Introduction: The Inner Workings of Counterfeit FOTEK SSRs
Dec 2019 Update
- A lot has happened since writing this article in early 2015. We no longer buy FOTEK SSRs for any of our controllers. While I believe that FOTEK SSRs are great for lower current projects and I would not be afraid to use one for any project drawing 10 Amps or less, all of our controllers are rated for at least 20 Amps.
- We no longer buy any SSRs through Amazon or eBay regardless of the brand. I've discovered that even major names like CRYDOM and OMORON are subject to counterfeit sales through Amazon and eBay. So, these days we only buy directly from a few Chinese manufactureres or trusted importers.
- Yes we still buy Chinese manufactured SSRs. The counterfeit issue we all deal with is caused by greedy Americans, including greedy Chinese Americans, willing to make a quick profit at anyone's expense. China is just one major manufacturer willing to make whatever we are willing to sell.
- We started buying only 45 Amp rated SSRs and have been for a while, and the reason is simple. The TRIAC in lower current SSRs will be mounted to the base with the a screw while the TRIAC in higher current SSRs will be sweat soldered to the base. Flipping the SSR over to verify the screw hole is not there is quick assurance that we really received what we paid for.
The Original Article
Not too long ago we had a serious warranty issue with some of the controllers we manufacture. The controllers were passing test and would initially work for our customers, but would eventually fail. And these failures occurred after a long run of controllers that did not fail, so I knew that something had changed. We have used FOTEK SSRs in our controllers from day one and they have been very reliable until now. One change we made was we switched from buying directly from a known Chinese supplier to buying through USA based suppliers selling on Amazon.com. I had been watching prices for a while and my cost through Amazon.com dropped to close to what I was paying for parts direct from China.
Suspecting that the SSRs I bought through Amazon.com was the problem, I broke apart a 25 Amp rated part and a 40 Amp rated part and what I found surprised me. I actually expected junk but both SSRs were built very well, but they were both built with under-rated TRIAC's. For reference, the TRIAC is the part that actually switches current on and off inside your SSR.
The 25 Amp SSR was manufactured with a BTA12-400C TRIAC. I did a quick online search and discovered that the part is rated at a continuous load of 12 Amps and a non-repetitive load of 126 Amps. In other words, the TRIAC used in the 25 Amp SSR is only rated for 12 Amps! Here's my BTA12-400C Google search
The 40 Amp SSR was manufactured with a BTA20-600C TRIAC. I did a quick online search and discovered that the part is rated at a continuous load of 20 Amps and a non-repetitive load of 200 Amps. In other words, the TRIAC used in the 40 Amp SSR is only rated for 20 Amps! Here's my BTA20-600C Google search
I did a third search on FOTEK SSR counterfeit and discovered This Article as well as hundreds of forum conversations claiming counterfeit. And even though some of the counterfeit claims are likely failures caused by improper installation, apparently counterfeit SSRs are quite a problem! My next question was - are there even legitimate FOTEK SSRs out there? Yes there are and here is their Web Site. And BTW, I'm not just picking on FOTEK or Amazon.com. If you decide to buy any brand SSR from any online supplier including Amazon, eBay or "Joe's SSR Shop" not licensed to sell the product you are basically making a "shot in the dark" purchase.
I mentioned earlier that even the counterfeit SSRs were built well. All of the soldering was high quality and the TRIAC was properly mounted to the back plate with plenty of thermal grease. I suspect that these counterfeits are nothing more than lower current models re-labeled as higher current models. If this weren't so I believe the counterfeits I disassembled would be poorly built. There is a huge financial motivation to do this. Lower current models cost less than higher current models and any re-labeled product would result in instant extra profit!!!!
After this discovery I immediately went back to buying directly from my Chinese supplier and except for an occasional controller, the failures have disappeared. I have not broken apart one of the SSRs that work, but based on the difference in performance it's obvious that there is a internal difference in these parts.
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.
Step 1: What If You Are Already Using a FOTEK SSR or Are Designing Your Own Controller?
If you have been using your SSR with no issues for a while then most likely you have a good one. FOTEK is a well known name in China and a good product and your SSR should continue working for a long time.
What should you do if you are designing your own controller?
Should you buy something other than FOTEK? I'd say not necessarily because FOTEK SSRs are a great value compared to anything you can buy from a USA name brand supplier. For example, a 25 Amp rated Crydom SSR will easily cost you $40 or more, while a 25 Amp rated FOTEK SSR will cost you less than $10 through eBay or Amazon. The best solution is to 'assume' that the part you buy has been re-labeled and buy a SSR with higher current rating than you need. Buy a 40 Amp SSR to control a 20 Amp load, etc. The cost is not much higher and you still purchase a quality part for far less than a SSR you would buy from a USA name brand supplier.
Or you could just buy a name brand like Crydom, but with counterfeits so common these days how do you know if your eBay sourced Crydom SSR is real or counterfeit? You don't!
The best solution if you are buying one that has to work is to "bite the bullet" and buy your SSR from a licensed distributor like digikey.com. A Quick Digikey Search for Crydom 25A SSRs returns a selection in the $41.00 and up range.
Tom - www.kegkits.com