Companies Rumored To Harvest Washing Machines For ICs

Wired and SCMP are reporting on interesting trivia from the realm of chip shortages. Apparently, some large conglomerate out there is buying new washing machines and scavenging the chips they can’t obtain otherwise. My imagination pictures skilled engineers in a production room, heavy-duty electric screwdrivers and desoldering toolkits on the floor next to them, and a half-torn-down washing machine about to reveal its control board with an STM32 right in the middle. This might not be the most skilled job, but it’s a change of pace, and hey, as long as the rate stays the same?

Whichever company is doing this, they’re in a conundrum for sure. One of the articles offers an example of a $350,000 spectrometer manufacturing being stalled by lack of a $0.50 part – while this feels exaggerated, it’s within the realm of possibility. For car manufacturers, the difference isn’t as dire, but still severe enough, and not meeting the production targets has ramifications other than the financial ones. It might indeed make sense to buy a $150 washing machine in order to finally be able to move a $30,000 car off the assembly line.

Shipping Anyway – Barely

Screenshot of a tweet by @DirtyTesla saying "Seems some new Model 3s are being delivered without from USB C and wireless charging due to chip shortage. Tesla will install them when they are back in supply." and showing a picture of some part of a tesla car with two empty spots for Type-C portsCompanies have devised a slew of tricks to keep getting product out of the door. From good old code optimizations, to shipping cars with features partially excluded, and of course, buying severely marked up chips even if their origin is shady. At least, if your car doesn’t come with some rudimentary feature, there might’ve been a good reason for it – beats the Features As A Service thing. Nevertheless, even entities like Volkswagen, Tesla and Toyota are sustaining casualties, not meeting their targets, with all that entails financially and PR-wise.

There’s always high hopes about solving IC shortage problems. Chips appear and disappear, toolkits get made, cool new substitute parts get found. However, if you’re managing a company’s production process, at some point you’ll have to break out of the limbo between “this might be over tomorrow” and “we aren’t doing enough yet”. You either reach for desperate measures, or you might find yourself out of business.

You’d think the situation would’ve gotten sorted out by now – it did start almost two years ago already, after all! Of course, there’s always new complications piling on. The war being waged on Ukraine by Russia has interrupted some supply chains, making select products more expensive. There’s periodic COVID-19 lockdowns in China, an earthquake has brought some Japanese factories to a halt in March, and TSMC’s capacity is sold out through 2023 too – not leaving much hope for those not lucky enough to be in the schedule.

The Opposite Of Recycling

This situation reminds me of last year’s Remoticon presentation, by [Maurits Fennits] from [Unbinare] – creating a toolkit for reverse-engineering in order to be able to reuse parts, except without the benefit of being able to obtain proprietary information through business relationships. Unbinare’s toolkit is impressive and I hope that at least some of the tools are being put to good use when it comes to chip shortage problem solutions.

On the other hand, tearing apart brand new equipment for a single chip creates more e-waste, even when it makes financial sense. We can’t realistically expect that the company in question is going to restore these washing machines back to working condition and release them back into the market; the whole disassembly and desoldering operation is probably quite destructive, too.

Surely, the washing machine thing can’t be common occurrence, and there’s no indication that it’s anything but an isolated incident. However, if such methods are used, I’d hope they at least cause some reflection. One would dream that Apple, for instance, is being forced to face its affinity towards shredding the devices they’re meant to recycle – as opposed to actually meaningful forms of recycling. I’m afraid this isn’t about to happen.

We’ve torn down many a prototype in the past year or two, from STM32- to Raspberry Pi-containing ones. Do tell us about your own “salvaging parts to bring new projects to life” journeys of recent times!

162 thoughts on “Companies Rumored To Harvest Washing Machines For ICs

  1. Is this like… an engineering urban myth? I’ve been hearing this thrown around in my company and never expected to see it on hackaday. Does anyone have actual names or sources? I had been looking into it and couldn’t find anything definite

    1. yeahhh, could be.. quoting Wired:

      In some cases, this means taking desperate measures. Last month, Peter Wennink, CEO of the Dutch company ASML, which makes the complex machines needed to mint cutting-edge computer chips, revealed another eye-opening example. Wennink says one large industrial conglomerate had resorted to buying washing machines just to scavenge the chips inside them for its products.

      and SCMP:

      A major industrial conglomerate has resorted to buying washing machines and tearing out the semiconductors inside for use in its own chip modules, according to the CEO of a company central to the chipmaking supply chain. ASML Holding’s Chief Executive Officer Peter Wennink remarked on the situation, without naming the conglomerate, during his company’s earnings call Wednesday.

      It could be a myth; I doubt that the company in question would be named, either way. It’d be very cool to know specifics – not even the company name. I didn’t go looking for them, that wasn’t the purpose of my article, would be cool if it turned out to be findable though!

      1. To me the red flag is that I heard this story about 6 months ago from a coworker, so now that I see it on multiple sites retold the same way… starting to think it’s just a fun story going around in the hardware designer circles.

      2. Near where ASML is building their lithography machines there is a company that makes electron microscopes (it used to be called FEI). These products fit the price named in the story.

    2. I thought it first came up as an explanation as to why Russians were looting Ukraine of domestic appliances… to build drones with washing machine brains.

    3. Apparently it was an anecdotal remark from ASML’s ceo Peter Wennink on April 20 2022 at the presentation of the company’s Q1 financial results. A couple of Dutch news sites picked it up an it seemed to have trickled down to other sites.

    4. I think what you’re seeing is someone just weighing the cost of salvaging a chip from a washing machine vs. re-engineering a circuit using a similar chip. If you only need a few units it would make sense to salvage, then you’d consider contacting the washer manufacturer to buy their stock of chips, then you’d take the most costly option and spend the money to re-engineer.

      1. no need to engineer anything. simply look in the archives. i have a dishwasher that has no ic’s. i have had washing machines in the past, no ic’s, same with refrigerators, ovens, toaster ovens, coffee makers, the list is endless. we can literally do the same with MOST of the consumer bs we buy. save the chips for the devices that are mission critical and actually require compute functionality. and no, a car does not need some proprietary bs nav system, or cell data tracking, 9 billion sensors… the thing just needs to get you from point a to point b. and if ya really wanna get to the nitty gritty, we dont need automated headlights, digital blinkers, rain sensors, none of it. people seem to forget that they are the operator of whatever machine they own. we can go back to manual transmissions and reduce computational needs and increase ACTUAL gas mileage at the same time. why do we have digital gauges? not required and inaccurate. tire pressure sensors… those are called EYEBALLS or a thumb.. or better yet ana analog pressure gauge.

        people got lazy and stupid, this is why chip shortage, cuz they’d rather pay double and wait 3 or 4 years than actually have a working car that they might have to actually put 5 minutes worth of maintenance into. YOUR CAR IS NOT A ROLLING THEATER, BOOM BOX, OR DINING ROOM! its just a car. buy it like one and drive it like one, gadgets on cars are stupid and they ruin the car in short order. waste of time and money. if someone wants a fancy screen, just leave a blank hole like they used to. jam wtf you want in it AFTERMARKET. its better anyway.

        1. You do realize that some of these systems you’re complaining about being unnecessary are critical to the functionality of various safety features as well as better fuel economy? I’m not just talking about the ones that slam on the breaks for you. Traction control and ABS systems use tire pressure information, the ECU can individually retard and advance every part of the combustion cycle that isn’t tied to the crank shaft for optimal performance. Cars have had computers in them for at least the 60s.

          Sure with the traction control and ABS systems the driver could do it themselves, but the rate the computers can control things and with the precision they have a human just can’t compete. Especially with some modern high end cars, they have torque vectoring on every wheel and can switch from driving any individual wheel backwards within a couple ms.

          I do agree that the giant LCDs are dumb, but a lot of the computerization has a valid use case.

          1. Nice to see YOU are bedazzled and impressed by ABSs, but the first vehicle I ever drove that had one of those things almost put me out in a cornfield — or a cemetery! It was a brand new Chevrolet work truck, a 1500 or 2500, I think, with a utility bed and termite chemical tank on it. I was on a road that was unfamiliar to me. I went around a sharp curve to the left, and there was a stop sign. The road tee’s into another one. I braked and should have been able to stop. But the ABS kicked in (I heard it hum.) and wouldn’t allow me to before entering the other road. If another vehicle had been coming from either the left or the right, it would been bad.

          2. Better fuel economy? You have to be joking. We get the same fuel economy that we got back in the 80’s, and those cars were heavier. So if anything the cars get less mileage per pound.

          3. I agree 👍. In the 70s, when we had that fake gas shortage to let the oil companies raise the price of gas and show us who’s boss, the car companies kept lying about how they were gonna make cars more efficient and what great gas mileage they were gonna get. You take a full size car then and one the same size and weight today and compare MPGs. I doubt that you’d see a mile difference per gallon.

            I don’t know about that weight difference, though. Today’s cars are carrying around a lot of extra JUNK and adhesive sound pads to keep the doors from sounding thin when you close them. They put those in some parts of the body, too, and they deceive pretty well until the adhesive gives way and they fall off the metal. To me, it seems like it would be better to use a little thicker metal and avoid having to pay for both the parts and the labor to do all that. If they weight them down with much more systems and crap, they can soon take out the traction control system. You’ll have too much weight to slip a wheel, even if you try!

