Future Repairs in Electronics

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Electronics contribute greatly to our general welfare, pursuit of happiness and high standard of living.  

These products keep us busy at work or relax us at home.  They light up our world, both literally and by keeping us entertained.  They help us to travel or communicate with others.  If were sick, they can even help cure us.

Unfortunately, they also break down.  Yet when they do, electronic devices can often be repaired using other electronic devices or instruments to get the job done.  Naturally, someone who has a basic understanding of electronics usually operates these tools of repair.

Where to start?

If the Age of Electronics began in 19th century with the invention of such things as the telegraph, telephone and phonograph, the Age of Electronics Repair began soon after.  As other inventions followed – the radio, electric light, household appliances, transistors and integrated circuits - no doubt the resulting repairs that needed to be done became more sophisticated or complex.  

Some electronic devices have many moving parts, and just about anything that moves wears out through time.  More moving parts equate to more things that can go wrong, like switches, motors, meters, etc.

Some products have few or more subtle moving parts – except for moving electrons passing through their systems!  But these components also overheat or degrade with use.  To keep these devices running, it may take only a replacement part to get things back in working order.  Something like a new electric cable, vacuum tube, fuse, or an “adjustment” to a circuit board may be just what the doctor ordered.    

Of course, at times the gap between figuring out what is wrong and repairing the object may seem as wide as the Grand Canyon!  Before any repair can be made, someone has to ascertain what’s broke.  And electronics troubleshooting is a science and art form unto itself.  Many books have been written on the subject.

Where does one start?  Well, many people start tinkering with electronics when they are young.  They’ll take apart a radio or a VCR to see to see how it works.  They don’t have to put it back together, but they will take it apart before recycling it or throwing it away (unnecessarily in many cases – most communities now have places to recycle TVs, fax machines, computers, cell phones, etc.).  The more astute students may be able to put the device back together.  

Others may chose commercial, educational products that are available online or in some brick and mortar stores.  The Heathkit age that began in the late 1940s and ended in the 1990s may be over, but things like electronics kits, radio assemblies, circuit boards, testing equipment, etc., can still be purchased at many different places.

And here’s a good place as any to toot our own horn at the Cleveland Institute of Electronics.  CIE can help anyone gain a fundamental understanding of electronics.  More specifically, it has courses that cater to individuals who wish to learn about electronics repair.  

One of the best CIE courses for this is called Electronics Technology & Advanced Troubleshooting.  According to the program description, this course “was designed for students with no previous electronics experience and provides them with a solid core of instruction in electronics technology.”  It contains 118 self-paced lessons, ranging from “Current and Voltage” to “Advanced Troubleshooting and Modern Circuitry.”  

Old products, new products

There is a point of diminishing return for many electronic repairs.  Why spend $50-100 to repair a graphing calculator that is $100-150 brand new?  Why spend $100 to repair an analog television that costs almost the same?  Sadly, the economic reality is that many smaller electronic devices become disposable once they stop working.

Furthermore, even if you want to get an item repaired, it’s not always that easy to find a repair shop.  For certain products, like LP record players and cathode ray tube televisions, repairmen are becoming a vanishing breed.  According to information from the National Electronics Service Dealers Association in Fort Worth, Texas, there are about 7,000 electronics service dealers in the U.S., down from about 20,000 in the mid-1980s.  

Many small or mom and pop centers are closing their doors every month.  However, the companies that decide to stick it out have to service “tomorrow’s high tech products today.”  And that usually means getting into digital products with microprocessors, computers and software.

But remember our original premise - electronics are just about everywhere in our modern society.  Repairs still have to be made!  So don’t put away your soldering gun, multimeters, voltmeters or oscilloscopes just yet!  If anything, more electronics technicians are needed.

Today most electronics-related repairs are made in the large department stores, computer centers or specialty shops that sell the products.  Or these establishments will have trained technicians that will visit your home or office to make the necessary repairs.  That’s why places like Best Buy, Circuit City and Sears Roebuck & Co. usually run a service department to repair their products, especially those that are sold with a warranty.  Or, if your Oreck vacuum cleaner breaks down, bring it back to your local Oreck store.  Can’t get your digital camera to work?  Return it where you got it.  Photocopying machines are regularly serviced by traveling technicians.  And some products might have to be sent to the OEM that manufactured it.  

In all these cases, the personnel that eventually diagnose, calibrate or fix the problem have a working knowledge of electronics.

Computers are entirely different animals.  Anyone who has owned a computer for a short time (a few days?. . .few minutes?) will probably run into trouble eventually, either with the PC’s hardware or software.  This is particularly true for novices or new computer owners.  To get these machines working, specialized technicians have to be called to open them up, connect the proper cables or install the required software.

To show the relevance of computers, try to get one repaired.  There is almost always a backlog in work orders.  And who are the technicians working in the back rooms?  Who makes the house calls?  Who are these people?  Where were they trained?

Why not learn how to repair them yourself and even start your own busines with CIE Bookstore's PC Repair Course?

As has been said many times and in many places, information technology (I.T.) or digital technology are here to stay.  Specializing in computer hardware or software design, development, maintenance and repair could be a ticket to a rewarding career.  There are no guarantees, but the job opportunities in I.T. are immense.  Just check out the job market in your Sunday paper want ads or at the various online job sites like Careerbuilder, Jobster or Monster.  Many government agencies and larger corporations also have web sites offering I.T. and even electronics-related employment.

The Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, keeps its finger on the pulse of American spending trends, especially concerning consumer electronics products.  It predicted mobile purchases, expected to surpass $8 billion for the first time, will grow by 35 percent and account for nearly 15 percent of all online holiday purchases.

The recent CEA surveys and upcoming trade show indicate “an explosion of digital content services” has occurred.  That means these new products will continue to hit the marketplace.  Many of them are expensive or big-ticket items that cannot be thrown away when they break.  Someday, they’ll have to be repaired.

For those interested, prepare thyself!

Wrtten by Andy Maslowski for Cleveland Institute of Electronics' school newspaper The Electron. www.theelectron.net

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