Friday Rant - Screw that!

Friday Rant - Screw that!

Summary: It's a fact of life that every company is looking for ways to cut costs in order to increase profit margins. One quick and easy way for companies to do this is to supply (and if the company is in the business of building PCs, fit) the cheapest and nastiest fasteners possible.

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TOPICS: PCs, Hardware
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It's a fact of life that every company is looking for ways to cut costs in order to increase profit margins.  One quick and easy way for companies to do this is to supply (and if the company is in the business of building PCs, fit) the cheapest and nastiest fasteners possible. 

It's a great money saver because there are very few people who are going to take the time to complain about the quality of the fittings ("Oh yes, the hard drive was fine, but the screws you supplied me were awful - can I have my money back please?"), and if you're in the business of building PCs, do you think they care how bad the screws are as long as they work the once. 

Here are just a few examples of how I've been screwed (pun intended) by fasteners as of late:

  • Screws with no thread
  • Screws with an incorrect or badly cut thread
  • Screws with no slot cut in the head, a deformed slot, a slot that doesn't correctly fit into any screwdriver or a screw with no head at all
  • Screws made of a material that resembles crushed foil and disintegrate on the first or second use
  • Screws that work fine once and then the head decides to snap off when you try to undo them, leaving me the task of freeing the broken screw

Maybe it's me and I've been having more than my fair share of bad luck with fasteners lately, but somehow I don't believe that.  I'm using high quality screwdrivers and bits (usually Snap-On stuff) and I'm careful as to the amount of force that I apply, but even if I was being ham-fisted and trying to drive them home with a kitchen knife, that doesn't account for all the damaged and deformed screws that I've come across.  My guess is that there are a couple of cheap, low quality suppliers out there supplying most of the industry.

Fasteners have become so bad that I've started looking for engineering suppliers who could sell me small batches of screws - ideally I'd like them to be made of a stainless steel and preferably with a TORX slot in the head rather than the traditional Phillips, PoziDriv or SupaDriv heads.  I like TORX because where as Phillips heads were designed with the idea that screwdriver would cam out of the slot if overtightened (a feature that acts against you when trying to loosen a tough one), TORX is designed specifically not to do this.  Some PC manufacturers already use TORX, but not many. 

Personal note:  Although those 5-lobed security TORX PLUS heads are evil because the last time I came across one I had to drill it out because you can't (or at least couldn't) buy screwdrivers or bits to fit them without jumping through a load of hoops.

Thoughts?  And remember, since it's a Friday, you can vent your spleen about anything tech-related that annoys you!

Topics: PCs, Hardware

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  • Don't be so sure it is the company trying to save money.

    At least not the brand name company you bought from. It is no secret that everyone from Apple to Sony is having their product manufactured in China by third party OEMs. Unfortunately what they spec for use in their product is not always what get's used. The Chinese have been very bad in the area of quality control as of late. Sawdust in baby food, lead in toys, pet food with toxins and cheap fasteners are just a few examples. Companies do their best to inspect the ODMs but things continue to slip by.
    ShadeTree
    • Yes, but...

      If it's your name on the box, you're the one responsible, regardless of who does the actual work. Clearly these OEMs aren't so annoyed that they're actually firing the outsourcers in question, so they get the rap.
      John L. Ries
    • "Companies do their best to inspect the ODMs"

      5% of what is brought into the State's is actually inspected. And just like the downer cows, the governments answer to finding toxins is to reduce the amount of investigation (less investigation = less toxins being found... right??). Companies don't care because the bean counters have figured out that it's cheaper to deal with lawsuits from defective products, than it is to put out a good quality product.

      I've been considering a boycott on Chinese made, grown stuff. But I'm starting to think this is impossible. Corporations lie, even things that say "Made in India" could of been manufactured in China and then just put together on an assembly line in India. Also, I don't know when the last time was I saw something that said Made in Canada or USA.

      Face it, the Chinese government and Industry Moguls don't care about their own people, why would they care about us?
      mad tabby
  • You want screws....go to this site

    This is not an advertisement, I don't work for them, but use them heavily at my job. www.McMasterCarr.com will have all the screws you need. Just type in screw in the search box, then click on machine screws and select by head style, thread, material, length, etc...
    HTPCdrmr
  • Avert the Need

    The solution to traffic problems and the oil crisis are not electric cars, or hydrogen
    cars, or carpooling. You don't solve a car problem with cars. The solution is
    averting the need to travel long distances frequently.

    In the same respect, to strip and reassemble a computer, gives us the same sense
    of "freedom" that our cars do. It gives us a sense of engagement. We feel that
    technology has not gotten too far ahead of us as long as we can put it up on
    blocks in our front yard.