            The only way they could complete the illusion of more miles per gallon was to cut the size and weight of the car and put a “peanut-sized” engine in it with 5 or more gears, counting the lock up torque converter. It’s the same body size thing they’re doing with the electric cars. If the body sizes keep getting smaller, soon you’ll have to be measured and fitted for one! And if you get it dented, you’ll receive a bone fracture or, at least, a bruise, maybe a cut.

            My uncle, by the way, informed me that the 70s gas shortage was fake. He lived in Texas and said you could see the trucks taking gas into Mexico and dumping it at their stations while we paid higher prices up here. I personally remember the last time the oil companies wanted the government to let them drill in the Alaskan wilderness. I was watching a congressional investigation into that. One of the congressmen (I forgot his name) asked the oil company reps if they would guarantee that the oil wouldn’t be exported if they were permitted to drill and pump. Not one of them said yes.

        2. My kinda guy! You are 100% correct! As soon as all the idiots out there realize that we are right, this country will be on the road to recovery!

          For decades, cars and trucks were built with normal signal flashers, and they worked fine until they wore out. Then you just changed them like you would a light bulb. They were overpriced, and would have been even more so, had any of the present day parts stores existed back then. But you could find tons of them junkyards, if need be. (Recycling at it’s finest, helping the poor — as opposed to Obama’s Cash for Clunkers program that only helped people who could afford to buy a new vehicle, then shredded the old vehicles instead of giving them to people who didn’t have one. But that’s another subject.). Even with the addition of the emergency flasher circuit, it still wasn’t too bad.

          But that wasn’t good enough for GM ! No, they had to incorporate electronics into something that before was purely and simply electrical, for no other reason than to milk more money out the public when those flashers wore out! They won’t tell you what is in those flashers, but an often useless Haynes manual says, “The type of combination flasher unit used . . . has complex internal circuitry and can’t be tested using standard electrical test equipment.”. So you take the cover off, and use your standard visual eyeballs, you find inside a bunch of unnecessary electronics operating three SIMPLE, old fashioned relays. And you find that one or more of those relays has burnt contacts or contacts welded together from so many use cycles, just like you would have found before with the old flashers.

          NOW, it quickly becomes obvious that GM has overcomplicated a simple flasher just to get more of your money, when you price one of those “combination modules” , and it’s $86.99 (November, 2021, Advance AP) minimum. Compare that to what the old flashers used to cost — or even what they cost now!

          You see, all these stupid “e” and “i” devices are just over complications of basic devices designed to cost you more to replace or consume more of your time. Just look at what’s happened to calculators and telephones. We were taught to follow the algebraic order of mathematical operations for complex calculations in school. Well, someone needs to tell that to calculator manufacturers, these days. I can’t get the correct answer out of a TI-30 half the time and end up having to do part of the calculation, write down the answer, and then put that into another calculation. And how much time do we spend just trying to get our phones to work right or keep them working right? How long are we in front of a screen every day? How much time is wasted on computer security and maintenance before we can actually do something useful with it? How much time do we wait in line for transactions to go through the computer system at the store(s) or bank? Does anyone remember how, in the 70s, you could go into a store, get what you needed, and be out in 10 minutes?

          This is what technology has done for us. Simplicity was much better! End of sermon!

          1. Ha! I wish my car had an over-complicated GM light flasher! My former car, a 2017 Nissan Rogue Sport SL, had the LED headlights on the highest trim level. The electronics went out from water ingress from the headlight housing just being two plastic clamshells being joined poorly together with glue. Nissan dealership told me to pound sand, suspected it was from an impact, and refused to warranty it unless I coughed up the $1800 to buy a completely new one. There are also NO third party replacements or cheap ebay listings from junk yard salvage.

            Fun fact, the halogen lights on the lower trim levels would not fit on the SL or vice-versa because the headlight wiring harness and connector are completely different. So you cannot upgrade a lower trim to a higher one, or buy cheaper halogen lights to replace your broken LED lights.

            So I got the cheaper halogen lights, a spare wiring harness with connector and spliced the halogen lights into the LED wiring harness using a post on a nissan forum. Sold the car quick after that, and bought an older 2014 Toyota Corolla. Newer cars are really going to sh*t, and I cannot even believe the things they are coming up with.

          2. Well, first of all, I’m in my mid 60s, and I’ve NEVER bought MYSELF a new car. My Silverado is the first full size truck I’ve had, and I’m 6′ 1″. It’s a 2003. I bought it 3 years ago, and believe me, it’s had it’s share of idiotic problems caused by intentional bad design by GM wannabe an engineer management’s kids or whatever.

            Second, don’t tell me you can’t change a light because of the connector, with all the times I’ve cut them off and soldered others on! All you need is some good soldering tools, a bag of heat shrink tubing, some cable ties, and some determination.

          3. >Second, don’t tell me you can’t change a light because of the connector,

            Lewis while I second the idea, its possible and a solid solution if it can be made to work I’ve seen evidence that the connector being different is the smallest part of the problem on some modern vehicles – the wireing loom is lacking the right signalling wires and/or the signaling is done entirely by serial signals with enough smarts in the bulb housing to only work when its told to by the ‘secret handshake’ from the computer – the days of simply taking the plug for a 12v light bulb assembly that doesn’t fit and soldering one on that does is sadly looking like it might be permanently dead soon enough, and reverse engineering the smarts is probably not worth the effort. Also I’m not sure I’d be happy to know such things were on the road – what happens when a software update is applied to the car computer and the official lights would work perfectly with the changes but your reversed engineered effort fails to understand the subtle change of signalling.

          4. Well, I’m sorry if I sounded harsh. I really haven’t worked on any lights like that yet. My wife’s car, my truck, and my step nitwit’s car all have the kind with the little heat sink and fan mounted on the back of the bulb. I don’t know, but I think those generate their own internal square wave pulse to strobe the LED, like LED flashlights and LED house bulbs do, whenever you apply voltage to them. Now, they may have an extra wire that comes from a control module but that, most likely, just controls a transistor in the bulb base to switch on power to the pulse generator circuit. I’m just best guessing here, though. I haven’t had occasion to troubleshoot or study one of these yet. My step dingbat changed his and gave me old ones. They’re still packed up from our move, but when I find them, I’ll play around with them a bit to see if I can learn more about how they work.

            I have an oscilloscope, (3, actually) so I should be able to see any signals, if there are any. I’ll make whatever I have work.

          5. Ah yes. The good old days, where every child ate ice cream from the corner store, you could get a pie, coke and scratchy for 50c. Life was so much simpler then, wasn’t it. No need for complex gadgets, you didn’t use a TV remote, you got up and used a dial to change a channel.

          6. Yep, except, here, the corner store wasn’t a corner store. It was a country store half a mile away, complete with farm and building supplies, cold Cokes, moon pies, etc., and a saw mill. You could buy pine lumber cut right here from the woods around our house.

          7. @Lewis If everyone always thought this way, then no technological progress would ever be made, and you would be stuck doing your washing for an hour or two with a washboard (or maybe just some rocks and soap plant). Suprising as it may be, you didn’t just happen to grow up in the best point in history, future and past. Technology was less advanced before you were born, and has been getting more advanced since you stopped enjoying the advancements at age 25. You may not like some of those advancements because they change the way you have to do things, and all that can be said about that is: deal with it. Technology wont stop advancing because you dont like it. Many people enjoy the 50% decrease in vehicle fatality rate since the 80’s, and a lot of that was because of technology. I’m sure people who grew up in the 40’s thought electric windows were for lazy people, but I bet you still use them in your car.

          8. Why? Have you figured out a way to roll down an electric window WITHOUT using it? I haven’t seen any of the old fashioned handles on electric windows, so how are you gonna get them down without using them? Duh! So, yes, I use them. I use seatbelts, too. But I’ve also been hurt by one, and I still suffer from it. And my brother’s sternum and my mother’s collar bone were both broken by seatbelts. The fact that I use them doesn’t mean I like them. An ABS system on a brand new truck almost put me into a cornfield once. It might have gotten me killed, if any cross traffic had been coming.

            So, I think it’s only fair to say that not all changes are good ones. And I have washed my clothes by hand on a rub board in 2011 while I was living in Colombia. It didn’t kill me. You can get them cleaner that way. If I didn’t still have low back pain from that seatbelt injury, I think I could tolerate it. And if a person didn’t have to work so much to gain the money (+ income taxes) to pay for modern conveniences (+ sales tax) he might have plenty of time to use a rub board.

            You just haven’t lived enough to understand yet, I guess. You will, one day.

          9. Remember the 55 MPH speed limit “to cut down gas usage in America and make roads safer.” That, too, was credited with fewer highway fatalities. So why are we allowed to run 75 now and even 85 MPH in some parts of Texas? We burn more gas than ever — in the middle of this Biden-induced crisis. Should we go back to 55? Would it be a good idea to slow down transportation for the next 20 years like the 55 law did?

