Troubleshooting and Repair

PC Repair

As a hybrid Electronics Technician and PC Technician, I have had many successes in repairing problems that might have been deemed unrepairable by others. And to the nay-sayers that assume even attempting repairs on difficult problems automatically costs more, takes more time, and is a waste of time, I say not always so, because it depends on what you know and how prepared you already are to handle the unusual and difficult problems.

Troubleshooting methods I learned as an Electronics Technician have definitely helped me learn how to quickly learn and master all sorts of repairs with computers, although I don’t know it all and am always still learning. Since I was initially trained in component level repair, PC repair comes very easy since it is mostly card level repair these days. But I did have nearly 3 years of experience at Pinnacle Systems in Silicon Valley performing component level troubleshooting on motherboards, video cards, and LCD Display Units.

My Troubleshooting Method

During my Navy Electronics training, they always stressed the importance of 6 Step Troubleshooting. While it sometimes seemed to be a nuisance and took extra time in the beginning, it is a process I use to this very day, just not on paper anymore, because the process has been tattooed on my brain.

It has helped me to never get complacent and to always look for the obvious problems first. 6 Step Troubleshooting also helps narrow down the problem area, and in the end, it involves explaining how the problem may have occurred and caused the symptoms it displayed. An explanation that your boss or customer might want to know anyway.

Each step involves more details than the list itself, but this process has really helped me attack the difficult problems where you sometimes wonder where to even start.

  1. Symptom Recognition
  2. Symptom Elaboration
  3. List Probable Faulty Functions
  4. Localize the Faulty Function
  5. Localizing Trouble to the Circuit
  6. List Faulty Part / Failure Analysis

My Most Frustrating Repair Job

I was troubleshooting the forward UHF Satellite Antenna on the USS Midway CV-41 that had an azimuth servo-synchro problem that could not track the satellite as the ship turned. It turned out that azimuth synchro itself was bad so I replaced it with a new one from stock and performed the alignment. When this didn’t fix the problem, I went back to the drawing board and determined that the problem still had to be the azimuth synchro and maybe the new part was bad as well.

After replacing it a 2nd time, the problem still wasn’t fixed and I began to doubt myself. I went through every possibility with a fine tooth comb and reluctantly determined that the problem still had to be the azimuth synchro. I was surprised that we still had more in stock, but this time I had to get special permission to order a 3rd synchro and I could also sense my supervisor starting to doubt my troubleshooting steps.

As you could imagine, it still did not fix the problem. Several people were now involved and someone noticed that these parts were all from the same lot so we got a 4th synchro that was luckily from another lot and it finally fixed the problem as it should have on the 1st try. I was vindicated and the supply guys had a bunch of parts to return.

My lesson learned was to always be very thorough and to try and notice even the tiniest details after this scenario, and to not doubt my abilities when I know I was thorough, and that the strangest things can happen in the real world of troubleshooting, although they will all make sense in the end.

My Most Unlikely Repair

I had an 1 KW HF Transmitter that was down because the main IC Chip for a Power Control Circuit Card failed. We didn’t have a spare board or chip in stock and it would be several days before we could get a replacement at sea. Now remembering back to when I was teaching the SDV Electronic Maintenance and Repair course, I learned to simulate IC Chip failures by soldering micro-thin wires between the +VCC or -VCC leads to either the input or output leads on the chip I wanted to break.

The wires were so fine that it was almost impossible to notice until you pulled the chip out of the socket. The old practice was to cut the leads, but strangely, sometimes the circuit would still work somehow. Anyway, I bought several IC Data Books that displayed the pin-outs for a variety of chips we used and I got very good at simulating failures in digital circuits, especially since I was also trained in soldering at 2M Micro Miniature Electronic Repair school some 10 years before.

I hated having one of my transmitters down for a simple part smaller than my pinkie so I started researching the details for the IC Chip I needed. It turns out that there were several variations of this chip depending on how many of the same circuits it was designed with. I was able to find another chip with half the circuits of the chip we needed that we had several of in stock. So I managed to wire one chip on top of another to make it work electronically the same as the original chip that failed. It was a tight fit and looked like 2 spiders on top of each other, but it worked fine and the system met specs.

My lesson learned here was almost no system is unrepairable, but rather a matter of how bad do you need it repaired. But how far you can go depends on how prepared you already are and to let no talent go to waste.