9 Feb 2012

Reliability of radio gear

Tin Whiskers on an IC contact
When I mentioned the eHam review of the KX3 on the GQRP reflector last night most of the replies focused on the reliability of complex modern electronics equipment. Some people believe that with fewer parts and SMA components reliability is higher today than in earlier times. Others, including me, were more circumspect and feel that, unless production processes are well controlled, the danger of failure is higher. There are also potential issues with leakage in small geometry ICs as well as the dreaded "tin whiskers" issue where metal dendrils can grow over time between IC balls. My own experience in mobile radio design and manufacture may have coloured my views. We got it right in the end i.e. getting production processes well honed, but you cannot take process control for granted, ever. The slightest drift in quality can spell disaster, field failures and a ruined reputation.

One thing many people agreed on was this: if you want to be sure of the reliability of your amateur radio equipment then build your own. A simple QRP transceiver, easy to make from many published designs in QRP books, should last a lifetime and will be easy to fix in the unlikely event of something going wrong. There is also nothing quite as satisfying as making contacts with something you have built. Even a simple crystal controlled TX and direct conversion receiver are likely to give FAR more satisfaction than a rig costing £1000 with all the bells and whistles. I still recall the thrill of my first ever hombrew contact across the Atlantic with 800mW CW on 15m using my little Pipit transceiver with 7 transistors total and a handful of parts. This rig was so effective that it was my main station rig for many months. Every QSO, and there were lots, meant something special.


Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more.
73 Dick F8WBD/N2UGB

Dominic Rivron said...

True. I do have an IC718, but I made my first ever contact (cw) with a 2W homebrew transmitter.

And it's not just the new stuff. There's all those ancient capacitors and resistors. My old RA17 has just gone deaf. Part of me wants to disembowel it and find out what's wrong, part of me would rather be building a new radio out of 2N3904s.

Casey Bahr said...

I like doing QRP, but for me it's a niche. I have the parts to build a 6L6 TX, but haven't done it yet. That said, even if I had superb electronics skills (not even close) I don't think I'd want to build something as capable as, say, my K2 when I could buy the kit (as long as I was employed and could afford it of course). In short, I'm doubtful I'd get any more thrill than I get from my very capable and flexible transceivers that I have now by building my own QRP TX. The latter would soon be sitting on the shelf unused.

Anonymous said...

By far the biggest problem we face today in terms of consumer electronics is the poor quality of Chinese-made components, electrolytic capacitors in-particular.

73's, David WB4ONA