            Maybe we should go jump into another none-of-our-business war (like Vietnam and Korea) and draft you or all your kids and grandkids so we can back out and just let ya’ll die for nothing (like in Afghanistan). How about that idea? It would be population control that rewards, not stimulates, the defense sector of the economy. Ah, a third benefit! The right to have an abortion — your own! Does that sound like a good idea? That’s what they did to the Boomer generation!

            So, you see not every idea is a good one. I and others like me are tired of the latest fancy inventions that take up all our time just to make them work (if they can be made to work). We’re tired of unjustified price inflation (price gouging), the latest political lies and gullibilities of folks in Washington that people like you and your liberal, progressive, millennials have “elected” , dishonestly. I will decide for myself, with God’s help, what is a good idea and what isn’t for the rest of MY life. I suggest that you, and other thinkers like you, wake up and smell the farts and realize that some of the ideas you’ve been sold aren’t in your best interest. Have a good day, sucker!

          10. The US government (FMVSS108) requires flasher cirquits to survive an average of 175.000 cycles, the car manufacturers have to put in an electronic relay, because it is not possible to do with a mechanical blinker relay.
            It has nothing to do with increasing costs, in fact they do whatever they can to reduce costs if it possible while still surviving the warranty period and not break any laws.

          11. If the weren’t deliberately trying to make more money off the part, they would separate the relays from the electronics and put the electronics into a module and the relays in sockets so you could change them individually. A relay would cost a lot less than that flasher module I had to buy!

      2. That is exactly the thought I had.. Buyer for the high value limited run product contacts the distributor of that chip, and identifies a volume user ..our washing machine manufacturer. And buys the a fraction of the inventory from them. The Product Engineer in the high value company might be persuaded to sign off on an unused, unsoldered possibly lower spec version commercial not mil spec. , But no way if it had to been soldered using a process they had not validated. They might even pay the factory FOB cost of the washing machine for each chip.

  2. Absolutely no way
    The any large manufacturing based company would rather stop making products than use salvaged ICs from random junk.
    The reliability of such salvaged components would be an unknown factor, and I don’t think any company would like to risk their reputation

    1. I don’t have any sources so I could be wrong, but what I heard was that it was a supplier used this method to find replacement chips for their clients. Supposedly, the manufacturers weren’t even aware.
      Then again, who knows if there is any truth to these rumors. I never treat stories like these as fact unless there are some sources.
      It’s extremely wasteful if it is true.

      1. There are some situations where putting an used chip in a device is way better than not delivering the device at all. Like, say life saving machines which are in short supply during the pandemic.

        1. That specific example is a _definite_ no.
          Not delivering such a device because of supply chain issues and somebody dies – that sucks.
          Delivering a life saving machine without rock solid provenance and somebody dies – you get sued into oblivion.

          1. If you understand how reliability works, there’s a thing called the “bathtub” curve.[1] Early on manufacturing issues result in many failures then eventually things settle down and you get a long run with few failures. Eventually wear from use causes failures to increase until the number of failures is unacceptable, that’s when the product or device has reached end-of-life and the bathtub shaped curve is complete. Sometimes to avoid high initial failures reaching customers, a part or product undergoes a period of “burn-in” testing [2] before it ships. In a sense, taking a working part out of a known good product yields a more reliable part because it has undergone a defacto burn-in period in the field.

            1. Bathtub Curve


            2. Burn-In


        2. @ MLA
          Yet there were many respirators with one element broken only and manufacturers decided not to support this kind of practice (there was article on HAD about connector allowing parts to cooperate between two different respirators).

          @ Drone
          Do they have some procedure for initial “burn in”? There is a difference between “plug it here for month and run on 30% – 60% of load and monitor output” and “this was running full power god knows how long under which condition- should be ok”.

    2. While I do think it’s unprobable (except maybe in China) because the man-hours needed may not be worth it, we’re no longer in the 80s, the average IC taken from a fairly new product works probably very well. Besides, nothing exempts them in any case from testing the salvaged ICs before putting them in other devices.

      1. Things changed very quickly in the last months. A 35$ FPGA is now worth 8000$ because of shortages. Its definitely worth recycling if you have for example some older revision board with the chip lying around.

    3. I assume they’d be buying newly manufactured machines at retail, so the chips wouldn’t be used. Chips, and subassemblies, removed from new equipment have long been a pretty large part of the surplus market. A company purchasing products at retail to remove components is just skipping the wait for the products to be sold off cheap after they’re discontinued.

  3. Almost every other kind of chip is present–except for small SOC/Microcrontollers. Worried? I am. Everyone is probably hording them for military weapons. Or, China is just making sure the West doesn’t have any. You can by motherboards, processors, memory–and every other chip on a computer motherboard. The only other chip I saw missing, so far is a magnatometer, which doesn’t dispel my theory.

    1. Lowest profit product gets bumped off the bottom of the ladder when foundry capacity in high demand. So someone somewhere gotta learn, can’t sell the high end stuff without the support chips.

    2. “[P]robably hording [small SOC/Microcrontollers] for military weapons” is baseless. There are very few Military programs that are even allowed to use COTS parts. And even if they do, very few companies will spend capital on stocking COTS parts and military programs procure only need plus attrition. Why? When a program ends, the parts bought on the contract must either be given to the customer that paid for them, must be scrapped or must be purchased back by the contractor. It is also possible that the customer will PAY for storage of their parts at a contractors site. Parts in non-program stores are costing the company money, not making money for it (except in the latter case above). Getting management to approve that capital expenditure is not likely, and programs that allow wholesale use COTS parts are far to small to be able to afford long term contractor storage costs. I have worked many of these programs using COTS and I have never seen COTS parts hoarding, at least where I worked, after the program ends. Parts are legally consumed per contract, scrapped, or sold to another program. That’s per standard government contract requirements (FAR/DFAR).

      More likely than not, commercial electronics manufacturers are hit by two things. One is the real loss of labor during Covid, and the other is the fact that manufactured piece parts are sold for such low margins, it is no longer profitable to make them; at least not in regular production. This was the topic of an article I read several years ago regarding chip resistors. Pre-Covid I warned my programs of pending parts availability issues (primarily because of potential counterfeiting threats). Now lead times for M55342 resistors are OVER 52 weeks. It takes one year for a chip resistor? There is no hoarding; there are just no parts to hoard.

      As for China making sure the west does not have parts? Well of course. We will get parts when it benefits the CCP.

      And China is the champion of “recycling” parts. Just google “Tom Sharpe and SMT Corporation” if there are any doubts.

      When China takes Taiwan back militarily, and the US puts the kibosh on Chinese trade like what was done with Russian Vodka, gas and oil during the continuing Ukrainian war, just how bad do you think it will be?

      I doubt anyone can fully comprehend the impact on our economy and our availability of parts and products when that happens. Try buying a Raspberry Pi 4 today. Two years ago I could get one delivered the next day for about $61. Now, not for less than about $140 on Amazon (that’s not inflation; its supply and demand – ECON 101).

      With a Chinese trade embargo? Ha! Good luck. We produce almost no components or assemblies in the US anymore, and many of the parts we do still produce here are likely destined for military programs anyway – rarely, if ever, does a military program allow the use of foreign sourced parts – for reasons that should be obvious now.

      Taking Chinese products out of the worlds supply chain will be as bad as eliminating the petrochemical (“fossil-fuel”) industry. Very few people comprehend the entirety of products in both supply chains. I can’t get a Raspberry Pi next day today. What about getting WD-40 after the petrochemical industry is shut down? What about getting ANYTHING during a Chinese trade embargo?

      Who needs to bomb the US back to the stone age when all that needs to be done is cut US trade ties with China. And don’t think the Chinese did not plan it that way. They’ll get Taiwan back and we can’t do beans about it, unless we are willing to live in a cave.

      1. An interesting take, with some truth to it, the USA (as well as every nationality reading this site) has some dependence on others, but that includes China – its a global economy of many facets but everyone participating is at least effected by if not entirely dependent on the production of the other nations for somethings.

        So yes an embargo on China would hurt, but it would hurt them too – potentially more than they can take in much shorter order, as China is a much less evenly developed and productive nation and largely doesn’t invent or engineer what it makes (yes they will have some very talented and well educated people that do those job, as they are not a real backwater from the 16th century, but they don’t have enough of them to meet the needs of their very large and often rather underdeveloped population), they also as far as I can tell are rather dependent on the outside world for other very basic but important commodities including food…

        So who comes off worse? Very hard to categorically predict – for one thing it matters hugely how the rest of the world reacts – do they pick sides? its a global economy..

        1. > People used to hard times adapt much more easily than people used to good times.

          Again interesting and somewhat valid, folks used to being more self-reliant (or reliant on the local areas community) are much more likely to think of and accept bizzare bodged solutions so life goes on well enough… But also easy to find the counters – folks that have been barely scraping by have nowhere left to go when the REALLY hard times hit. For instance there is nothing some isolated minnow nation/town/subsistence farming family can do to help themselves when a prolonged drought comes along – its too much for the already stretched supplies they have access to – its get external help or die.

          Where those that have a great deal might be entitled little whiny shits about the inconvenience of loosing x, but they still can go about their lives barely effected in many cases as the society they are part of has the capacity to cope.