    The iPhone gains extra battery life by not allowing it to be user replaceable once
    every few years. The gain is real. The user gets extra time each day to place calls
    or surf. The device is made smaller. The price? You have to send it back for a few
    days every few years. The hobby set throws up it's arms in disgust. We're being
    locked out of our god given right to tinker! How dare they remove our ability to
    crack this thing open and supe it up!

    There is a price being paid for the hobby box also. Software is required to support
    thousands of options and millions of combinations. A grey market of back yard
    mechanics applies downward price pressure to a point where vendors no longer
    make money on the gear itself, but rather, the financing, or time gap between
    cash-back incentives and a suppliers terms of credit.

    Congratulations. The personal computer is likely the most sophisticated tool you'll
    ever own, and you've turned it into a 1965 Ford Falcon. The desire to tinker has
    turned into a ongoing maintenance regimen. Since it's no longer an option, that
    cheap screw, is very expensive indeed. You got exactly what you asked for.
    Harry Bardal
    • You are in rare form today!

      [i]The iPhone gains extra battery life by not allowing it to be user replaceable once every few years. The gain is real. The user gets extra time each day to place calls or surf.[/i]

      How do you figure that the iPhone user gets more talk time out of 1 battery than the Nokia user gets out of two (or three, or four)? People are so hung up on 1 advantage of the user replaceable battery (not having to go without your phone for 2 months while Apple replaces it for you) that they forget about the other advantage: the ability to pop in a spare battery on the spot. People don't want replaceable batteries because they want to crack open their phones and tinker, they want it because it gives them real benefits. Seriously, have you [b]ever[/b] heard of anyone "tinkering" with their Nokia?

      And what does this have to do with screws anyway? When was the last time you needed a screw in order to change the battery in your phone? I think you've truly lost it this time.

      [i]A grey market of back yard mechanics applies downward price pressure to a point where vendors no longer make money on the gear itself, but rather, the financing, or time gap between cash-back incentives and a suppliers terms of credit.[/i]

      So? Why do you care how Dell makes its money? I like the fact that my computer costs half what I would have had to pay Apple for something similar. As you put it: [i]the gain is real[/i].

      [i]The personal computer is likely the most sophisticated tool you'll ever own, and you've turned it into a 1965 Ford Falcon. The desire to tinker has turned into a ongoing maintenance regimen.[/i]

      So what you are saying is that Apple is [b]protecting[/b] us by not allowing us to tinker? Thanks but no thanks. Your argument [b]completely[/b] falls apart when you consider the fact that users don't have to open up their PCs and "screw" stuff in for them to work. If you want to tinker, buy anything but a Mac since Apple prevents you from opening up the case and turning it into a 1965 Ford Falcon (cue the Mac zealots to tell me that you [b]can[/b] tinker with a Mac but you should be telling that to Harry since he is the one saying you can't). If you don't want to tinker, no one is [b]forcing[/b] you to, no matter what computer you buy. Most people won't tinker with their PCs so your entire rant is based on some fantasy world that only exists in your head. Most people [b]will[/b] be happy that they didn't have to pay $2,000 for a white case though, even if it means the poor, poor, multi-billionaires like Michael Dell have to make money on credit.
      NonZealot
      • Why Stop?

        Why stop at 2 or 3 extra batteries? Why not carry 4 or 5? Why not 10? Well that's
        ridiculous right. It's supposed to be a self contained portable device, not a
        knapsack full of accouterment including tiny memory cards, batteries, and
        decorative skins, all in a light weight carrying case!

        Or how about no. How about a device that uses the biggest battery to return as
        long a life as possible within it's mandate as a self contained portable device. How
        about including a bigger internal memory, rather than a limited expandable one.
        Why not focus on elegant software syncing, rather than tiny swappable cards that
        are likely to be lost. Why not make it more solid, durable, stronger, and smaller.
        No? Not for you? Ok then, pick another phone.

        You've said it yourself. People may never use this access to their technology, yet it
        must remain a necessary expense? An expense in terms of the devices primary
        agenda, and in terms of engineering compromises. You simply won't live without
        these essential rights. You're apparently being taken advantage of otherwise. The
        right to extend something that should have been complete out of the box, and the
        right to access something you can't effectively change. The right to further
        ghettoize a platform and bring that screw quality down a little further. Like I say,
        you get what you ask for, what you pay for, and exactly what you deserve.
        Harry Bardal
        • Wow, never saw it that way!

          [i]Why stop at 2 or 3 extra batteries? Why not carry 4 or 5? Why not 10? Well that's ridiculous right.[/i]

          The ability to carry an extra battery is [b]bad[/b] because it also gives you the ridiculous ability to carry 10 extra batteries!! Great argument!!

