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Maker Movement / Mending Things
Roger Bryant 22285071
241 Posts
Having finally received my E&T and read the section on repairing consumer items I wondered how many people here  actually mend/make things?
To start thing off I have attached a couple of pictures of recent repairs I have made. Did it make sense to make these repairs? I think so.

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Best regards

Roger
65 Replies
gkenyon 82239607
1038 Posts
I repair things on a regular basis, rather than bin them. Sometimes, however, things are just too much effort.

For example, I was looking at a piece of audio electronics recently ... a number of components needing replacing, and one of the faulty ICs was obsolete. After about an hour I decided on a couple of suitable replacements for the IC, which I just happened to have in m workshop (although they are ony 18p). But then when I started to look more closely on starting the repair, a number of things became apparent:
1. Lots of bad joints needing re-soldering (degraded after 10 years of use).
2. Quality of board (I'm not having a dig here - the manufacturer was building to a cost, and it's not MIL-STD stuff either), meaning heat required to use silver solder (never mind desolder) started causing problems (the appliance was made before lead-free was the law).

Eventually, it became a realisation that this was hours of a job with no guarantee of lasting success ... A replacement at well under £200 means much of the original product destined for the bin (but some parts kept for future home projects).
Paul Skyrme 75887465
137 Posts
Does spending 2 days performing open loom surgery on my sons' moped count as part of the maker/mender culture?

Traced to rotted connections under the bottom of the frame, and, the wires were very blackened and corroded internally, so had do cut about a dozen out and splice in new, solder (carefully) & heat shrink, then self-amalgam up the remaining joints we opened for inspection, then re-tape the whole loom almost from clocks, back to under the seat
Ian Lang 11001188050
6 Posts
Although I realise this topic is months old, as I've just joined I've only just seen it. I'm a maker, and certainly a mender - I've refitted/repaired no end of laser and Zebra printers in my capacity as an IT Technician, not to mention an electric stapler and somebody's pair of glasses. I'm a member of Barnsley.IO and we make allsorts from wood, metals and electronic bits. Usually a Raspberry PI, Arduino or PIC is involved somewhere but it
doesn't have to be. Below are a couple of photos. One shows me extracting a pin from a relay shield to hack it into doing something other than what it was designed to, and the other a small portable alarm box of my design I prototyped up.


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I'm a big believer in people making their own devices. I have a website devoted to it if you want to look:

http://ianlangelectronic.webeden.co.uk/#

There is, as evinced by the large number of companies supplying bits, a huge market of makers out there. It follows that it must be a huge movement. It can only get bigger with 3d printing and the BBC microbit being given away for free. If it drives more people into Design and Technology, I'm all for it.

Regards,

Ian Lang, TMIET

 
Lisa Miles 76762696
1224 Posts
Well.... readers of my blog The Geekette  and some of the IET volunteers that I've worked with can tell you all about my fascination with making and fixing stuff! wink

So far I fixed my old washing machine three times, my old tumble drier twice, my old gas boiler twice, re-wired a de-fuzzer, a set of battery powered lights and some solar lights that were broken, and taken apart a solar ornament to identify why its not working (although it's still in pieces at the moment as I need a better soldering iron...) AND used to tinker with my old Austin Metro car and my old Yamaha Bee Wizz that I used to zoom around on in my early twenties (many years ago now).

Making stuff? I currently have in mind to make an artsy looking solar powered water fountain out of some surplus copper tubing I have lying around, a mini water pump and a couple of solar cells I have spare (from tinkering with some cheap solar lights that never really worked)

So although I'm not strictly an Engineer, I guess I am one of the Maker/Mender movement? wink
 
Hi,
Just going to say I also make and mend things, Electronics started as a hobby for me and I made computer upgrades for old Amiga computers.
I enjoyed my hoby so much I started a hobby shop selling kits and components and then a few years later worked for a great repair company repairing industrial electronics day in day out.

Im now an electronics instructor but still electronics is my hobby and I still design computer upgrades and electric vehical race controllers.
Yesterday I was working on this poorly logic analyser:
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Ian Lang 11001188050
6 Posts
That does look quite unwell actually. What was there before it became a brown,white,green and yellow bit? Was it a thyristor?
Thats a NiCad battery. PCB mounted batteries have a tendancy to do that if left alone for 15 years sadly.
The battery acid eats the tracks around the battery and worse, the copper out of the via's. The crystal case was destroyed too.
The crystal has now been replaced and any open circuit tracks have been remade but I think theres damage under some of the chips so will need to desolder the chips (and probably socket them) to check.
Fun times. :-)
Ian Lang 11001188050
6 Posts
Hello Oliver,

Well, there's definitely a  furry-looking object to the right you're going to be shifting I think, looks a bit like an otter-skin chip. How are you going on with the board?
Roger Bryant 22285071
241 Posts

My AA battery charger started rattling after an encounter with some airport baggage handlers. Rather than plugging it in and hoping I decided to open it and check what was loose. Luckily I already have a set of bits for removing almost all types of tamper proof screws.

