Does Anyone Repair Electronics Any More?

April 17, 2012
Commentary on repairing electronic equipment.

When is the last time you had some electronic product repaired?  Didn’t you just throw away the defective product and get a new better one?  Or not?  I have come to view electronic equipment as basically throw-away items.  It is faster and cheaper to just get a new one.  That applies mainly to consumer electronic products.  I am not sure that is the policy with other equipment used in industry or government.  Larger more expensive equipment is mostly repairable thanks in part to it modular design.  Defective modules or subassemblies can be quickly identified and replaced putting the equipment back into service in record time.  That is a good thing, but not all electronic gear is like that.

It used to be easier to troubleshoot a product and replace a defective IC or other component.  But with such small sizes of components and packaging assemblies, it has become far more difficult.  It often requires special desoldering equipment not to mention tweezers and magnifying lenses just to see the parts.

Then there is the test equipment issue.  With most products using very high frequencies, special test equipment is needed to do the troubleshooting.  Gigabit or at minimum megabit data rates and microwave RF make it necessary to have test equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars just to troubleshoot.

Even then if you do manage to find a bad IC, for example, it is often not labeled.  Could you find a replaceable part or not?  If so where would you get it?  The days of getting a replacement at Radio Shack or Digikey are mostly gone.  Could you replace an FPGA for example?  Probably not, if you could even find one.

Forget about repairing most products yourself.  Of course, you may be able to send them back to some repair depot that the manufacturer or dealer maintains.  That works.  It is expensive, of course, and makes you wonder if just getting a new replacement instead is a better choice.  The decision involves both time and money.  If you need the product, you want it fast.   You don’t want to wait weeks for a repair, especially if it involves downtime that kills productivity.  And if the repair costs more than a new product, the decision is usually easy.

Just recently, I had a repair issue that required such a decision.  The glass screen in my hp laptop cracked.  The laptop still works fine but the broken screen makes it difficult to see the display.  I had a devil of a time finding anyone willing to fix such a problem.  Two sources quoted me a $900 repair bill, about twice what I paid for the laptop to begin with.  The hp repair depot quoted a total repair price of nearly $500 including tax and shipping.  Again, just about what I paid for the laptop.  Do I get a new one or not?

In this case, I connected an available 19 inch monitor to the laptop so I could view the screen.  This works great but it takes up lots of desk space and it certainly does not solve the problem of using the laptop as a portable.  So eventually, I end up buying a new laptop.

What really disturbs me the most about defective electronics is the fooling-around time it takes.  Finding troubles and fixing them is a huge hassle and very time consuming, at least it has been for me.  I’ve got lots of stuff to do and I hate having to spend excessive time just getting a PC or other product to work.  Time is money for sure and is a major factor in maintaining any bunch of electronics.

My basic policy is to trade off money for time.  What is your experience with this?

About the Author

Lou Frenzel Blog | Communications Technology

Click here to find more of Lou's articles on Electronic Design. 

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