          So yeah ‘Everyone is crying bl00dy mVrder’ may be true, but at the same time if they have all the free time and energy to make such a song and dance life clearly isn’t that bad for them… Like the railway unions in the UK, striking while getting so many perks and paid better than many very highly skilled (and massively in debt from their education) folks, but they can walk out for not being offered ENOUGH* extra pay and no certainty their jobs won’t eventually change with automation – sure its not all rosy, there may well be some genuine and fair grievances in there, but damn do they have it good compared to many folks that can’t strike…

          *that is for me the most insulting bit, already paid rather damn well, lots of folks aren’t getting payrises at all and they have the balls to bitch about not ending up effectively wealthier right now despite the mess Russia has made on top of the barely started pandemic recovery…

      2. While largely agreeing with many of your postulates, many of your assertions regarding DoD programs are inaccurate. Over my 30 year Aerospace/Defense career as a customer QRA rep, Sr. Test/Systems/R&D Engineer, retiring as a Program Manager, I’ve managed, facilitated and, engineered a very broad spectrum of FAA and DoD programs. Having worked closely with FAA DER’s and DoD QAR’s I am very familiar with Mil-STD/Spec and DO’s.
        In 1996, in response to the public outcry over DoD spending, Admiral Perry relaxed materials procurement requirements to allow for “qualified” COTS components. We were approved to accept for use CoC’s on fit/form/function components and materials which met contractual operating and performance parameters. “Qualified” meaning initial lot qualifying acceptance testing. Followed by stepped reductions in testing volume and frequency according to statistical analysis, such as Six Sigma. The rational being the biggest factor in component and material cost was in the outdated Mil requirements for quality testing. Such as 100% lot testing of hammers and toilet seats requiring 3000 blows with minimal loss in function for acceptance.
        Next is foreign content. All of the programs I managed or contributed to had minimum foreign and small and/or disadvantaged business content requirements. Typically 20%, possibly more if also designated for foreign military sales.

        Excess procured and/or customer owned material and components historically were either designated as spares and transferred to the DLA or, abandoned in place by DoD authority.

        Beginning in the early 2000’s, DoD initiated resident OEM Organic Depot repair/maintenance/spares program contracts. Where excess and newly procured high value and expendable materials and components are securely warehoused to support contracted requirements. I managed one of the first of these at Northrup Grumman Electro-Optics Systems ANPVS-12 day/night Sniper Scopes.

        1. I am also speaking from experience and probably should have stated that most of my over 40 years in the industry was spent working on space and missile systems.

          That experience was in hardware design, component engineering, parts management, responsible design engineer and program manager roles. I have personally been responsible for meeting contract requirements in my designs and that includes all of the DOD specs you are familiar with, plus some onerous customer requirements like the TOR.

          But enough fluffing of feathers. We’re peers and in fact, your name is familiar. So please allow me to clarify.

          First, there were those in other sectors of my company that knew me and did not like my opinions, especially about counterfeit parts. They were primarily in airborne systems. I was just starting to make “enemies” in another sector before I retired. This is not the first time my experience has been contested.

          My statements, at least regarding parts are not incorrect and all are based on real experience, not opinion. We are simply working from different program reference frames. Spacecraft, by far my most extensive background, are not typically repairable, especially spacecraft beyond the shuttle orbit (which of course is no longer a viable repair platform). Aircraft, Naval and Tactical systems are usually repairable at least to some extent. Because of this they can use lower reliability parts. I should have been more specific. Space requirements are not the same as most airborne, naval and tactical programs.

          As an example, since you mentioned the DOD specs, while not COTS in the common parlance, JAN, JANTX and JANTXV parts used in many military programs are screened to MIL-PRF-19500 and do not require PIND testing. I worked on very few space programs that would allow a JANxxx part to be used without PIND testing, and on the few occasions where PIND was not required, our department policy was to do PIND anyway. I even had PIND done on parts we used on a “rapid development” program that allowed COTS parts. COTS parts (truly commercial) have absolutely no requirement for PIND.

          There was a reason for my much contested requirement imposition that exceeded the contract requirements – space systems had experienced real hostorical hardware failures due to loose conductive particles in cavity devices. The program parts I managed will not have those same problems and the cost to do the additional testing was less than a few hours of T2 test time. I’m sure you can translate that to actual cost.

          In other words, I did not work for, ahem, Boeing, the company that follows the contract regardless of knowledge of issues otherwise. My justification for that abrasive statement: A Boeing program manager testifying to the Levin – McCain senate subcommittee meeting (CHRG-112shrg72702.pdf) in an exchange between Senator Levin and a Boeing program manager made that pretty clear. Anyone that has or will fly on a Boeing Commercial Aircraft should read that exchange. In fact the entirety of that document should be read by anyone that thinks counterfeit parts don’t exist or are not a real problem.

          The “qualified” COTS parts you speak of are not even close in reliability levels, by screening, to S or TOR screened parts i was required to use. Clearly you know the qualification was limited otherwise you would not have quoted the word qualified. And as the industry has clearly shown, some true COTS parts are actually very reliable. Some. We used a specific commercial manufacturers memories in space because they were inherently radiation hard – and not necessarily by intentional design.

          The “qualified” parts I believe you speak of are referring to are called “up-screened” parts in my sector. And yes I have designed with and managed up-screened parts for programs. In fact I designed a programmable missile warhead time-fuze with un-screened Digi-Key parts that successfully operated in well over 40 test firings. There was no up-screening, but we did do shock testing of the strip-cut crystal oscillator I used. Our launch and radial loads were extreme, to say the least (250 g’s launch and 6,000 g’s radial). But I do know how to select parts – and every part had a pedigreed relative for a flight program.

          Our sector also had a white-paper that showed the cost of up-screening to S-level was ultimately more expensive for a program than buying the S-level part. Up-screening was done only when parts were not available to meet the contract schedule, and even then it was a battle and had to be customer approved. Alas, I have no proof up-screening COTS to near Military levels is more expensive, but the same justification should economically be the same. I do believe I have seen that data in industry white-papers. Unfortunately I can’t provide the reference as I no longer have access to my work computer since I retired.

          As for foreign content, I will admit my experience was limited to parts (not materials) on very a special aircraft and the tactical work I did was TRL6 at best, except for the Peacekeeper Missile (MX) program. So I will not contest your statement on foreign parts. But do be aware, there are critical defense systems that MUST operate unmanned in very hostile weapons environments (the Nuclear kind) that have complete bans on foreign parts. One case where a cheap foreign part was needed on a TOR parts program, the program mandated that sufficient quantities of parts would need to be procured for the program life and all possible follow on programs. The parts were less than a nickel a piece (unscreened) and a life supply plus attrition was less that $10K. A fart in a windstorm on that program.

          As you know, “banned” does not mean “not used”, but the rarity of such approvals is so low on the space-side to be almost irrelevant.

          I also did not mention spares; you are correct some programs allow for storage of spares at program expense. But again, it is program context. Space programs don’t do depot/lifetime support so spare (parts) do not exist. Every space program I worked on was a separate contract. Spare assemblies may exist for critical hardware. The only space program that I worked on that would have had something like depot support was the Orbital Maneuvering Vehicle (OMV). That program was “cancelled for convenience” by NASA because of the horrible Challenger accident. I have never seen “abandoned-in-place” parts on my programs, and our sector was rather strict about program parts utilization. Even engineering stock systems were eliminated due to concerns over contract spend.

          I will try to be more specific in the future.

          1. So to cut a long story short, the other guy is right generally, and you’re right specifically for space stuff, which is <10%, probably <5% of US military spending?

            Your first statement was "There are very few Military programs that are even allowed to use COTS parts." – this now sounds like its probably untrue, which sort of makes everything else you're saying irrelevant (interesting though it is) to the original question of part-hoarding.

      3. Pooh bear cant risk anything but a sure thing. He’s hanging by a thread as is.

        Taiwan has known for decades that the USA is an unreliable protector (it depends on which party is in the WH). So they are ready as F.

        If their rebel mainland Chinese provinces attack: First the fabs are wrecked, second everybody who knows how to run a fab is on an airplane going east, third the mainland navy is sunk near Kinmen island, forth the mainland air force is shot down over Kinmen, fifth Beijing gets a conventional explosive ballistic missile ‘surprise’ square in the CCP headquarters, sixth mainland’s electric grid goes down for unexplained reasons.

        In the end, pooh bears replacement might get a smoking crater where Taiwan was (to match the craters where Beijing, Shanghai etc were). He will be too busy avoiding being strung up from street lamps to notice.

        Also: South Korea takes the opportunity to wipe best Korea off the map. Yes they’ve got a lot of artillery pointed at Seoul. In exactly the spots they’ve been for decades. One shot per emplacement and they’re gone, it’s not 1960. Nukes will be destroyed on ground. Liquid fueled missiles are not quick shots.

        The mainland expects to eventually get Taiwan the same way the got HK. They are wrong. But they know they can’t ‘win’ a military conflict.

        1. > The mainland expects to eventually get Taiwan the same way the got HK.

