SteppIR Build Quality - Or the lack of.
If you mention Beams to anyone, top of their list would be one of the SteppIR Beams, but having seen the build quality of these and also seen three dismantle themselves in the last two years and also heard of many more people that seem to have big issues with the build quality of these beams, I thought that I would put my notes on the website, especially after a few operators I have talked to have been thinking of getting one of these antenna.
First off, the build quality of the antenna at first glance seems quite good, even the big 4 Element version with the 40 meter conversion does seem to be made alright, it is not a big aluminum beam such as the Mosley beams, but because of this, it also does not have the same build quality of the Mosley or even HyGain antennas.
The antenna itself performs really well, the initial build and setting up is fairly painless and even faster than most conventional beams, and the operation of the tuning of the antenna is also very straight forward and a lot less hassle than tuning in a big Mosley.
The idea behind the antenna is also really good, if not perfect, but I am afraid to say this is where the fun stops and the pain starts.
The antenna is built for the USA, in that it is built for much better weather conditions that we have here on the Isle of Man, now don’t get me wrong, we have some nice weather here, and it can be like a tropical island in the Summer, well usually for the odd day anyway, but we can also have some pretty horrible weather here as well, although storms with more than 70mph winds are not exactly uncommon here, but the pictures below occurred in a lot less than this. Being on a small island in the middle of the Irish Sea, we see a lot of rough weather, and more often than not horizontal rain and freezing cold.
The SteppIR antennas are just not built for anything rough, I would say anything more than 40mph winds in an exposed area, then forget SteppIR as your choice, because they just fall apart and break, now this would not normally be a problem, because you would just telephone the company and order spare parts, but in this case, again SteppIR is not a perfect choice, as far as customer services go, they are totally none existent, and again using the other two companies that I have already mentioned, both Mosley and HyGain (aka MFJ) will bend over backwards to help you out with spares or advise, but all SteppIR are interested in are Sales! After that, forget it!….
This seems to be the normal issue with these antennas, one of the control boxes cracks around where the fiberglass poles fit into the housing.
The problem here is the build quality of the housing, when you take the housing apart, you can understand why they give way, they are made of a form of plastic and look to be manufactured by injection molding, so far so good, but no thought has been put into building in any strength of the housings themselves, there are now real strengthening ribs in the cases and with the forces that you would think they would need to withstand, these really should be made of metal.
The problem is that the radials poles are basically made like glass fiber fishing rod poles (roach poles) and are very flexible, so in a wind they will have a lot of movement, this movement is then transferred to the housing and the problem here is that this is also flexible, so both work against each other and finally one or both break!
You will need to load the full size image to see the issues with this picture, but because the housing flexes, this puts additional pressure on the mounting, and as you can see the housing begins to crack up!, another problem here seen in many of the ones that I have looked at, is that because the entire element is being blown around as you would expect in any type of winds, this tries to move the housing as well, and what will often occur is that it will start to open up the two holes that are used to mount the housing to the boom, and more often than not these will need to be replaced for larger diameter bolts.
This could be easily remedied if they used round aluminum blocks to aid clamping the housing to the round pole, but SteppIR in their wisdom mount a square box section around the boom, and then use two bolts through the boom, so the physical area actually gripping the house to the boom is actually very small!
And yet another few of this housing.
This issue is far from rare, in fact It seems to be what you need to expect if you own one of these antenna. The fact that as far as SteppIR is concerned, you obviously did not build it right or just that it’s not their fault and that this is rare problem seems, and I am sorry to be blunt, Bullshit!
Build Quality … NOT!
This is a separate antenna, again here on the Isle of Man, and as mentioned before I have seen 3 of these SteppIR’s break apart now.
This one like the one above just shakes itself apart.
Here we can see that the braces for the 40 meter element have broken.
Here you can see that the plastic mounting has just been pulled apart in the wind, like the rest of this antenna, the build quality is completely lacking, as you would expect, the 40 meter element is a large element, and even in the slightest winds, this would flex and twist, but these clamps are just not large or strong enough to handle any movement whatsoever.
Another minor gripe that we encountered with this was the screws and nuts used to fit this unit must be made from some very cheap or poor quality stainless steel if in fact they are stainless at all. Most of these were rusted and needed a lot of WD40 before we could release them, and this was after less than a year of use.