It turned out that the first smoothing capacitor had fallen off the PCB. Some quick work with a soldering iron and it was ready for use again.

Some of the design was ok, with good separation between the mains parts and the touchable parts. There is a plastic blade on part of the case that fits into the slot in the PCB. I am not so sure about the use of 400V rated capacitors directly after the bridge rectifier though.

Best regards

Roger

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gkenyon 82239607
1038 Posts
Apparently, capacitors like this are prone to breaking in mechanical vibration / shock tests. Often, a bit of hot melt glue can prevent it happening again if the product is susceptible to this failure.
It appears that a very recent freeview transmission change (publicly undocumented?) has caused older Digitalstream and Sony Digital Freeview recorders to start failing.

https://www.facebook.com/UKterrestrialTV/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE&fref=nf

Many people seem to be giving up on perfectly good hardware because it now appears that a recent configuration change to freeview has exposed a common bug in DVR's based on the Broadcom 7405 SoC, like my Digitalstream DHR-8205U

 http://www.avforums.com/threads/digital-stream-dhr-8203-5u-hd-pvr-master-thread-part-twelve.1686714/page-54

and onwards. In this case the responsibility for mending things lies with DigitalUK.  Will they join the movement?

James
Andy Millar 33788107
1713 Posts
At the other extreme, many years ago I used to have a friend who would "mend" incandescant light bulbs - by twirling them them around with a particular wrist flick action which would cause the free end of the coil to wrap itself around the end it had broken off.

I must admit that, while I used to try to mend absolutely everything that failed at home, sadly often the replacement is either far too cheap or actually better than the original so I am doing it less and less...for example my beloved 20 year old angle grinder that cost me about £15 died last weekend, and I was about to dismantle when I realised I could afford to buy a new one where the spindle lock actually worked...

But of my many many fixes I think the most satisfying was my (already second hand) dishwasher which died because of a burnt out supply dropper resistor which was clearly underrated for the job, I replaced it with one of about double the wattage and the whole thing kept going for another 15 years, I think the satisfaction was not just finding the obvious problem but also finding the underlying problem.

Oh, and then there was the beard trimmer which I bought 17 years ago for £8 - from a very well known electrical chain who tried to sell me an extended warranty! - it stopped working a couple of years ago, but with a bit of creative dismantling, cleaning and oiling is still going strong. Even costing my time at absolute minimum wage this was completely pointless, but it was strangely satisfying.

Where's the border between the three areas of being a good engineer, being a unstoppable tinkerer, and just being mean??? smiley

P.S. My movement towards not repairing things does not yet extend to musical instruments; I have now finally got the point where I can throw a computer or a toaster into the recycling skip, but a guitar I will still always try to make playable - even if it is nowhere near "worth it"! Maybe the IET should set up a psychiatric help line for insatiable fixers...
Arran Cameron 1100402286
415 Posts
My experiences over the years are that the career engineering communities and the maker / mender movement communities are quite distant from each other. Most maker / mender people I have encountered are not career engineers – and many do not hold an engineering degree or similar high level qualification – whilst at the same time most career engineers have come up through the avenues academia and have never been significant hobbyists.

I was talking to a university professor who informed me that most engineering hobbyists usually have very little advantage over non-hobbyists in electronic engineering degree courses. It’s something to do with the style of learning and assessment required for success in exams and assessments. He even admitted that many engineering hobbyists would be better off taking a more vocational course rather than an engineering degree. A high proportion of the 1st class degrees go to overseas students who are not hobbyists and more often than not lack practical ability. The same phenomenon exists in computer science courses and some universities prefer that students start with a 'clean mind' rather than one shaped by hobbyist programming experiences. The old Computing A Level had many shortcomings but universities don't appear to hold the new Computer Science A Level in high regard or prefer that applicants for technical computing type courses have studied it. Computer Science is not yet a facilitating subject.

SME often prefer people from the maker / mender movement than large companies do because they tend to have practical skills and creativity which are commonly lacking in those coming up through academia. It is unknown how many engineers without degrees are employed in Britain because rarely are any of them members of the IET. The question I ask is should there be a large disparity between the career engineering and the maker / mender movements?
gkenyon 82239607
1038 Posts

I was talking to a university professor who informed me that most engineering hobbyists usually have very little advantage over non-hobbyists in electronic engineering degree courses. It’s something to do with the style of learning and assessment required for success in exams and assessments. He even admitted that many engineering hobbyists would be better off taking a more avocational course rather than an engineering degree.

I often wonder ... well, perhaps worry ... about this, as it does mirror my own experience, including some things being taught on the degree I did being very distant from how it's done in the real world (and on occasion, perhaps wrong).

