One of my favorite “toys” died Saturday. A mysterious death: the power would not cycle on for my (formerly) reliable Heathkit SB-220 linear amplifier.
Dead as the proverbial door nail.
Things like this usually happen when I’m planning something not in agreement with Universe. Specifically, the Major and I had penciled in a 75-meter ham radio contact for around midnight local time.
Universe, however, clearly thought it was more important for me to sleep. So, to prevent me from frittering-away Life on the ham bands, the linear amplifier was “put down” so I’d sleep. (I got the hint, nabbed seven-hours, but now I’m pissed about the amplifier.
“Don’t be pissed! Write an article about General Troubleshooting. Lot’s of people might benefit from that. Then you can fix the amplifier…”
[I’m not sure where thoughts or directives like this come from, but they’re interesting to experience…]
Troubleshooting and iWAMP
OK, from the Top: The Grand Directions for Life (if you composite all Great Religions) come down to only a couple of key Big Picture ideas:
- When you Live, follow your heart toward what makes you happy. It will fit nicely and make your Journey fun!
- Always work on personal Perfection. One of the tools is iWAMP. The Practice of asking “Is What’s Around Me Perfect?” If not, there is a project for you.
- A Great Life is comprised of as many Great Projects as you can handle. More are always out there.
- And record in your mind’s lens every bit of it (the Film Maker’s view) so when you pass over, you’ll have a kick-ass Life Review…something you can enjoy watching and which will demonstrate your added Value and what you have Learned from Life.
Long intro to a “General Troubleshooting” Guide, huh? But, being Sunday, having coffee, and too dark (did I mention cold, too?) I figure a nickel’s worth of Philosophizing would be fine… Where were we?
- Everything in Life malfunctions. Over enough time, even a simple water glass goes “dust-to-dust.” An auto (made in Detroit in the 1990’s) goes considerably faster. People (and structured relationships (marriages, family) also malfunction.
- Understand the “Process Flow” of all things. Trouble found? How does a broken [fill-in the blank____] normally work. How does that compare with its present state? Who is Abby Normal?
- Flow chart proper operation. We only come to know that a “thing” (or people) are not working right by interacting with them. Therefore, in order to troubleshoot, inspect the interaction and look for obvious iWAMP problems. *(Like “Is it plugged in? Is the circuit Live? Is the water turned on? Did you check ‘the switches’? And so forth. Look for block diagrams (especially in electronics).
- Isolate the general area of a Single Point of Failure: Reliability Engineers are my favorites among all the engineering disciplines. Anyone, schooled in a few physics formulas can get you to the Moon. Assuming they have time, resources, and are armed with the Russian art of TRIZ – teoriya resheniya izobretatelskikh zadatch, literally: “theory of the resolution of invention-related tasks”) is “a problem-solving, analysis and forecasting tool derived from the study of patterns of invention in the global patent literature”. Reliability Engineers won’t design the spacecraft. They will, however, reduce risk by designing something for several hundred thousand of operation-cycles that really only needs to work once.
- Isolate Through Measurement. Once you have a general area where the failure is likely, then it’s time to make measurements to find the likely exact failure culprit. In hydraulics, a simple piece of paper, waved around tubing under load, can find a pinhole leak. In electronics, I’ve had much faster troubleshooting with an LCR (inductance (symbol ‘L’), capacitance (C), and resistance (R) meter, done power off that any number of spectrum analyzers and waveform generators. The analog when troubleshooting a human body? A $50 x-ray will often answer the same question as a $3,000 CAT scan. Measuring blood alcohol, blood pressure, eye dilation, and a few simple questions (or what EMT’s call the history & Information (H&I) are standard troubleshooting baselines.
- Remember: Motion-Involved Parts Fail Most. Most failures come from motion. In electronics, the “motion” may be from the electrons doing their thing. Resistors can fail from doing too much work (overheating) and capacitors for a host of reasons. Really passive components, like coils? Less so. Switches? Knobs? Plugs? The more you touch, the more it breaks. Same thing is true in mechanicals, as well. Bearings, shafts, seals; the interface between motion and non is always most suspect. Anything transmitting or modifying motion: Brake calipers, CV-joints (which change angular direction), and shift linkages (comes from here, wanders off over there somewhere…) are all more suspect than a (passive) component like the right rear quarter panel… Flex is a hex. Or, trouble can hose you. Troubleshooting enterprising resource systems is great fun (big, general, coding and rule sets. I would die on something as confining as 32-bit assembler. But, most people don’t realizing coding in small spaces is the modern analog to watchmaking of a hundred or two back.
- Inspect for Related Damage. When one component in electronics fails, there is always the mystery “What caused this failure?” Oftentimes, the answer is a nearby component out of spec. In plumbing, seeing the water leak from the washer, the related damage would be water intrusion into floor materials. In single engine aircraft repair specs, a prop-strike (ground or bird) is cause for a complete engine tear-down. Because damage ripples. Anywhere along the shaft where violent motion (sudden stop of sizeable mass) may have transferred stress).
