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comment on SteppIR was Re: [TowerTalk] New antenna system

To: Steve Katz <>, "'Jerry Keller'" <>,"(Reflector) TowerTalk" <>
Subject: comment on SteppIR was Re: [TowerTalk] New antenna system
From: Jim Lux <>
Date: Tue, 09 Nov 2004 10:37:51 -0800
List-post: <>
At 07:49 AM 11/9/2004 -0800, Steve Katz wrote:

> Steve, I think you have some unreasonable expectations. FM will sell you
> cables with connectors
> installed and stand in back of their work. Or they will sell you cable and
> connectors so you can
> install them yourself, and you take responsibility for your own work.
> While a manufacturer might (as
> Fluidmotion frequently does) be generous and replace something you mess
> up, they certainly have no
> responsibility to do so. If they do so, it's an customer accomodation, not
> an obligation.
> //Hi Jerry: Perhaps you're right, I just happen to disagree.  I haven't
> owned a SteppIR as yet, that doesn't mean I won't in the future.  They
> seem to be excellent antennas, and although I know *six* hams who have had
> problems that required the factory replace various items, evidently their
> customer service is very good, and nobody's complaining.  My comment was
> not discussing any unreasonable expectations, though.  You can't get UL
> recognition (for example) if you manufacture an item that has unfused
> operator interface lines capable of carrying current, even at low voltage.
> It's a violation of EN60950 as well as IEC61010.  When low-current
> resettable surface mount fuses cost $0.40/each in small quantities, and
> the item in question sells for several hundred dollars, I would expect
> they be used in the circuit, to prevent equipment failures requiring more
> costly and annoying service...even if that service is "free" and offered
> with a smile.  The fuses are simpler, and proper design will allow for
> product safety recognition (e.g., UL, CSA, TUV, VDE et al) whereas without
> them, the recognition isn't available. -WB2WIK/6

Sadly, this sort of thing is quite characteristic of equipment sold into the ham market. Just because a manufacturer chooses not to get RTL (recognized testing lab) certification (e.g. UL) is no reason to ignore "good engineering design practice". I can think of a lot of reasons not to try and get certification; cost being the primary one, especially for a product that is not going to be selling in thousand unit quantitites.

The real problem is that "good engineering practice" (as embodied in the regulatory system) isn't well known outside the commercial manufacturing business, and has diverged substantially from "ordinary ham radio practice" over the past decades. If you look at many companies selling products to hams, a lot of times it starts from someone building one for themself, having someone else say, "gosh, I'd like one of those", and from that is a business born. The problem comes in that at some point, it's changed from "making a few copies for my friends" (where regulatory compliance isn't an issue) to "making money as a going concern" (where you can't legitimately gripe about having to comply with regulations that everybody else has to comply with).

A good example is the PC market. Back in the 1970's and early 1980's, PCs were truly a hobby thing. Not much attention was paid to things like Part 15 compliance, UL, etc. For instance, Los Angeles county has a law that requires all electrical devices sold to consumers be RTL certified. For the early PCs one could make the case that these were kits, etc., and they weren't really being sold to "consumers". And, there just weren't all that many places selling them (maybe a dozen in the greater Los Angeles area).

But, when PCs started to be a consumer commodity, and hundreds of "computer stores" popped up, all of a sudden, Part 15 and UL got to be important. If you were an IBM (or a Soroc or a Cromemco), and playing by the rules, you had all those certification requirements (and the design and test time that went into it). And, if you were an IBM, you got kind of cranky about all the Taiwanese knockoffs being imported with no certs, no testing, and a distinct lack of "good engineering practice" in the form of omitted parts, low safety design margins, etc.

The FCC stepped in and cracked down hard on the Part 15 side: A good thing for us hams, too! I have some old PCs from the pre-crackdown era, and they are truly impressive barrage jammers. It prompted the change from 2 screws to 5 screws holding the original PC case cover on, for instance.

Realistically, I don't think that anybody in the antenna manufacturing business selling to hams is ever going to have the volumes of even a tiny PC manufacturer. I doubt that the LA County code enforcement types are going to stop Ham Radio Outlet in Burbank, CA, from selling non-UL stickered SteppIR controllers. (Interesting, though, I never thought about it before now, maybe they don't sell them over the counter there. )

It would be nice if wide readership magazines like QST would talk about such things in their construction projects, but I suspect that the editorial review process at QST doesn't facilitate that kind of review. ARRL's not that huge an organization, and it's kind of an ordeal to get lots of reviewers for articles (especially when they are volunteers).

One can look to the ARRL handbook, but, the target audience for construction and design practices that is the person building one for themselves, not someone going into business to sell them. Building it for yourself, you can legitimately take shortcuts in the design, because you control the environment, and suffer the consequences of design defects. I'd hate for the "home tinkering" environment to be subject to the constraints of products designed for sale.


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