News (2006/09/18)

Reader Controller update

We are going into pre-production within the next 2 weeks. Dries Laas is currently busy playing around with last minute colour modifications and should have the first PPM enclosures out by 25 September. My suppliers and assemblers are on my case for taking so long. Many other people are itching. The initial batch will be distributed to a few pilot sites for testing.


I am still planning to get a unit in at one of Denel's offices as well as a few samples to Volvo. The particular Volvo site is hell-on-earth for access control. The booms are surrounded by palisades and electric fencing and is a magnet for lighting. If you are looking for a place where lightning strikes twice at the same spot (or more) then this is the place. Their current system uses the same cards we supply and uses a wired configuration for everything. During lighting season it is so bad that the guards are instructed to disconnect several connectors in order to protect the rest of the network. On one particular strike the lighting toasted the boom controller, roasted the entire central controller, got onto the network cable and blew the 10/100 switch 50 meters on (with minimal damage to the controller, +- 4 chips blown) and finally got onto another 10/100 cable to finally blow the incoming channel, 120 meters away, on a 10 mbit/s hub right inside the IT control room. The total cost of the damage 'luckily' only amounted to +-R30 000, but if that little lightning bugger went through it would have destroyed millions of Rands and brought IT to a grinding halt. The architecture of the reader-controller is such that the lightning strike would only have destroyed the boom controller (R500) and maybe the reader-controller itself (R1200)...AND the client could probably have replaced it themselves. Now R30 000 compared to +-R2000 makes a huge difference.


One of the tests I am seriously interested myself is the water test. We are planning to run this thing in a bucket of water for as long as possible. During this test it will perform all functions as normal (in fact we will be sticking a tag on to it and just let it cycle until some other MTBF kicks in). After a while ( along while) or even a parallel test we will drown it in harsh solvents. We have already informally tested the unit to about 60 deg C and will need to do a formal temperature test from at least -10 C to 55 C. Why do we do this? Well, some access readers will be used outside and although we will specify that it must be mounted out of direct sunlight some intense heat will reach it. During cold mornings it should obviously still work. I worked with a client a few years ago that hands out cards to the guys in the wash bay. These tags are ISO rated but they don't last for more than 6 months. Water, solvent and handling problems disintegrates the tag until it is barely recognizable when they finally report that the tag doesn't work anymore. I wish I had a photo to show you. Now, sadly, I cannot do anything to the tags except supplying an expensive potted version. Seeing that the tags are relatively cheap I have found my clients had no problem swapping them out after a few months. The problem comes in at the reader. The wash bay guys would accidentally hose down the reader, get oil and other nasty stuff on it and even sometimes you would find that some jerk has ripped the reader from the wall and it is hanging by it connection cable. Then one client had the cheek to complain when the system malfunctioned.  We have had clients that 'reconfigured' the reader with a hammer, especially those aggressive cardholders that did not like the fact that their managers reduced their access levels. Many of these 'power users' quickly realize that their aggression can get them fired and then calm down, but you have to watch out for that initial adrenaline powered fist blow or Thor hammer swing that could result in the client having to open the door for the day. For that we use fairly tough thermosetting plastic material. In fact we use the same process I used to develop vehicle impact sensors. We actually tuned the circuit by doing several cycles of hitting the box with a 2 kg hammer, swinging on a 75 cm radius jig. All the electronics lived in the same enclosure. The impact was so intense if you decided to get your finger in the way that you would need serious medical attention afterwards. I would honestly not try do test our competition's reader in that way. I do this because I hate comebacks. I feel it is criminal how some designers design products that close to self destruct after the 1 year warranty.


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