          [i]The right to further ghettoize a platform and bring that screw quality down a little further. Like I say, you get what you ask for, what you pay for, and exactly what you deserve.[/i]

          I must commend you Harry, it was a wonderful idea bringing up the iPhone because we all know that Nokia phones must be opened up, tinkered with, and new batteries screwed into place!! Hilarious!!

          Well, keep on ignoring the fact that Macs too can be opened up and tinkered with and keep evading the question as to why this is perfectly acceptable in a Mac but totally silly in a Dell. Trust me, you aren't fooling anyone. :)
          NonZealot
          • Exaggeration

            Maybe you missed the exaggeration, or the notion that carrying 10 extra batteries
            is a bit absurd. The argument is this: carrying a single spare battery means the
            phone has failed. The second or third doesn't mean it fails less. The portable
            phone's prime agenda is to be portable. It's ability to be self contained is integral
            to this. The iPhone's ability to integrate email, web, maps, phone, and music, and
            do it well, goes to great lengths to consolidate function. So you're going to take
            that consolidated function and tether it to a spare battery or two and a few
            memory cards? Brilliant. How are you going to carry those? The iPod has proven
            that the advantages of an integrated battery seems to sell pretty well. In this
            respect, I don't have to fool anyone.

            Of course Macs can be open up and tinkered with. You can swap cards and hard
            drives. It would be nice if you brought this up when talking about how closed the
            Mac is. My point is that Apple is not trying to define themselves as open
            architecture. You however, are nothing, if not a champion of open architecture.
            Time after time, you've described Apple's closed architecture as an affront to your
            essential freedoms. My initial point was that the solution to bad motherboard, is
            not the necessarily "freedom" to buy a new one and swap it in. The solution, is for
            it not to be bad to begin with. My point is, that computers are the most complex
            instruments that you'll ever own. Maybe they are not important to you, but if they
            are, maybe bargain hunting was never the right thing to do.
            Harry Bardal
          • If you believe, as I do, that..

            form follows function, then your analysis is correct. The need for an all-in-one
            device to require a second piece means that it's design spec was flawed, or it'
            implementation was.

            As for the Zealot being "a champion of open architecture,' of course, he isn't,
            really. He's just anti-Apple, and that seems to be as far as his priciples go.
            msalzberg
          • The sad thing is that you are serious

            If you were a Mike Cox wanna be, this would all be easier to understand but the fact that you actually [b]believe[/b] what you write is just a tiny bit scary.

            [i]The argument is this: carrying a single spare battery means the phone has failed.[/i]

            The [b]ability[/b] to carry a spare battery doesn't mean the phone failed. Until the iPhone has a 24 hour talk time, you have no room to talk about how the optional ability to carry a spare battery is a sign of a phone's failure. The iPhone does not have a talk time long enough to last the whole day. The iPhone has therefore failed as a phone. [b]All[/b] phones have failed as a phone but [b]only[/b] the iPhone takes away the customer's ability to do something about that failure.

            [i]It would be nice if you brought this up when talking about how closed the Mac is.[/i]

            I've never suggested the Mac couldn't be tinkered with. I've only said it is unfortunate that you must always start with overpriced hardware that you can only buy from one company. Again though, you have been claiming all along that the ability to tinker [b]is a bad thing when anyone but Apple lets you do it[/b]. You still haven't come up with any sane argument for why.

            [i]maybe bargain hunting was never the right thing to do.[/i]

            Ah yes, again with the "it must be good because you paid extra for it" argument. Using your logic then, it is silly to pay only $129 for OSX when you could be paying $400 for Vista Ultimate!! Paying more is only good when you get more. You don't get more when you pay more for a Mac. Also, it can only be called bargain [b]hunting[/b] if you actually have to hunt for a bargain. The truth is that it is [b]easier[/b] to buy something other than a Mac. If I was "poor value hunting", the Mac would be the first thing I would try to find.

