Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, July 21, 2003

Modern electronic equipment

Modern electronic equipment is like a house of cards held together by faith. Any little thing, a breath of fresh air, a slight lapse of faith, and the whole thing will collapse. In our modern temples (offices) where we worship our electronic deities, such sacrilege is forbidden, and, for the most part, our electronic symbiots work as they should.

However, out in the field, where our customers place our products, faith is not as strong, and fresh air, with all it's attendant phenomena, is rampant. It's a miracle that our products work in the field at all.

I was talking to one of our customer's a while back and they were planning on replacing a server in their office because it was three years old, not because they had had any problems with it, but because they didn't want to have any trouble with it.

Electronic devices can be very reliable, but that reliability depends on a safe environment. No temperature changes, no stray electrical currents, no stray electronic signals. Deviate from this ideal, and flaws will appear.

Most electronic circuits probably use about 10% of their circuitry 90% of the time. If a fault should appear somewhere outside the core 10%, it may not be noticed for quite a while. And it may not even cause a problem every time, it may be intermittent, one of the electronic technician's least favorite words.

Lightening strikes, even if they do not directly strike our equipment, produce large currents and high voltages in their immediate area. These currents can cause damage to electronic components that is not visible to the naked eye, but will none-the-less make them inoperative. If the damaged component is not in the core 10% (and there is a 90% probability that it isn't), the damage may not be immediately noticeable, and may even be impossible to detect except under a specific set of circumstances.

Given the preponderance of lightening in Florida, we might want to offer periodic replacement of electronic equipment. If an electronic device has been in the field for three years, they should send it back to us, even if it appears to be working fine. We would replace all of the electronic circuits with new ones and send it back to the customer. Naturally, there would be a charge for this service, perhaps half of what the original unit sells for.

The failures in Florida seem to be intermittent and sporadic. Very difficult to track down. Planned replacement of aging equipment could alleviate these problems.

An alternative would be to redesign our electronic equipment so that all circuits were equipped with parallel diagnostic circuits that would enable us to detect any time any component or trace or solder joint failed. This would make our equipment at least four times more complicated and probably twice as expensive to produce. But it could make it more reliable and would make service and repair a snap.