          That to me as UK citizen is the most irritating part only a short time ago the people of HK were ‘ours’, we didn’t actually have to give the island back*, only the leased territories and all those people were our collective responsibility, yet with all the crap going on no there is practically no media coverage here and nobody is even saying ‘Hey now Pooh that ain’t cricket, play by the rules as agreed or we will get very cross…’ as ineffective as such mild complaints would be.. Seems to me more is being done to help the Ukrainians (not that I object to the help provided) than folks we have some really recent responsibility for as many of them are old enough to have been our people, and their kids are more like us in many cultural ways too.

          *though the cost of holding it if China wanted to fight over it means it makes sense to hand it back with the right assurances, the age of empire building and colonialism is supposed to be over and with the hope that the concepts of personal freedoms etc will be allowed to flow and China will evolve – which for a while it did seem to be…

          > Pooh bear cant risk anything but a sure thing.
          Not sure that is true anymore, his buddy that sounds like the Canadian’s favourite food has made enough of a mess to upset the established order, and done it really oh so well, without, yet anyway being held to account for the stupidity at home. And as nobody wants to risk armegeddon of the self inflicted radioactive kind, he is getting away with brutality, what amounts to blackmail, murder, complete disregard of his own promises, etc for the great cost of bugger all (to himself personally) from abroad…

          1. Oh I can say both, but one is far more me than the other.
            Can say F** you too dudenamedben if you either deserve it or desire and ask nicely…

            While there is doubtless some elements of cultural bias that defines the phrasing I’d choose I am perfectly happy, as are most folk, to throw that bias out when it suits – I mean who but the English and their former colonies talks about cricket! That is a dead giveaway there, for Americans its all Rounders, opps no sorry Rounders but for Men, so it needs a new name or ‘Football’ that has very little to do with feet…

  4. On my current project I had to re-design a PCB twice – once to replace a part that was no longer available, again when the only part I could get was a 3v3 part where the original was 5V (fortunately the footprint was the same, so I just added some 0R spots for selection)

    Historically for home projects I’ve always bought more components than I needed, in the form of buying the first discount quantity (usually 10) so I’ve got a ton of chips around. I used to think that this was a stupid waste of money and time because I could always get more chips but ironically my gamble has paid off and my projects are continuing.

    I’m surprised there’s not a chip arbitrage site out there, though. Aside from the ransom sites there ought to be something where a person or a company can put out a request for a particular chip and if someone has extra they can offer them up. I bet a lot of people have a handful of those STM32 chips.

    1. Well there’s always markets they can offer their surplus on. But they don’t see their 50,000 stock of one chip that is useless without another chip as surplus, until maybe they find another chip pair to sub, but they’re gonna hold onto them as stock.

      Therefore, what is needed is a barter trading system, where they can trade 25k of the one chip they’re holding for 25k of the chip they need, because someone was sitting on 50k of the other chip which they also weren’t letting go of. Then both of them can make 25k gizmos. i.e. a conditional swap system, I’ve got x if you’ve got y, rather than, yah money is nice, but I can’t do crap with it when there’s no replacement chips.

      1. … so we basically need to make the Tinder of electronics components bartering apps. Swipe right to hook up with another manufacturer and exchange surplus components …

    2. Every time I read about the chip shortage i feel a wave of guilt as I look over at my oversized container. Full of, parts and, chips for projects I have yet to start over the years.

  5. It takes quite a bit of skill to remove a chip from a PCB and have it in a condition to use it in another board. In the past I repaired a friends C64’s by stealing a 40-pin DIP off one donor board and soldering it to another. I can’t imagine doing that with the SMDs that populate modern boards.

    1. Most fabs that offer manual soldering will do that for you, you can send you 10k boards and get one components swapped for another, and other wild stuff like this, it’s “pretty common” (YMMV).

      Well actually it’s pretty common now with our shortage, I have had products where we sent them to a soldering fab to swap ICs and such.

    2. I can’t speak about BGA parts, but the SMD parts that I have worked with are easier to pull than the through hole parts. Less likely to damage the PCB and the heat to de-solder does not need to be applied to the chip for as long a time.

    3. If you have an air rework station you can melt the solder on all the pins of a SMD IC and just pick it up with tweezers. There are also contact soldering iron tips that will do that for smaller thru-hole IC’s but pulling a 40 pin without destroying either it or the board is a real hassle. If you don’t care about destroying the donor board you can cut the bad IC off the repair board one pin at a time, pull the pins and clean the holes individually, then take the replacement IC (and all the other chips LOL) off the donor board by fanning a propane torch across the back and tapping it.

    4. Actually, given the right tools I’d rather remove SMT chips than DIP packages. I’ve done both, and I find surface mount parts both easier to remove and easier on the PCB they’re being removed from. My only caveat is SMT parts that are glued in place – they’re really troublesome. BTW, if anyone has any tips or tricks for removing parts that are held in place with more than just solder, I’d be happy to hear them.

    5. You can get soldering tips which match the IC footprint, so all pins get heated equally, then just shift it once the solder’s melted. The poor mans version is to cut a length of copper that wraps around the chip for a similar effect. Hot air stations work too. It’s hardly rocket science with the right tools & experience, without those it’s a little more exciting.

  6. I am happy to have some of the dumbest appliances ever. My washing machine uses mechanical timers. Easy to fix, easy to make a replacement, no chips, no firmware, no tracking.

    My dryer also uses mechanical timers. No sensors, no chips, no firmware, no tracking.

    My AC uses mechanical valves, the thermostat uses a chip, but I can make a replacement with an Arduino in a pinch.

    My stove uses mechanical dials for temperature, no firmware, no chips, no tracking.

    my lightbulbs, while LED, use electro-mechanical dimmers. No firmware, no tracking.

    I don’t subscribe to anything that lets me dim my bulbs, turn on my oven, notify me of dryer status, washer status, etc.

      1. I had a hand-me-down washer/dryer pair from my parents which I kept going for almost 30 years. Eventually the washer started to fall apart as the plastic and rubber parts became brittle. I finally got tired of making kludge parts, gave in, and bought a washer/dryer pair insanely cheap on a Sears Black Friday sale about a decade ago. I give props to Whirlpool (in this case labeled Kenmore) for doing a great job of engineering, taking out what isn’t needed and maximizing reliability. The controller board and mechanical drive are common to an amazing number of top loader washers of various brands and incorporates very clever on board diagnostic and calibration capability. The most significant improvement is that the heavy agitator transmission has been replaced with a simple toothed belt drive reversible motor and simple speed change gear for the spin cycle. The Kenmore dryer design looks largely unchanged since maybe the late 1960s. The dryer timer is still electromechanical.

        I’d be kind of surprised to find any company would be purchasing washing machines to cannibalize for electronic parts. It looks like a lot of the stuff on the controller board is heavily customized and purpose made for the application. I don’t think there is a handy STM32 which can be just popped off and plopped into some other device.

    1. Honestly I’m quite fond of my high-end dryer, it detects when the laundry is actually dry, so there’s not timer, it saves quite a bit of energy which means a lot these days, especially with how powerhungry these things are.

          1. You’re forgetting economics. More money to be made in flogging a whole new machine than offering a control board at a small profit. Make the control boards available sure, but when they’re priced similar/more than a new machine… Not all manufacturers are the same though.

        1. My approximately ten year old Kenmore dryer has an electromechanical timer whose advance rate is controlled by a pair of metal strips and simple amplifier. I suspect the design hasn’t changed much if any since the late 1960s. It is very effective at drying clothes the right amount and not wasting energy. Whirlpool has had 50+ years to refine the design and make it drop dead reliable.

          The same goes for refrigerator defrost timers. I had to replace one for a friend about a year ago. The replacement timer was designed to work in a variety of refrigerators going back to the 1960s. There is a pretty clever feedback mechanism with a klix-on switch on the evaporator coil which halts the timer motor while the heater is on until the fridge is defrosted just enough. It is clever, super simple, and works for decades. … just what engineering should be.

          1. The only washer/dryers still sold with electromechanical timers are ‘speed queens’ and are very high end.

            Anything cheep has a junky computer controller and is deep in planned obsolescence.

            Kenmore never made anything. Sears just rebranded stuff. You sure it’s not more then 10 years old? 10 years ago Sears was already dead store walking.

          2. Sears did more than just rebrand stuff. They’d change the physical specifications of a part, so you couldn’t substitute a cheaper part from Whirlpool or Poulan, who made their chainsaws. The cheaper parts were not inferior. They just wouldn’t fit. Then, they’d charge more for replacement Kenmore or Craftsman parts.

      1. They should tighten efficiency requirements so that electric dryers would need to use heat pumps or thermal recovery heat exchangers. Just that would likely save a lot more than “smart” energy saving algorithms.

          1. Yeah, you could just pipe the dryer exhaust into a room, until black mold started growing on everything. Or until mushrooms grow from the woodwork; been there, done that with a Vicks vaporizer.

          2. It’s good about 2 months of the year in our Ontario winters, when the air goes super dry for a bit. The damp seasons either side you don’t want it though.

  7. From the world of plumbing, I have a similar tale.

    I bought a shower faucet from Costco that developed a leaky valve. The brand was Waterpik, a brand normally dealing in shower heads, but not traditionally the faucet hardware itself. It was on sale and I was renovating.