            [i]Time after time, you've described Apple's closed architecture as an affront to your essential freedoms.[/i]

            Yes, you are right. Apple's attitude is present in everything they do. The fact that OSX is [b]artificially[/b] and [b]onerously[/b] tied to overpriced Apple hardware is simply 1 symptom in the disease that is Apple Inc. Everything they do, everything they release, is meant to enslave the people who buy it and I refuse to be one of the blathering sheep who know nothing other than what Jobs tells them is true. [i]Honest, the iPhone is brand new! Never before has there ever been a device that was a cell phone, a multimedia device, [b]and an Internet communicator[/b] and we will bless you with it for the low low price of $699 + 3 year loaded to the gills cell phone contract!![/i] I know that you've swallowed it hook, line, and sinker but that really isn't something to be proud of. The delicious irony though is when an Apple zealot starts spouting off about DRM in Vista. Hehe, that one really takes the cake!!
            NonZealot
  • People want cheap and they get it

    When looking at electronic products, especially computers, the
    average customer wants a cheap price, but assumes that because
    it's a computer it will be a quality product. They don't think about
    the EOMs cutting costs in as many areas as possible to provide that
    cheap price - until there is a problem.
    Ken_z
  • Getting Screwed

    Adrian:

    Your experience with fasteners, and specifically with screws, is nothing new.

    Many years ago, I worked for one of the General Aviation (light aircraft) companies as an assembler. The company was well known by its line employees for purchasing below-spec screws. Quite often, we would receive bags of flush-head (countersunk) screws whose heads were too thick in relationship to their head diameter to properly seat flush with the aircraft skin. Naturally, the out-of-spec screws were mixed in with screws of the same type which [b]were[/b] within specs, and had to be culled by hand and disposed of. We called them "floor sweepings", because that's exactly what they were--swept up off the floor at the end of the shift, because that's where we tossed them.

    We finally got QA involved and had entire cases of substandard screws rejected and sent back to Purchasing. It took awhile, but the company finally started buying quality fasteners.

    Screws are made by the millions (or billions, or even trillions, in some cases), all by computer controlled equipment. Most factory QA is done by computer inspection, though a certain fractional percentage receives spot manual inspection to assure that the fasterner(s) meet some kind of spec tolerances. And even in the best of circumstances, some mis-made fasteners will slip through the inspection process.

    I worked in the aircraft industry for quite a long time, and have seen my share of bad, poor quality, out-of-spec, mis-made, malformed, and generally crap fasteners. But with the above-described exception, the vast majority of screws and other mechanical fasteners I encountered were high quality. After all, they are required to meet some sort of military, government, or company (usually Boeing) specification. If they don't, and the company has a good QA organization, they don't get used.

    This is not to say that the computer industry follows the same guidelines. They don't. Like as not, if a particular sample batch of screws [b]looks[/b] good, they get purchased. And if a computer company can shave a fraction of a cent from the cost of each 10 or 100 screws purchased, it saves the company money. Which fattens the bottom line and Enhances Shareholder Value.

    And if the supplier can shave a fraction of a yuan from the cost of manufacturing a fastener by substituting low-quality raw materials, it will do just that, because it fattens the bottom line and Enhances Shareholder Value. :)

    Is it a case of greed? In the first case, no. In the second case, yes. There's a difference between shoring up an ever-dwindling profit margin and, if you'll excuse the phrase, screwing the customer.

    As an aside: The quality of the installation tool(s) used rarely makes a difference when installing screws in computers. Even the cheapest Phillips-head screwdriver, allowing that it has the correct-sized blade tip, can be used to install a Phillips-head screw.

    Back in the day, Compaq pioneered using Torx fasteners in their computers. They were a pain in the butt to work on if your kit didn't have a set of Torx drivers...

    And applying the proper amount of torque is also a key requirement. Most people have sufficient hand strength to badly overtorque the small screws that are used to install motherboards, and even peripheral cards, in computer cases. Remember, mobo standoffs are usually made of brass, which is much softer than the steel screws that are going into them. Power screwdrivers should [b]never[/b] be used to install screws into brass or relatively thin sheet metal, since they can easily apply far too much torque and can strip the threads of the receiver material.

    Good Bog, I've become as long-winded as Harry Bardal. But at least what I write doesn't require translation. :)
    M.R. Kennedy
    • Brother Mike is dead on.

      From a different view, I can agree. I, at one time, worked in a manufacturing environment where we frequently received sub-spec fasteners, in bulk. On two occasions, complaints were made to the supplier, and as a corrective action, the salespersons brought in QA and engineers to hear our concerns and offer solutions. A few weeks later, they brought in a sample batch of the "improved" fasteners. They looked great, almost perfect. So everyone was happy. Then the first bulk batch came in, and viola, it was the same crap they had been selling us before. Another meeting, another "sample" batch, another great display and presentation. This time it took two bulk batches before they started shipping the same old crap again.

      Basically, they hand picked the best samples to present as the "fix" to the problem, and then started unloading their crap on us again after we bought their sales pitch.

      I left that job, so I don't know how it eventually turned out, probably more of the same. If I had to wager a guess.
      daddykevin13
    • Complete agreement...

      especially with two specific points - size and torque.

