Equipment Burn-in

By Ken Larson KJ6RZ

One characteristic of modern semiconductor electronic equipment is something called infant mortality. The failure rate of new electronic equipment is generally very low. However, if the equipment is going to fail, it is likely to do so within the first few hundred hours of operation. Failure within this time period is called an infant mortality failure and is usually caused by a flaw in a semiconductor or other electronic component. Simply having the equipment power turned on is often enough to cause this type of failure to occur. If the equipment does not fail in the first few hundred hours of operation, then it will probably provide many years of trouble free operation.

The consumer electronic industry generally warrantees new electronic equipment for 90 days. A new computer, audio equipment, a television, DVD player, or similar equipment that fails in the first 90 days can generally be returned to the store where it was purchased and replaced with a new unit with few if any questions asked. However, if the device fails after the 90 day warrantee, then getting it replaced becomes much more difficult.  

Understanding infant mortality and 90 day warrantees suggests a procedure that probably should be used for all new electronic equipment. When you purchase a new electronic device, turn it on and run it continuously for two weeks. Two weeks will provide 336 hours of operation (14 days x 24 hours/day = 336 hours). Once a day cycle the power. Turn the device off, wait a minute or two, and then turn it back on. If after two weeks, your new equipment is still working, then you are probably through the infant mortality period and can expect years of reliable service. If things go badly instead and your new device fails, then by running the equipment continuously you have forced the failure to occur in two weeks, well within the 90 day warrantee period. The problem with not following this procedure is that you can become busy doing other things. 90 days goes by and you have used your new equipment for only a few hours. Your warrantee has expired and you are still in the infant mortality period, not a good situation.

Burn-in procedures are used by most high-tech companies. For example, when I worked for GTE Government Systems, we had to supply the Government with records showing that we had burned in each system prior to delivering it.

 I use this procedure on all electronic equipment that I buy, and it works! Last year I bought a 1 meter transceiver for ARES/RACES work. In addition to turning on the power, I made a point of transmitting at least once a day. Usually just transmitting my call. On the third day of burn-in a problem developed. Occasionally when I hit the push to talk key, the transceiver turned off (completely powered down). Not every time, it was a very sporadic failure, the worse kind. I returned the radio to Ham Radio Outlet and they gave me a new one without any hassle. The new radio made it through the two week burn-in and has been working great ever since.