    The faucet had developed a leak and needed a valve replacement. Unfortunately for me, Waterpik has since left the faucet business, and parts for this particular valve body were impossible to source. This brings up a pet peeve I have with the entire faucet industry: please, would one of the major manufacturers standardize on a set of parts for their lines? Every faucet has a different cartridge! There’s hundreds, dare I say THOUSANDS of designs for valve cartridges. WHY? Nevermind, I know why. 💰💰💰

    So I have a leaky shower faucet. There’s effectively no access to this install, it’s behind tile and I can’t get at it from any other side. I do not want to tear this out and replace the faucet. I want to replace the easily replaceable impossible to find faucet cartridge.

    The solution was, as for many things, eBay. Someone had grabbed a bunch of these faucets 15 years ago on closeout, and was still selling them! Pop the new cartridge in, happy as a clam.

    1. I made that decision a decade or so back, avoid “maintenance free” cartridge faucets where at all possible, because it’s less hassle to spend 30 mins replacing a washer every 2 years than it is to waste 2 weeks to source one of those damn stupid cartridges every 5 years.

    2. It seems the last decade or two has really seen an explosion of designs, seemingly each with its own custom parts. It is apparently easier to manufacture to specification these days. The fixtures in my house are about 60 years old when there were only a handful of cartridge designs and they’re still easy to find at big box hardware stores. The kitchen faucet is a bit of a problem because it is Sears/Valley Brass, and I believe Valley is out of business. Danco still makes Valley cartridges, but the one they make with the sprayer bypass valve is junk and it is getting difficult to find real Valley replacement parts. I am going to hang onto the kitchen faucet as long as possible because it is all metal.

      Glacier Bay has some inexpensive all metal faucets, but they have the problem that a run will be made by some random supplier in a China, Inc. and then that supplier disappears leaving an orphan product without repair parts. Glacier Bay is cheap enough that you can just replace the whole fixture, but I don’t like the idea of dumping something that could be repaired into a landfill.

    3. Same story only different. Kitchen faucet from Costco. Yep, died just short of two years with unobtainium repair parts. Yep, Costco has that awesome return policy and I can get my money back. Still have to replace the bloody faucet.

      Costco for plumbing fixtures – nope. Never again.

  8. A few thoughts

    Harvesting chips from boards is not that difficult. It takes the proper tools and procedures, but it is done in low volume production when parts are out of production. I’ve seen it done to support old service parts for automotive applications.

    No car company is going to do this for regular production. Auto OEMs use millions of micros and are getting priority from the IC suppliers. Add to that a harsh environment and high cost of replacing parts after they are out in the field and they will not touch this just to get a few more vehicles out.

    I could totally see a lab equipment manufacturer doing this. If I was in charge and the customer was screaming they needed my $500k machine, why not do this, then agree to replace the board later? High value lab equipment gets regular support calls and usually the boards and modules are easily replaceable so the incremental cost to replace would not be that bad.

    1. “No car company…” I can tell you a story that I have now heard from two different people involved in the automotive industry.

      A certain car manufacturer ends the production line with the cars actually fired up and driven off to storage. When a dashboard part was missing, and the car could not be started, it blocked up the whole production line. They created a short run of substitute / temporary dashboards so that they could keep the lines flowing. They swap them in, drive the car out of the way, and then swap them back out.

      As you say, they’re not selling the cars with the ersatz dashboards, but when something like this blocks an entire line, you do whatever is necessary in the short run. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they visited the junk yard, or pulled them off washing machines, or other heroics.

      1. Back in the college break temping days, I had a toe in the warehousing/storage side, and we’d sometimes have to deal with cars that had parts missing, and had to be shoved around, because they wouldn’t move under their own power. The explanation given was that these were less popular trims that in order to complete orders for factory ordered or more popular trims, they’d had parts pulled due to supply shortage at some point. We occassionally had a manufacturer van pul up at the facility and do a load of part installs or swaps (recall) or for all I know, additional harvesting.

        1. Ah yeah, we also had some cars there missing non-essential (for operation) parts, missing trim pieces, accessory switches off the dash, no back seat or something, and we’d have to get together a whole transporter load of them (or severall) to go back to the factory to be finished. Guess they kept churning them out with parts missing and ran out of space on the factory lot.

          1. In Heinlein’s Door into Summer, they crush cars that have not been used. Provides employment. But the cars are incomplete, they could never work.

      2. I’m in the automotive industry in Australia.

        Our CJD dealerships are overflowing with buggered customer cars that can’t move at the moment thanks to the combination chip shortage and COVID delays. Some of them have been sitting there for about 6 months now waiting on parts out of the US

  9. Can someone PLEASE tell me what this article’s image is from? It rings a bell but I can’t place it, and it’s killing me. Image searches turned up nothing! I just know it’s from some cartoon film I’ve seen before…

  10. A few years ago, and I can’t remember where, there was a detailed story about a company offering backup but a shortage of hard drives. But external drives stayed at a reasonable price. So they’d go to big box stores and buy them up, extracting the drives and scrapping the box and interface. They kept needing more, so they’d involve more people to go out and buy them. I think they came up against limits on how many someone could buy, so more reason for friends and family.

  11. Old Man Story: When I was little, Levis were still made in San Francisco and my mother got out the sewing machine and made me overalls because Levis were too expensive. She also grew up financially strapped and taught herself to sew with a second hand Singer Featherweight machine so that she would have nice clothing to wear in Jr. High and High school. She could take that machine apart in her sleep and repair anything to do with it, and used that same machine to make my clothing. Within the time I was wearing such items, manufacturing moved over seas and became so inexpensive that it wasn’t worth her time to make me clothing anymore, the fabric, buttons etc costing as much as the finished good not even including her time and labor.
    As an (american) society, the majority of the population cannot do the equivalent of make your own clothing, let alone teach yourself such a skill, something my mom did with minimal formal education. So, that is a long way to go to basically say, good. All these stupid supply chain issues were brought on by our own dumb selves. If this means we go back to “dumb” appliance that just freaking work or are at least user-servicable like Mom’s Singer, that don’t need wifi for the microwave to function, and don’t need microprocessors for even the simplest task (literally light bulbs have microprocessors in them!) Good. Good good good. Learn a damn skill and leverage these shortages to pressure government regulators into shaping this country into a bunch of self-sufficient skilled persons instead of an ignorant, cheap, lazy society.

    1. There’s a functional Featherweight (AKA 221K) and a few other fully operational, ancient sewing machines around my house. A couple of which don’t require electricity. Those things were indeed built to last.

      1. I inherited a singer featherweight centennial edition from my mom. It has got to be one of the greatest sowing machines ever made. It sat in storage for 20 plus years before I got it. Some internet research and a good lube job later and it was up and working like new! Kinda wierd my wife doesn’t know how to sow but I do! Thanks mom!

    2. @craig
      Agreed on the situation of the younger generation, how do we inspire them? I have a mother that worked (until a few weeks ago) at a big box store changing watch batteries and fixing jewelry. She was the go-to in the area.

      My Mom also had an old Singer that I learned in the 80’s when I was little how to mend clothing because she showed my how to use it.

      Along with my father, she would encourage myself and my siblings to figure things out for ourselves. Now I’m in electronics and sometimes have to change my PCBs to adapt to these part shortages. I hope we aren’t filling landfills with perfectly good washing machines (and other) because they don’t have a micro.

      I also wish my car didn’t know when my phone was in it, and vice-versa…

      1. Man, I typed a super long answer but without going off the deep end and talking about politics, I think 1. Mandatory public school education in the trades 2. Stiff (like, 3x-10x the price) tariff and regulation of cheap imported goods to drive return of domestic manufacturing and hopefully return of a bumping middle class and repair industry for when you don’t want to fix your own stuff 3. Right to repair laws for manufacturers in order to utilize the skills of #1. Maybe then society will get a little better if we realize, perhaps, that being able to read celebrity tweets while taking a morning dump on a semi-disposable iPhone that costs $4000 isn’t *that* important. Maybe just fix the washing machine yourself and take the rest of the afternoon to go on a hike.

    3. Better to learn a skill that pays good money and then you can pay someone else to fix your clothes. Why hoard your money when you can spread it around to others. We should value sharing so that we are not all fixing our clothes.

      1. I just dropped a comment above, but we are saying the same thing. I would love to either fix my own clothing or pay someone else a decent wage to fix it for me. Right now, the HUGE problem is that tossing it in landfill and buying a new one is massively cheaper and easier. It isn’t worth it for anyone to patch up a $3 t shirt. That is the problem. When I was little I put patches on the knees of my blown out pants. Now the patches from fabric store cost the same amount as a new pair on sale at Target.

          1. But do you really want to get your shirt back from them looking like came from the Star Trek property department?

    4. “Learn a damn skill and leverage these shortages to pressure government regulators into shaping this country into a bunch of self-sufficient skilled persons instead of an ignorant, cheap, lazy society.”

      Sadly, governments – at least in the industrialized world – are beholden to the corporations. They sell us the goods that are overly complicated, that spy on us, and that increasingly are owned by the corporations. (The last category includes most computers and phones – if it has Windows 10 / 11 or Android on it, Microsoft or Google owns it even though you paid for it.

      The point being that the governments have no interest in a skilled, independent population, because their masters have no interest in it. Our (collective) inability to make, repair, modify, and decide things for ourselves, is the corporations’ bread and butter.