And just to prove a point here is another housing unit that has decided it want to fall apart, but this like the one above has nothing to do with the owners build standards, but the quality of the components just not being strong enough for normal weather here in the Isle of Man, and most of the rest of the world….
As you can see from this photo, the same problem has occurred with a completely different SteppIR antenna.
The elements flex in the wind and something has to give, this being the most expensive part of this antenna to replace, maybe SteppIR just know that if they keep these housing like this, then they can always make so much more money out of spares, as it only takes a few of these to go to cover the cost of these antennas.
This is a close-up view of the damaged motor unit.
As well as the obvious damage, what we also found was that the plastic collar around the base of the spike drive units had also disintegrated.
A slight shock here was that there is no support for the top of the drive itself, thus the drive motor that turns both radial drives is only supported on the bottom of the drive and although in theory there is very little movement here anyway except for rotational movement, it does seem a bit lacking that no additional support for this drive unit has been built into the housing.
Now, I am certainly not biased against this antenna, but saying that I have not yet seen a Mosley beam fall apart!
I also would not turn a SteppIR beam down if it was given to me, they certainly do their job very well and are basically a very good antenna, that said, the SteppIR build quality does need a little looking at.
But I would certainly not recommend a SteppIR either, and it would only be because of its build quality, because when they work, they work very well, and as a HF antenna, they are very good, but the only thing I would say is that if you do want one, maybe buy a second as a spare to save you a month’s wait for parts to arrive, or see what eBay has to offer regarding spares…
On the good side, because these seem to fall apart on a regular basis, there are a lot of parts for these on eBay usually.
Thankfully if you are not turned off the SteppIR as your choice of antenna, there is a much better alternative… Ultrabeam in Italy (http://www.ultrabeam.it/).
These make the same sort of antennas, but the quality is far better, and they are also built for rough weather, and at least more thought has been put into their design. There customer support is also very good.
So what needs changing to make the SteppIR build quality better?
First off, the way that the drive units are attached to the boom! This is such a big design cock-up, after all it must be a total prat that thinks; ‘I know, every other beam manufacturer fits square section into square clamps, and round radials into round clamps, I will be different and fit a square box section onto a round boom’, fantastic idea! NOT! This would possible work, if it was not held in place by two small bolts and if the radials were not so flexible. If this was changed then the base of the drive units would not flex so much and this flexing causing half of the damage that I have come across. What this really could do with is ditch the round boom, and fit a square section tube instead, yes there will be a little more resistance to wind, but the units will be better clamped and would stand up to a little more!
The actual drive unit house is Plastic? Why? This has to be cost driven, and even then, I cannot see it costing much more to replace these with either stronger covers with built in support around where the radials enter the units, or to replace the entire box with metal enclosures! Either way I would be very surprised if any stress and fatigue testing had ever been carried out in the design stage, they most probably thought, it can handle 20mph winds – that will do!
Stronger fittings! All of the bolts supplied, just seem to be at least one size too small, the ones attaching the drive units to the boom for instance are totally inadequate, but I suppose they need these so that after a year’s use the holes in the boom will be opened up enough to fit larger ones! And as for the sundry fittings that are used on sections such as the trombone for the 40 meter elements, these are just pathetic, the entire clamps and screws themselves need to be totally reworked!
A lot of the Drive units start to crack around the bolt holes that holds the cover to the metal base that clamps to the boom, this could so easily be rectified by either a fitting a washer that has a built in collet attached to it installed under each bolt, this would enable the cover to be held down tight enough to the metal base plate and still allow the cover to flex a small amount without the bolts causing the cover to crack around the bolt holes, it would also make sure that no-one would be able to over-tighten the bolts to much, either way a plastic cover with radials that flex in any amount of wind attached to a metal base, something has to give, and for the cost of a few kiddies sweets, it could easily be sorted out…
If you have money to burn, and don’t mind rebuilding antenna, then SteppIR is for you, just make sure your insurance is up to date.
If you have anything like English weather, live on an Island in the middle of the sea, and have winds in excess of 40mph most of the time, then SteppIR is NOT for you…
Try Mosley or Ultrabeam instead!