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You can buy a company. You can buy a product. Common sense? Trickier

Taking the Metal Mickey as customer complains that none of the equipment works

On Call An important lesson in conductivity lies in wait for the unwary or downright incompetent. Welcome to another tale from the On Call archives.

Today's story comes from a Register reader we shall call "Peter" (not his name) and concerns his experience at an electronics company at the turn of the century. The company had been acquired and, as is so often the case, the new owner was getting to grips with what the purchase meant.

"The company had tried to build our PCB test equipment," Peter told us, "but none of it worked."

Lengthy phone calls ensued as Peter tried to work out what the problem could be. The test kits were pretty straightforward. One element was a plastic enclosure with protruding test pins. Those made contact with the underside of the PCB for measurement purposes.

It really wasn't that complicated, and yet even with the designs in hand, and with the brains of their acquisition on tap (or on the phone at least) the new company was struggling. Nothing seemed to be working.

"I was struggling to figure out over the phone how that could be," said Peter, "so I had them send me one of the pieces of equipment that didn't work."

The parcel duly arrived and, once unpacked, it took the team seconds to identify the problem. Remember the plastic enclosure of the original PCB test equipment? Sadly, the new parent company hadn't, and had omitted this crucial detail in their lengthy calls with Peter.

Gazing upon the problematic hardware, "me and my colleagues fell about laughing," said Peter in a tone we doubt was terribly supportive.

"Our parent company had used metal boxes and none of the equipment was working because all the test pins were shorting together via the metal enclosure."

Sometimes it is the most simple of things that trip one up, and while a company might seem to have all the money in the world at acquisition time, sometimes that excess is balanced by a paucity of common sense.

Ever spent hours on the phone to a customer, only to find their problem turned out to be so obvious that mere audio could not do it justice? Or have you stretched the patience of a fellow engineer to breaking point and beyond before a simple mistake was spotted and fixed? Share your experience with an email to On Call. ®

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