How much does cost reduction really cost you?

How much does cost reduction really cost you?

Production cost and the sophistication of security equipment are directly related; therefore, the more the manufacturers try to lower the cost of raw materials used in circuit designs, the more performance problems arise. There are two areas where these measures are commonly observed: circuit materials and designs, and peripheral equipment. This article delves into problems with material cost reduction for circuit materials and designs.

Some dishonest manufacturers simply claim that they choose different materials to optimize the interoperability of different components. However, the ugly truth is that it is done to “lower” the total production cost. Material substitutions can occur in all components, from resistors and chips to single or layered circuit boards, wiring connectors, relay designs, voltage stabilizers, and many more. Likewise, the external casing material, paint selection, fans and jacks used are also possible places to make alterations. But as mentioned above, these alterations are done to lower costs in order to boost competitiveness, despite the serious impact it has on product performance.

Some problems surface quickly, while others only emerge due to the influences of certain environmental or operational factors. Nevertheless, any problem is a headache for users and integrators. Below are some common problems resulting from production cost reductions.

For lenses, cost reductions usually happen with the replacement of the metal molding components with plastic materials. As a result, two problems arise:

A. The lens may or may not be tightly sealed with the rest of the camera due to its elasticity. Plastic molds may lose elasticity, shrink, curve in, or curl up with time, or even worse, change shape as temperatures change. This is almost impossible to avoid with plastic, which affects the accuracy of focal alignment.

B. In addition, without a piece of metal that serves as adequate grounding, external electromagnetic signals can easily interfere with the auto-iris lens and damage the signal output, leaving interference lines on images.

The makeup of a camera involves complex circuit and structural designs, including optics, electric wirings, mechanical structures, network modules, and many more. Hence, cost reduction measures to substitute these components may create the following problems:

A. Traditionally, security cameras use a sophisticated locking screw ring to adjust the back focus through rotation. To cut down costs, some manufacturers use a metal strip or loosen/tighten the screws to stabilize the back focus. These substitutions do save on production costs, but over time cause cameras to easily become “out of focus” due to vibrations, requiring further manual adjustment by the installer.

B. To save on costs related to circuit boards, some manufacturers combine the imaging sensor and the DSP/ISP into a single double-layered and double-sided board. Because two individual boards have been shrunk down into one, three problems may occur:

1. Crowded soldering on a circuit board could result in solder skipping or false soldering and could even lead to a short circuit.

2. The simplified board design allows IP cameras to become smaller as a whole; however, as the size gets smaller, the heat dissipation mechanism can be compromised.

3. The overcrowding of the pieces of components on the circuit board makes it difficult to maintain or repair. Therefore, instead of repairing a broken circuit board, the manufacturer would just replace it with a new one. It is a faster solution, but it can take a great toll on installers' maintenance service.

C. Unless the camera uses power over Ethernet (PoE), to lower the production cost, some manufacturers may simply change its AC/DC power supply to switching mode power supply (SMPS) and simplify the interior power module and voltage stabilizer at the same time. Three problems could surface as a result:

1. Voltage and current flow could be very unstable and fluctuate wildly, thus overheating and damaging the camera.

2. When the external power supply becomes too heavy, the surge protection device (SPD) can be easily penetrated; cameras designed with the substitution or elimination of SPDs or lightning arresters are at greater risk of such damage.

3. In case of lightning strikes, the SMPS could become so sensitive that it would pick up the lightning-induced current and cause damage to the circuit board, which may be too vulnerable to handle strong currents.

D. When downgrading electronic components, electrical connections and transmissions in the interior of a camera can be problematic, leading to impedance mismatching to 75Ω. As a consequence, the images shown can be overlapping, too bright, and full of jittery OSD or noise lines.

E. Some manufacturers may eliminate the output of video (CVBS) signals or switch the BNC connector to the cheaper RCA jack, even in some network cameras without automatic focus. It may cause a short circuit or loose connection of the BNC connector. Because there is no CVBS output in the camera, installers may spend extra time adjusting the camera focus.

F. To substitute the coding component in IP cameras, there are two kinds of common selections: application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and field programmable gate array (FPGA). ASIC is advantageous in terms of achieving low power consumption, but it still has some shortcomings. Therefore, the cheaper FPGA chip is also favorable as it can contribute to a shorter product development period. But FPGA can take up high power consumption, as much as a 30mA current — that's almost 1 or 2 scales higher than the common power consumption level.

G. For PTZ cameras, it is common to see the gear wheel replaced with cheaper chains. As a result, both the horizontal and vertical tilting becomes less smooth and the chains may easily break or fall out of place. Furthermore, when the cradle head stops moving, the chains can exert a kickback force that could shift the camera's pre-determined angles.

H. Another component on a PTZ camera that is easily substituted is the capacitor. A lower-grade capacitor can cause inaccurate cradle head movements and can burn up due to inadequate rotations.

A. DVR/NVR manufacturers usually utilize development boards and kits already on the market to save development and design costs of DVR motherboards. However, this could easily jeopardize a DVR/ NVR's stability and product longevity because of defective firmware and the materials used in the development boards, giving rise to potential risks and faulty performances.

B. To reduce cost, some circuit boards would eliminate the CPU cooling fan, which causes the CPU to perform at a compromised level when the server is overheating. Images yielded would not be clear due to mosaic blurriness.

C. Transmission wires can be minimized by simplifying the material of jumper wires. However, this can cause impedance mismatching and the interference of thousands of vertical lines on the monitors.

D. DVR/NVR transmission connectors, which have adopted substitute materials, could cause interference, too. The communications between the box, decoders, or control boards could be compromised.

E. If the backend server of a DVR/NVR is not equipped with signal blocking materials, interference signals may show up on the display, including diagonal lines, jitters, power supply fluctuations, etc. The interference may not pose a big problem, but badly distorted images resulting from the interference would not be useful to anyone.

F. If the DSP components were minimized, then the signals may not be magnified to the desired degree, rendering low-resolution images that may compromise details such as color, saturation, etc. These typically happen when signals greater than 3MHZ are lost.

G. The casing of the DVR/NVR may be downgraded with the elimination of a fan. Once again, the overheating issue would cause the machine to breakdown.

The above scenarios may be the result of common cost reduction measures by manufacturers for their own benefits or because they have no other choice but to. It is not an easy task for integrators and users to distinguish the interior design of equipment. Therefore, what can be and should be done when selecting a product is to evaluate the reactive measures that can solve the abovementioned problems.

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