving badly.

Indeed, it appeared from their initial measurements that the specifications of those electronic components were not even close to the ones that the US-based manufacturer had stated on its data sheets. Nor were they close to the operational parameters that the design engineers had characterised on their final design iteration.

The UK representative of the US component supplier was duly called in to the offices of the design team to see if he might be able to cast some light on the situation. After a brief meeting with the engineers, he shipped one of the faulty units back to his own company to see if it could figure out where the trouble lay.

It didn’t take long for the engineers there to arrive at an answer. After examining the components closely using a rather powerful microscope, it appeared that they had not even been manufactured by their company! Although they carried the company name and looked like the company’s products, they were, in fact, counterfeit components that had been lashed together by some unscrupulous outfit.

Naturally, the UK representative swiftly reported his findings back to the UK design engineering team, which duly contacted the Eastern European manufacturing facility to get to the root of the problem. And it didn’t take them long to do so either.

Apparently, an over-zealous purchasing manager had acquired the components in question from a Far Eastern distributor who had made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. And since no mention, of course, was ever made of the fact that the components had been made illegally in China and not sourced from the company in the US, the purchasing manager had bought them by the bucket load.

All’s well that ends well though. The electronic subassemblies are now being produced in volume — and to their original specification — after legitimate parts were ordered from a reputable distributor.

No thanks to the Chinese outfit, however, who might well have single-handedly driven the company to the wall if the faults had not been spotted when they were.

David Wilson

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