  12. I already had to do something of the sort last year, but for prototypes. We needed a number of CAN transceiver ICs that were indicating a 50+ week lead time. So ultimately we spent about $1000 on dev boards to harvest $100 worth of chips. I got out the hot air rework station, depopulated the boards, and shipped the ICs to our manufacturer.

    It’s wasteful, but not as wasteful as missing a season of testing.

  13. Counterfeiters have been recycling parts for years. And yes, it is hard to pull chips from old hardware and maintain their integrity. That’s why counterfeits often fail prematurely. Its the walking wounded that are an issue. Want your US car’s auto steering to make an unexpected left-turn maneuver due to a failed part? Nothing like finding out the hard way there needs to be a recall.

    As a kid, I recycled parts from old computer boards all the time (that’s parts with leads, folks). For many years I never had a resistor or capacitor with leads over a quarter of an inch long. Some of those old projects that survived many moves (over 50 years old) may still work. But they were simple and were never expected to be reliable.

    As for “a chip arbitrage” site, I know of no commercial sites (unless you would consider ebay – which I do not recommend.)

    Military programs have been doing this intercompany and intracompany for many, many years. We have even gone to competitors, with a customer program representative, to request critical parts.

    I needed a hard to find CD4000 SOS (Silicon On Sapphire) series part for a space design and we went as far as Goddard Space Flight Center’s parts folks for help. We were working on a NASA program, but not a Goddard program. Goddard still considered our request. In another more recent intracompany case, our space sector reached out to an airborne sector for some military fasteners. We requested 500 pcs. The airborne sector buyer came back and said 500 pieces or 500 pounds? Apparently they use a lot more fasteners than we did. Unfortunately airborne did not have the tiny fasteners we needed anyway.

    The problem with this kind of exchange is maintaining control of the parts. The CD4000 parts I needed are ESD sensitive. How do I KNOW the parts I get from an “arbitrage” site were handled in an ESD safe way between the manufacturer and the source company or individual? The aerospace company I worked for would not buy factory returns even from reputable sources because that trace could not be guaranteed. But we built hardware that was required by contract to meet certain very high reliability requirements.

    Perhaps for a personal project reliability is not as important. “Makers” buy cheap electronics from China all the time. a few parts may fail, but hey, they were cheap, right? So no big deal. (Really it is a big deal, but that is another issue entirely.)

    Or for commercial products, the warranties could reflect the risk of mishandled or even recycled parts.

    I would think, however, that any company not clearly stating they are using recycled parts in new products would be legally liable for misrepresenting their products as “new”.

    If recycled parts are used on a military program, the risk of fines and jail time are real and substantial.

    That is not to say it can’t be done. I did it with a 2K x 8 bi-polar prom that was unobtanium. We pulled a part from a flight board that failed mechanical testing and used it on a redesigned flight board. The customer was fully aware of my actions and additional part and assembly testing were required by the customer and our program. The assembly’s flight mission status was “nominal” its entire mission life. While “nominal” may sound boring, and it is boring, it is also good.

      1. As you well should – but have you worked with any recent grads? Sadly, the pool of engineering talent is not what it used to be. And, few experienced engineers are left to train the newbies correctly.

        Don’t get me wrong, there are some good ones, but because of my old company’s “agile” hiring, none of then were hired on recent programs.

        1. Agile is a manifesto, IIRC 2 pages.

          IMHO the most important line is ‘hire talented enthusiastic individuals’. Those aren’t common.

          It is impossible for the entire industry to be ‘agile’.
          It is impossible to be ‘agile’ and pay industry average.
          It is impossible to use ‘scrum’ and be ‘agile’, that’s just a cargo cult for pointy haired MBAs. Openly defies the agile line of ‘people over process’. The MBAs only understood: ‘Talk to the customer often’ and ‘Iterate frequently’, they’re not clear on what ‘iterate’ actually means though.

          Automotive engineers in particular appear to have skipped the KISS lesson. WTFs everywhere you look.
          Planned obsolescence explains the German warranty timer feature. Even the Japanese are doing it, who should know better, they’re customers aren’t born chumps like Benz’s…Honda and Toyota anyhow…Jap Peugeots (Nissan) suck as hard as any car.

          Then again, IC cars days are numbered. If I was 22 I wouldn’t start a carrier on that path (even if the American car makers and their OEMs had decent reps, which they don’t).

  14. Any time you have shortages, rumors abound. $150 washing machines most likely don’t have the technology inside to supply any usable parts for salvage. $800 washing machines may. However, spending a ton of money on labor and supplies +the cost of the machines and the disposal of those machines would be cost prohibited just to retrieve a$10 part makes bad business sense.

    1. I keep hearing this washing machine story, but nobody ever has the actual details.

      I’m just assuming that, like a lot of this stuff, it all goes back to one incident where some smart hacker pulled, say, a motor control module out of a washing machine and used it to repair a fuel pump on a critical machine, and suddenly it was just one of those anecdotes that takes on a life of its own.

      Like the stories of Cuban mechanics making washers out of otherwise worthless coins, sure, I totally believe it happened at some point – but it’s probably not really a thing people *do* as a baseline task.

      In the absence of an emergency fix, I simply cant see where a washing machine – one of the most cost-optimized devices on the face of the earth – contains anything worth the effort to locate, ship, disassemble and cannibalize. If that were true, It would make much more sense for everyone involved to simply contact the appliance company and offer them half the cost of the whole washing machine just to buy the part still in the tubes. the appliance company could improve it’s profit by tenfold by simply idling the factory and selling parts from its inventory, and *still* be able to complete and sell the unfinished machines at some point in the future.

      All that being said I will completely agree that the current supply chain chaos sucks. I have lost track of how many engineering changes I’ve had to make simply because some commodity part – looking at you here, Molex – has suddenly become 50 week unobtanium

      1. Well, as an electronics technician, I can tell you that my mother had a Mayfag washer that DID fag completely after she died. Upon troubleshooting it, I was surprised to find out that it had a motor control board that changed single phase house current to DC and then used six IGFETs to switch that at the property times to create three phase AC. The motor was a three phase motor. There was some pretty complicated circuitry that controlled the IGFETs, but I don’t remember if there was anything like a microprocessor or not. That was ten years ago. I’m not sure how old the machine was. I was able to identify several bad components but never found the point where the trouble was initiated. That board is still in my garage, though. One day, maybe I’ll have a need for the IGFETs that are still good on it.

          1. I’m sorry, I don’t remember the model number, but this was a Maytag. And I was wrong about the IGFETs. They were IGBTs, instead.

            You can probably find a similar setup in any washer that reverses the motor rotation during a wash cycle, such as a Maytag, of course, a Fisher and Paykel, or a Huebsch commercial washer. There may be others, too.

  15. And reading an article the other day that revealed two US ic manufacturers refused to build additional fabs unless the government frees up some cash for them. Well I’ll be, corporate welfare has gotten mainstream and downright demanding. Guess they learned from Big Oil how to blackmail the US govt to pay for their infrastructure.

    1. William O. Douglas noticed that some decades ago “Our upside down welfare state is socialism for the rich, free enterprise for the poor.”

      Then Noam Chomsky has expounded upon it in recent decades, calling it radical statism to provide a welfare state for the rich.

      1. Chomsky? The Cambodian holocaust denier?

        Ignore him, unless your are discussing linguistics. Even there, it looks like his key insight was wrong, there is no hard brain wiring for language.

        He’s got a very bad case of Shockley’s syndrome. Being good at one thing (linguistics), so talking out wrong end about stuff he knows nothing about (politics and economics). However many morons agree with him, so given a platform. Yeah Marx (not Groucho) is their only point.

    2. That’s a big reason why government power is a problem.

      Those that run it will be corrupt and hence for sale. There is no solution except to not let them have the power to sell in the first place.

      Keep the beast broke and it will focus on what it should be doing. Starve it at every opportunity. If you don’t cheat on your taxes, you are especially to blame.

    3. I don’t blame them. The problem is if they build additional fabs and supply chips that are needed, soon enough Taiwan will catch up, undercut them by 1 cent and all of their business will dry up because the greedy manufacturers have to save a penny. If I built a US based fab I would not sell a manufacturer chips unless they signed a long term contract.

      1. Actually, we invented the chip here, in the United States, for military purposes, in the 1950s, about 20 years before any were seen in television sets. We could have been sailing along just fine right now. But no! The companies that produced the chips began building and equipping factories in the Asian countries for cheap labor and also gave them the chip plans and specifications. I’ve seen JM38510 mil spec chips from Indonesia, Malaysia, Taiwan Thailand,, Singapore, and the Philippines. It seems like I saw some from South Korea and Guam. I don’t remember if I saw any from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, or North Korea. I saw a drawing once of a circuit dated 1953 or 1956 – I don’t remember which – with an op amp chip. Chips are integrated circuits, and most have all their circuitry printed, sputtered, or lithographed in multiples onto a 95% (or higher) pure alumina substrate which is then laser scored and broken into tiny “chips”, each containing one copy of the circuit. Before these there were hybrid integrated circuits where part of the circuit was printed on a substrate and fired, and then, external components were soldered on.