      "Even the cheapest Phillips-head screwdriver, allowing that it has the [b]correct-
      sized blade tip[/b]..." Most people don't know that Phillips screwdrivers are sized,
      and that's why we see so many stripped heads. With the proper sized tip, it's [b]
      really[/b] difficult to strip a Phillips by hand. When using an electric screwdriver,
      always use the slowest speed, and the lowest torque setting, and the proper sized
      tip. You'll rarely strip one that way.
      msalzberg
      • Getting Torqued

        msalzberg:

        (Boy, it's sure fun to play with words!)

        The most common Phillips tip size is #2, and most #2 tips are "sharp" and "deep" enough to handle sizes #1-#3, making it pretty much a general purpose driver. It's only when you are using very tiny (3/32") or larger (1/4" and above), respectively, that you should change to a smaller or larger tipped driver. Most cheap Phillips drivers won't be marked. Better quality tools will be. Best yet is a 1/4" hex-socket reversible-ratcheting screwdriver that uses interchangeable flat, Phillips, and Torx driver tips.

        As for torquing, in my past experience as an aircraft structural assembler/installer (See? I [b]told[/b] you I wasn't an IT Pro!), most small fastener torque requirements are measured in inch-pounds. The average proper torque for 3/32" or 1/8" (shank diameter, not head diameter) screws is 5-8 inch-pounds. The usual torque range for 3/16" shank diameter screws is 12-15 inch-pounds.

        How can you manage that without resorting to using a torque wrench? Simple: 5-10 inch pounds equals snugging the screw and then turning it another 1/4 turn. For 12-15 inch-pounds, snug the screw, then turn it another 1/3rd to 1/2 turn. You don't want to strip the threads in the material the screw is going into.

        Power screwdrivers, whether they're a straight-line or pistol-grip design, deliver far more torque (even at their lowest settings) than most people need for assembling or installing components into a computer. It's far better to use a good ratcheting screwdriver. Snap-On makes several very good ones. If you have hex-head/Phillips screws, use a nut driver, if there is sufficient clearance for the socket wall. Save the power screwdrivers for home improvment or car maintenance projects.

        Thankfully, many computer cases are now "tool-free" designs, though you still need tools for installing the system board onto the chassis standoffs or for installing HDD or optical drives. A punch and small hammer are useful for removing knock-out plugs/panels. A thin (but relatively wide) flat-blade screwdriver is useful for removing snap-in bezels.

        Isn't screwing around a blast? ;)
        M.R. Kennedy
        • I don't have to deal with...

          the torque requirements of structural assembly. I do, however, have to deal with
          racks of audio gear, often put together by someone with a DeWalt set at high
          speed, and high torque. In this case, hand tight plus 1/4 turn would be more than
          sufficient.

          Meanwhile, out in the field, if I have to replace anything put in with a cordless drill
          (not power screwdriver - drill), I'm often left cursing.

          Both my DeWalt and my Makita, at the lowest settings, has low enough torque that
          the screw can be taken out by hand.

          All rack screws for audio gear are #2 Phillips (well, unless you get into the security
          stuff).
          msalzberg
          • re: I don't have to deal with...

            msalzberg:


            "...structural assembly."

            Most people don't, at least professionally. The aircraft references were for illustrative purposes, though the torque descriptions I gave can be used by anyone handy with a screwdriver, wrench, or socket set. Essentially, there's no need to "crank her down real good".

            <in reference to to screws installed by someone else using a power drill/screwdriver set at high torque levels>

            "Meanwhile, out in the field, if I have to replace anything put in with a cordless drill (not power screwdriver - drill), I'm often left cursing."

            Yep. If the head isn't already stripped out, it stands a good chance of being stripped when you attempt to remove the screw. Loads of fun.

            "Both my DeWalt and my Makita, at the lowest settings, has low enough torque that the screw can be taken out by hand."

            Even so, it's still a less-than-optimal way to install or mount electronic components.

            The truly lazy (not that I'm accusing you) use a power driver to install screws that are 3-5 times longer than are needed, which is why they use a power driver in the first place. 1 1/2 to 3 exposed threads (on the back side of the mount) is quite sufficient, and any exposed wiring won't be in danger of being damaged.
            M.R. Kennedy
        • Really useful rules of thumb ...

          "How can you manage that without resorting to using a torque wrench? Simple: 5-10 inch pounds equals snugging the screw and then turning it another 1/4 turn. For 12-15 inch-pounds, snug the screw, then turn it another 1/3rd to 1/2 turn. You don't want to strip the threads in the material the screw is going into."

          I'm amazed - these rules of thumb are near to spot on as damn it ... cool! Cheers for that!
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • Screw that

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