Electronics > Repair

Mr. Carlson's Lab

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His videos on restoring antique electronics are popular. Is it more difficult to fix something than to design something new?  ::) I wonder.

Given that they are things of equal complexity, such as an oscilloscope, it's far easier to fix something. But there can be show stoppers when fixing things, such as a hybrid circuit or special IC that is unobtainable and which can't be substituted for with modern components. Even not being able to track down a service manual can make fixing something virtually impossible.

I'd say it depends. Sometimes it's easier to design something of your own from scratch, because you designed it you know exactly how it works, what it does and so on.

Repairing stuff often requires you to familiarize yourself with the device, at least if it is something more complex then e.g. a PSU. Often you have to kind of get into the mind of the engineers that designed the device. Older devices often make it easier for the repairman: Good manuals are worth their weight in gold!
As with everything in life practice helps. You get the knack, you know where to start. It's always the same routine visual check, look for blown tants, check power supply, check caps, and so on.


Speaking as someone who, among other things, occasionally designs custom electronic modules for data acquisition, control, interfacing, etc.
I have to test the PCBs I design when they come back from the assembly plant, and sometimes I do have to debug them - there may be assembly issues, there may be design issues at the prototype stage. Sometimes I have to repair modules that come back from the field - hopefully very rarely. Of course, debugging modules of my own design feels quite straightforward, at least when the design is fresh in my head :)
Diagnosing stuff other people design on the other hand, I can usually do that given the proper resources, but I'd rather not. I hate it when people ask me to repair their computer, or TV, or whatever. It's hard to explain that diagnosing and repairing these consumer items requires a specialized skillset that, even if it overlaps with my skillset as an electronic designer, is actually quite different. I'm not ashamed to admit that professional repairpeople will usually do a much better job than myself - cheaper, quicker, higher success rate.
This being said, I do sometimes buy defective stuff to repair just as a hobby, or as a personal challenge. But then I don't have a deadline, nobody cares if it takes a few months or years :) and nobody gets upset if it doensn't work.

Fixing and designing are a different set of skills with some overlap. There is not a simple answer to the difficulty, it depends on the particular skills of the person and the complexity and nature of the device being repaired. Generally speaking I would say that it's usually easier to fix something than to design a new replacement but there are so many variables.


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