        The incredible thing is that companies that were entrusted with such sensitive information as that would be allowed to outsource those chips to near neighbors of Communist China, and we would come to depend on them for chips after having invented the chip. And now, oddly enough, we are dependent on China for cellphones.

        So, there! Now you know who the turncoats were — our own chip manufacturers.

  16. The chip companys don’t want to put up the up front capital to build new production lines. So they are waiting for our government to subsidize it . The article was just on Yahoo news a day ago.

    1. They won’t front the capital because they know the overseas manufacturers will bounce back and undercut them again. They are telling the government that if they want to make a bad investment, they have to pay for it.

    1. Seems like the primary source is a speech by the CEO of ASML, to me that’s not such a bad primary source, even though he doesn’t mention which company, but that makes sense, you could litteraly blackmail them for their critical parts then.

  17. In college I worked one afternoon at a facility that manufactures smoke alarms. Dude hired me on the spot and I started working that moment. He took me into a room with a couple folding tables and about 15 special needs people. Their jobs were to take a part out of a bin and place it in the correct holes on the board and past it along. My job was to solder them on after rearranging them according to the diagram printed on the top of the board. After about 2 hours they sounded a buzzer which meant break time. I went to my car “for a smoke” and never came back. I call that volunteer hours.

    1. My experience with special needs people in manufacturing has been the opposite.

      Some, at least, are great at meticulous tedious work. Better than most average morons, who get bored in about 2 hours.

      You do need to train them, in detail.

  18. LOL a new washing machine that costs $150… I need to get one of those to match the $25 stove and $69.95 refrigerator. that I bought new last week. Maybe with those I can get parts to finish my $250 Tesla Model S clone.

  19. The vital chip in my project is unavailable from all the usual sources but it’s readily available on ebay as a tiny PCB module. I had given up hope but now the project is back on track.

    These are the IDEAL conditions for competitive cloning. If you can make clones of STM32 parts, there are many pots of gold in easy reach.

  20. Back in the early 80s, I was working on a project at a defense subcontractor, and had to supply positive and negative 30 VDC to a unit being tested. The tolerance of the two voltages was plus or minus 0.005 V, or 5 mV. That was a very close tolerance for a 30 VDC supply, in those days. We had no power supplies with an adjustment that fine.

    But one day, I had spied some old telephone switching equipment sitting on the side of an old dirt road that went through the woods to an automotive junkyard. I asked the owner of the business if I could scavenge some parts from it. He gave the okay, so I went and salvaged several 10-turn, wire wound, potentiometers and their associated 10-turn dials. With those, I was able to fine adjust those voltages to 30 V + or – 5 mV and run the test. Junk had saved the day!

  21. I heard this urban legend for a lot of companies in very, very different branches. Even pre-covid.
    Most irritating thing about: while everything gets out of stock, its not hard to get a washing machine.

  22. My workplace went through a flood earlier this year…

    Aside from having to do all kinds of network voodoo to re-link employees to company infrastructure that had been rescued from the flood-zone and put in a place with functional power and Internet… we had a whole heap of stock to try and rescue.

    My workplace had bought up a whole pile of ruggedised Intel NUCs, and some off-brand NUC-style machines made by Leader Computers, with the idea of maintaining a decent stock… Brisbane River decided to get out of bed and check out Douglas Street, and all that stock went swimming.

    We tried to save some stuff which we knew had some protection from water ingress, but some of the expensive electrical meters just got tossed because once we opened them to clean them up, they’d need to be re-certified, and there was no guarantee they’d pass.

    We also had a heap of embedded wireless data loggers go in the drink. Those had a conformal coating, so aside from some rust on some RF shields (easily replaced), they all survived bar two (out of about 300 or so).

    The interesting bit is we invariably had the odd failed board kicking around, which normally would just go to e-waste. These data loggers have RS-485 transceivers and a 22dBm 2.4GHz front-end module, both of which are facing supply issues. Guess where we’ve been getting some parts from?

    1. “We tried to save some stuff which we knew had some protection from water ingress, but some of the expensive electrical meters just got tossed because once we opened them to clean them up, they’d need to be re-certified, and there was no guarantee they’d pass.”
      Sounds like something to sell on Ebay or Craigslist as “water damaged, as-is”, I’m sure there’s plenty of hobbyists who don’t care too much about calibration.

      1. Yeah well … without the programming software for these meters (mostly EDMI Atlas Mk10s), you’re dealing with a pretty bulky paperweight.

        Proprietary protocol, proprietary programming software. Lots of undocumented gotchas even if you do have the documentation. I speak from experience having written about 3 different drivers for meters from this company (one for their earlier Mk3 & Mk6 series, one in Python 2.7 for the Mk7/Mk10… and the latest one was in NodeJS).

        You’d be ripping the things apart to re-flash the MCU I suspect. Sadly, I do not know what Brisbane City Council tip wound up with them, otherwise I’d tell you to go there and help yourself. You missed the Douglas St. Tip by about 3 months.

  23. Years ago, the company, I worked for, needed an LCD display costing around $100 each.

    My boss went out toy shopping and came across a toy named (something like) “My First Computer” for children. He looked at it and found, that the LCD seemed familiar. He bought one, and I unsoldered the LCD. It was the EXACT model, we needed!!!

    We then continued to order 100 units, took them apart and used the LCDs for our product.

    I’d like to have seen the person approving the invoice for 100 toy computers :D

    But, anyhoo, the notion of disassembling other electronic equipment to get chips is not that far fetched: I recall a restricted chip found in Russian equipment. Long search later, it was discovered, that the chip in question came from cheap RC cars sold via Korea.

  24. Where The Real Chip Shortage Is

    386,302 views – Jun 12, 2022. I have spent a lot of time on this channel talking about sexy, leading edge engineering things like Extreme Ultraviolet Lithography and so on. But the reality is that the chip shortage’s greatest hurt hits far from the leading edge. In this video, we are going to talk about the massive shortage in trailing-edge semiconductors, and why it’s so hard to fix.

  25. So how does this line up with the chip manufacturers announcing last week that chip demand is finally falling off, and they’re beginning to slow chip production to match the reduced demand? Is the chip shortage mainly a supply chain issue now as intermediaries build chips into parts and those parts are what are still in short supply?

  26. The thing that seems odd about the story to me is that if you needed a microcontroller there are probably smaller devices that have them other than washing machines. Wouldn’t you try to find the smallest, cheapest device to scavenge the parts from?

  27. I remember reading an article in the 80’s about companies buying printers from overseas and removing the memory chips to use in new equipment. Sounds like some one had the hacker spirit in spades.

  28. Would it be possible for vehicle manufacturers to even construct a low-tech vehicle now. If people need “new,” they could get “new” if manufacturers could produce them. It could be a special line of vehicles – all analog – standard transmission even – called something on the order of “Blue Chip Special Editionl.” I’m not making a joke. The world has to be able to proceed without chips. The manufacturers couldn’t do it even if they wanted to, correct?

    1. It’s more possible than you think, just not probable, unless they reach a point where they can’t sell chippy cars. They’d have to make a bore to fit a distributor into and a few other things, but engines still operate mechanically the same way they always have. They still convert fuel to motion through internal combustion

      1. Thank you. I am biased. I prefer driving a vehicle rather than an entertainment center. But also, (even in my limited sphere), I have heard that young adults would prefer vehicles that are far more basic than those being offered. If that is true, then there would be a market. This would also coincide with the big push for repair rather than toss “movement.” And vehicles do not need 90 mph capacity.

        1. Amen to that! I saw this coming a long time ago, the “disposable” car, that is. But they still want to charge you a jacked up price for it. I remember my dad complaining when they started crimping the old, mechanical fuel pumps together. They used to be just bolted together and you could change just the diaphragm for less expense. Things need to be simple. If something takes more than 15 minutes to learn how to use it, it’s too complicated, and you shouldn’t buy it. Often, we never use all the features of a thing, anyway.

    2. With Internal Combustion and emissions laws I don’t think you could get a new vehicle to meet the requirements without digital control systems, at least not without the engine being a massive maintenance hog that costs more than most ‘supercars’ on its own.

      Now an EV ironically would be much easier to make legal and chip free, but milkfloats are not likely to get anybody clamoring to buy a new one now…

      1. Interesting. I don’t know off-hand, but surely there were pre-1995, (for example), vehicles with excellent emissions control, and without the engine being a hog. Come to think of it, I owned one. A Buick LeSabre, which was 10 years old when I bought it, and when living in a strict emissions testing State – with its massively powerful engine. And, I got 30 mpg. But there have to be a ton of better examples. Thank you.

      2. Yeah, but have you seen the YouTube video of the guy that opens up an Eveready lithium cell, takes the lithium out, folds it up, and throws it into water? First, it reacts, then burns, then explodes, damaging the pan pretty badly! This is the same type of cells they use in EV batteries. So, has anyone considered what will happen if there’s a huge pileup on the interstate, and one of those gets ripped open in a rainstorm? Or even if that doesn’t happen, where do they go when they wear out, to AL QAEDA RECYCLING? (On their website, just click on Bomb Making Supplies/Lithium if you’re a member of their “club”. 😳😳

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