|Jack Ganssle's Blog
This is Jack's outlet for thoughts about designing and programming embedded systems. It's a complement to my bi-weekly newsletter The Embedded Muse. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm an old-timer engineer who still finds the field endlessly fascinating (bio).
For novel ideas about building embedded systems (both hardware and firmware), join the 30,000+ engineers who subscribe to The Embedded Muse, a free biweekly newsletter. The Muse has no hype and no vendor PR. Click here to subscribe.
April 23, 2019
I received a lengthy email from an engineer this morning about poor customer support from Analog Devices. This surprised me, as Analog is one of the great semi vendors. They have the to-die-for URL analog.com.
For 50 years the company has published Analog Dialog, a now-emailed newsletter containing product information and design ideas. It's one of the few vendor publications I read in its entirety as the products are usually fascinating and the technical bits enlightening.
Over the years Analog and Linear Technology have been my go-to places for analog components. Yes, a lot of other vendors also offer great products in this area. But these two seem to fill most of my analog needs. Now of course, they are one company.
I started using Analog's parts in 1970 while working as an electronics technician while in high school. Neotec, the company I worked for, had a somewhat schizophrenic personality. Founded in 1966 to do space work, by 1970 the space program was in tatters so, while we did as much NASA business as possible, we were increasingly drawn into commercial products.
Neotec was a disaster of a company. Always underfunded, always battling creditors, when we tried to go public I overheard one auditor wearily stating "I've seen every trick this company has pulled before. But never all by one outfit." The late Bob Rosenthal, the president, was my business mentor and friend. He told me that for 69 straight weeks on the Thursday before payday Friday they didn't have the money for payroll, but by shenanigans, luck and perhaps divine intervention the checks cleared. Can you imagine the stress management faced?
Those early commercial products included colorimeters. Microprocessors didn't exist; these were entirely analog, using plenty of Analog Devices components. In 1971 the company had me design a board that computed the square root of the sum of the squares of the three color channels. Square root? In analog? Well, the Shotkley Diode Equation came to mind; the exponential relationship between voltage and current through a PN junction meant putting a transistor in the feedback loop of an op amp could to a log, and log-1(.5 log(x)) is the square root. That board was covered in Analog Devices 40J op amps. Why 40Js? We used them like popcorn in other products.
40Js were awful parts, but in 1971 expectations were a lot lower than today. Each amplifier needed gain and offset trimpots. In fact, all of the products we made were soaked in trimpots, and we techs were forever calibrating these things.
The 40J was a single op amp in about an inch-square epoxy-potted module, composed of some number of discrete transistors. They often failed. In '72 I was sent on a month-long trip around the world to repair our products and teach support to our representatives. In Belgium, I replaced 40Js. In France, the same. More in Italy. England soaked up the last of my 40J supply and the office sent more. Sydney saw my supply wane, Perth in Western Australia used more. Another depot was dispatched. Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta ate away at my stash. Finally, on my last stop in Tokyo I had a few left over. I gifted them to our representative, saying "you're gonna need these!" I was sick of those miserable amplifiers and hoped to never see one again.
It was a relief to board the 747 home. My seat number?
And it was broken. It wouldn't recline.
Despite those travails we always had a good relationship with Analog, so I was surprised to hear about the support issues (and I have to assume this is an isolated case). But this theme keeps arising about many vendors today. While I understand it's tough to interact with every engineer about the insanely-complex parts today, taking care of the customer has always been a critical part of business. Yet too many vendors now dump support issues on their own customers via "support" forums and chatrooms. Others are notoriously tardy; I ran an experiment a couple of years ago and found some took over two weeks to reply to a simple emailed question. (Some responded in hours).
If you're building a smartphone that will mean orders for hundreds of millions of parts per year, you'll be treated extremely well. I know of one semi vendor that puts large teams of engineers into customer sites when volumes are this big. Buying a hundred $2 parts/year? Good luck getting any attention.
While I understand the economics, that's no way to build a loyal customer base.
Feel free to email me with comments.
Back to Jack's blog index page.
If you'd like to post a comment without logging in, click in the "Name" box under "Or sign up with Disqus" and click on "I'd rather post as a guest."
Recent blog postings:
- Can AI Replace Firmware - A thought: instead of writing code, is the future training AIs?
- Customer non-Support - How to tick off your customers in one easy lesson.
- Learn to Code in 3 Weeks! - Firmware is not simply about coding.
- We Shoot For The Moon - a new and interesting book about the Apollo moon program.
- On Expert Witness Work - Expert work is fascinating but can be quite the hassle.
- Married To The Team - Working in a team is a lot like marriage.
- Will We Ever Get Quantum Computers - Despite the hype, some feel quantum computing may never be practical.
- Apollo 11, The Movie - A review of a great new movie.
- Goto Considered Necessary - Edsger Dijkstra recants on his seminal paper
- GPS Will Fail - In April GPS will have its own Y2K problem. Unbelievable.
- LIDAR in Cars - Really? - Maybe there are better ideas.
- Why Did You Become an Engineer? - This is the best career ever.
- Software Process Improvement for Firmware - What goes on in an SPI audit?
- 50 Years of Ham Radio - 2019 marks 50 years of ham radio for me.
- Medical Device Lawsuits - They're on the rise, and firmware is part of the problem.
- A retrospective on 2018 - My marketing data for 2018, including web traffic and TEM information.
- Remembering Circuit Theory - Electronics is fun, and reviewing a textbook is pretty interesting.
- R vs D - Too many of us conflate research and development
- Engineer or Scientist? - Which are you? John Q. Public has a hard time telling the difference.
- A New, Low-Tech, Use for Computers - I never would have imagined this use for computers.
- NASA's Lost Software Engineering Lessons - Lessons learned, lessons lost.
- The Cost of Firmware - A Scary Story! - A hallowean story to terrify.
- A Review of First Man, the Movie - The book was great. The movie? Nope.
- A Review of The Overstory - One of the most remarkable novels I've read in a long time.
- What I Learned About Successful Consulting - Lessons learned about successful consulting.
- Low Power Mischief - Ultra-low power systems are trickier to design than most realize.
- Thoughts on Firmware Seminars - Better Firmware Faster resonates with a lot of people.
- On Evil - The Internet has brought the worst out in many.
- My Toothbrush has Modes - What! A lousy toothbrush has a UI?
- Review of SUNBURST and LUMINARY: An Apollo Memoir - A good book about the LM's code.
- Fun With Transmission Lines - Generating a step with no electronics.
- On N-Version Programming - Can we improve reliability through redundancy? Maybe not.
- On USB v. Bench Scopes - USB scopes are nice, but I'll stick with bench models.