How Much Does “Made in China” Really Save Us?

After having many failures of products recently, I had to ask if “Made in China” saves us money or costs more. It seems as though we are constantly having products fail, the main culprits of which are USB cables, audio cables, and handheld device batteries. However, to me there is even more at stake as several products concern me even more especially in the case where the smoke has cleared. (Not) sorry to say that the majority of these products are originating in China where cutting costs is the norm.

Every time a USB or an audio cable fails on my phone, I try to solder it back together only to find maybe two, if not one copper wires, as fine as the hairs on my head. It’s no wonder these things fail so quickly being as thin as they are. I think I average one cable about every eight months. As for the audio cables, they last just about as long. Using Bluetooth does avoid having to cable up and seems to not tax the battery much more. Still, my Bluetooth is intermittent in certain pockets even though it’s only three feet from the phone.

Batteries seem to last a little longer. However the cost of a new battery compared to just replacing the phone doesn’t make it worth it. There is perhaps one exception, as it’s hard to buy a phone anymore. With most plans you have to rent them.

My current phone cost thirty bucks and has lasted three years this month. The one it replaced lasted three months and cost one hundred and fifty dollars. That second phone either got too hot on my console or too moist from sitting on the foam pad that was wet due to having the vehicle top off. Regardless, the phone vibrator motor went bonkers when unplugged from the USB cable one day after the phone as on the console. No problem, this engineer will just unsolder the vibrator motor. Well some little circuit in the phone squealed at this loss of unnecessary appendage and it never obtained signal lock again.

I’ve had three products create smoke on me, one melted, and another gets extremely hot. In addition, I took apart a CFL one time and found that this bulb, that was located in the ceiling of the house I lived in, had a brown burn stain on the circuit board. It seems as though the transistors were avalanching which could have been avoided by adding a couple of more parts at the cost of less than a penny. This lack of parts occurs often in the form of neglecting to insert a series or antiparallel diode just in case the voltage is applied backwards. In addition to the diode, a fuse would be nice for saving excessive heat and/or downstream loads. I wrote of this in relation to USB cords recently in a separate Planet Analog blog entitled USB Micro Power Enough to Start a Fire.

So let’s get to the actual fires. Well, there was smoke; however, I didn’t see flames. I was sitting at my desk inside HP when smoke started pouring out of my HP display. I never did troubleshoot the display as two arrived the next day even though I reported it midafternoon. I just packed it up and shipped it to that HP division. Tell me THAT wasn’t a known replacement based upon how fast two arrived. There was a similar over current failure (no smoke) when “Made in China” inductor cores were shorting out workstations as well when the chicken fat binder melted thus collapsing the core gap where the energy was stored. An analysis of the part yielded that the nylon spacing of the original manufacturer had been replaced by a version separated with a compound, which our high-class analysis ‘gun’ determined was chicken fat. By the way, the same ‘gun’ determined that a lead-free component was in fact entirely lead-free except for the ink on the label claiming the title of “lead free”.

Recently my son gave me a lithium battery that was charged by a USB cable. The device essentially was a charge reservoir for other USB devices. It did have one added feature which was a 12 volt output with jumper cable capability. I was delighted to have this feature as it was more portable than stringing cables from my Scout to my monster truck. However, when the thing went up in smoke inside my monster truck, it wasn’t a pretty sight.

This photo shows what is left of my USB charge reservoir battery after jump-starting a simple lawn mower engine with it.

This photo shows what is left of my USB charge reservoir battery after jump-starting a simple lawn mower engine with it.

Thankfully, the batteries didn’t explode and take out my eyesight let alone burn my one and only truck to a crisp. By the way, when you are about to tow small children, it’s not a good idea for smoke to be pouring out of your vehicle. I do carry a fire extinguisher among other safety features however I didn’t need it as I just tossed the battery out onto the tarmac. Fortunately my regular battery only needs jump starting for the initial run as the truck’s motor charges the battery when running the vehicle. I don’t jump start when children are present.

This is the one and only body which a fire would destroy forever.

This is the one and only body which a fire would destroy forever.

Beyond the failures, how much are the excessively hot loads costing us? I had the privilege of a visit from my son over Father’s Day. Like me, he had opted for a cheaper power supply for his computer; whereas mine had “failed” at the cord like so many USB and audio cables. Both of these supplies get extremely hot to a point where I don’t leave mine on any fabric. Instead, when I work in bed, it has to ride on the keyboard area where it is constantly in the way. After all of the power supplies I designed with 90% efficiency or more, not only is this inefficient fire breathing dragon an insult, I wonder what it costs me in kW/hours.

So, those of you accounting types and managers saving the bottom line by outsourcing, what are you really saving us? By the way, that money goes overseas instead of being kept in the US worker’s pocket. As long as the stockholders are happy, why worry? The smoke will eventually clear. That’s a subject for another blog.


USB Micro Power Enough to Start a Fire, Scott Deuty, Power Electronics Expert, 5/24/2017

3 comments on “How Much Does “Made in China” Really Save Us?

  1. Steve Taranovich
    June 27, 2017

    It looks like the present administration in Washington is in agreement with you!

  2. David Ashton
    June 28, 2017

    Scott – great article – I think you nailed it in your last paragraph with the comment “By the way, that money goes overseas instead of being kept in the US worker's pocket.”  I reckon this is the one major reason for Donald Trump's ascendancy to President (and Steve T seems of much the same opinion).  Outsourcing may be good for the business bottom line but it's totally unpatriotic.  And how much largesse can the US afford to spread around?  It comes down to one major human fallibility – greed.  “I want to make myself a buck, and I don't care who loses out.”  Let's hope, as you say, the smoke does clear sometime.

  3. UdyRegan
    October 2, 2018

    It is quite an easy situation for me to handle should you pose this question to me. I would rather spend a little bit more on an original device than spending on a cheaper product that could cause mishaps in the future. I can still recall a personal occasion whereby I had borrowed a colleague's charger cable because I had left mine at home. Shortly after charging, the entire socket exploded. Though it was just a minor explosion, a quarter of our office experienced a short circuit and we were left working in the dark for several minutes. I dare not imagine what might have happened should the explosion was a little larger.

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