- Do the Simple and Right Repairs. People (up North) make a good bit of fun of Southern “red-necking a project.” Thing is? It’s often the quickest and most cost-effective solution. No point on a million dollar fix for a nickel part, right? On the other hand, if the washer overflowed, don’t just fix the failed (likely something that moves, a float, valve, switch), but also the related and consequential damage. In our washer example: Dry, inspect, and replace flooring, drywall, and whatever.
- Consider ‘Ripple’ Damage: Finding and repairing any
ripple damage really cleans up “failure chains.” Plumbing just mentioned illustrates Ripple and iWAMP.
- Ripple; Washer valve sticks (fail 1) due to water line clog (fail 2) causing water to dump on floor doing damage (consequential failure 1). Which was then soaked up by drywall touching the floor (consequential failure 2). In turn this got some insulation wet – black mold? (Consequential failure 3.)
- iWAMP: How deep to go on any particular repair depends entirely on iWAMP. “Is What’s Around Me Perfect?” And the closely related “Is What’s Around Me Property?” Or “Is What’s Around Me ‘Propriate?” Obviously on the overloaded washer, “Is it Perfect?” No? Gotta fix. “Is what’s broken personal property or, is this a “paid fix?” If it’s a paid fix, and you put more time and money in than the customer is willing, you’re asking for trouble. On the other hand, even if the washer disaster is your own home, don’t you think putting in 8-inch steel (rust-proofed and powder-coated) joists is kinda…oh, you know…diminishing returns? On the other hand, if you’re just the repairperson fixing overflows, the ‘propriate thing to do would be mention that “Your floor likely got wet…might want to call a water damage mediation firm before it soaks up into the walls and leads to a black mold problem…
- Repair, Replace, Resupply, Review: At the end of any troubleshooting (and repair) the sequence should be:
- Do a Remarkable Repair.
- Replace all the tools used on the job, cleaning them. (Pappy said he could get a good sense of a mechanic’s skill level by looking at his socket wrenches and seeing how clean his hands were. “If his hands were clean, he took the time to clean the area before engaging repairs. He’s more conscientious. If the insides of socket wrenches aren’t clean and square, they don’t work as well. Indicator of sloppy thinking and work as a result…”
- Resupply: Order or put on the shopping list replacements: Washers, bolts, screws, paint, switches, doorknob, washer valve (on the theory “If it happened once, it will happen again….” Unless you don’t get the part, in which case the new part just installed will failure instantly, guaranteed. But this gets back to the Purpose of Living is to become a Co-Creator and this is a lesson.
- Review: What went great? What was elusive? How can I adjust my systematic thinking to make this even better/cheaper/faster next time?
Meanwhile, Back at the Radio
Ham radios – assuming a solid design – usually fail due to mechanical issues (I could have an on-off switch or a circuit breaker issue) – and as long as the unit will be opened for repair, an upgraded filter capacitor bank and metering will go in. A malfunctioning meter switch will be replaced. They also fail round capacitors and less often, resistors.
The SB-220 was introduced in 1975. Sold originally for $370 back then. Going price for one in good shape (especially with Eimac tubes) is around $1,000 to $1,300.
I use this amplifier a lot. On the theory “Life’s too short for QRP [low power]. 1975 to 2021? 46-years of use several times per week.
A new capacitor bank and metering board? Also overdue.
“Waiting On Parts”
One of the most useful tools in any shop is a good quality label printer. In the office I use an earlier (non wireless) version of the Brother QL-810W Ultra-Fast Label Printer with Wireless Networking.
Well, I run dozens of projects at any time. Lots of the parts will be a month and sometimes several between Troubleshooting and the actual repair. Which gets me to an area of old shipping boxes…
Ab out once a week, while I’m in the shop, I will mentally go through the boxes: “Where are we on the parts for the upgraded ham radio Ground Bus project?” “Did the larger square/U-bolts for Panel Rack 3 outside come in yet?”
Takes more room.
Bottom lining it for this morning?
First Point: When you Master Troubleshooting, on most jobs the delay is for parts.
Second Point. Pre-planned repairs and project go screamingly fast if you “line things up like ducks…”
Third Point: Save some boxes and organize your parts flow. A solution stumbled over when I discovered there was no room on the workbench to work because “parts in queue” were eating up all the room on the bench for “projects in production.”
“I’m not messy! I’m waiting on parts!” God, that was a good one to learn.
There was the “Aha!” moment for me cleaning the workbench. I don’t have a mess on the bench. I’ve got a sub-assembly and Parts Festival. In manufacturing, projects go in boxes, bins, and tubs. They come with documentation (“the traveler” with a subassembly, for example).
Same thing works at home quite well.
Sunday Breakfast Experiment
Easiest way for a little something different for Sunday breakfast?
Store bought, premade potato salad. Heated to room temp, or just over, a couple of eggs, slice of ham, fresh croissant, hot chocolate, and an apple turnover….
Hell if I know if anything will get done today! But that kind of carbie loading leads either to the absolute peak of human performance. Or the pillow.
Have to get back to you on that one.
Write when you get rich,