This leads to the following thoughts (simplified summary, definitely "generalisation" in its grossest form, each point debatable and of course individuals may fall between the cracks of this):

  • Engineering is not taught on Engineering degrees; instead they teach scientific and mathematical approaches, with some including communication / management studies. The thing that's missing is the part of the toolset that Engineers use to resolve an Engineering problem in the real world.
  • Vocational courses perhaps don't teach enough of the "theory" and "management", and perhaps leave the student to their own devices in developing their own "Engineering problem solving toolset".
  • Natural "Maker Movement" people have the "Engineering problem solving toolset" addressed either through innate ability, or developed through experience.
  • Graduate Engineers from the Academic Route may not have the "Engineering problem solving toolset".
Perhaps the conclusion of all this being that the education system as it is perhaps isn't set up to form "Engineers", and with the situation where it's very difficult to register as IEng and CEng without a degree, brings the whole academic formation as it is today into question.

How can we improve the situation?
Arran Cameron 1100402286
415 Posts

Graham Kenyon:

I often wonder ... well, perhaps worry ... about this, as it does mirror my own experience, including some things being taught on the degree I did being very distant from how it's done in the real world (and on occasion, perhaps wrong).

I think that it is safe to say with confidence that university professors in mathematics and physics are the best brains in the world in their subjects, but it is questionable whether university professors in engineering are the best brains in their subject because they are rarely party to cutting edge developments in industry. Even in industrial projects carried out in conjunction with professors in engineering there are more often than not non-disclosure agreements which limits what they can publish for other professors and lecturers to read, or what they can teach to their students. The reality is, much of what professors and lecturers know is either textbook material or esoteric corners of engineering resulting from their own research. In engineering, industry and academia often go very different ways even to the point where people who work in industry rarely look at academic journals and people who work in academia rarely look at industrial engineering journals.

This leads to the following thoughts (simplified summary, definitely "generalisation" in its grossest form, each point debatable and of course individuals may fall between the cracks of this):

  • Engineering is not taught on Engineering degrees; instead they teach scientific and mathematical approaches, with some including communication / management studies. The thing that's missing is the part of the toolset that Engineers use to resolve an Engineering problem in the real world.
I agree with this and think that electronic engineering degrees should be named electronic science. They also fail to sufficiently cover peripheral topics like business, legal matters, marketing, and customer focus.
  • Vocational courses perhaps don't teach enough of the "theory" and "management", and perhaps leave the student to their own devices in developing their own "Engineering problem solving toolset".
The problem is that many vocational courses in Britain were designed as outlets for students of limited academic ability who were good with their hands. If more theory and mathematics is introduced then it incurs the risk that students drop out or do not take the course in the first place therefore rendering the course unviable. A similar phenomenon resulted in secondary schools that ran a GCSE electronics course but abandoned woodwork and metalwork subjects at GCSE. It was too difficult for students of limited academic ability who could have achieved a good grade in a woodwork and metalwork course.
  • Natural "Maker Movement" people have the "Engineering problem solving toolset" addressed either through innate ability, or developed through experience.
One notable difference between career engineers and the maker movement is the knowledge and appreciation of technical standards. The maker movement is creative but is lackadaisical when it comes to complying with technical standards. Another concern than managers from industry have with people from the maker movement is whether they can carry out a project on time and on budget as well as on spec. These are issues that are only superficially covered by engineering degree courses so graduate engineers are likely to also have little appreciation of them.
  • Graduate Engineers from the Academic Route may not have the "Engineering problem solving toolset".
Engineering degree are all about passing exams (which is 90% memorisation with no real problem solving ability) or producing assignments with artificial marking schemes where success is about pleasing professors.

Perhaps the conclusion of all this being that the education system as it is perhaps isn't set up to form "Engineers", and with the situation where it's very difficult to register as IEng and CEng without a degree, brings the whole academic formation as it is today into question.

How can we improve the situation?

The education system isn't set up to form engineers...

I have previously stated that the IET does not appear to represent every sector of electrical and electronic engineering, but is heavily biased towards defence, aerospace, railways, and power generation. Therefore membership of the IET is really only an advantage to engineers who work in these industries. Conversely, a high proportion of IET members are employed in these industries. The microelectronic, semiconductor, consumer electronics, and considerable amounts of civilian professional electronics industries are barely even represented in the IET. It is estimated that over half of all people in the UK who are eligible for IET membership are not members because they see no obvious advantage in being a member unless they are working towards chartered status.

https://communities.theiet.org/discussions/viewtopic/806/19424

What this means is that the IET will steadfastly hold onto the stance than an engineer is not an engineer unless they hold an accredited degree or other qualification resulting in the individual being eligible for membership. The result of this is that the IET has no interest in people working in engineering who do not hold accredited qualifications, and even less interest in the maker movement, other than telling to go and study for a degree.

Last year I discussed the teaching of STEM subjects at secondary school and Level 3:

https://communities.theiet.org/discussions/viewtopic/796/18271

https://communities.theiet.org/discussions/viewtopic/796/17852

The impression I get from the replies is that the IET could well be unaware of what STEM subjects are currently available and lacks a clear strategy to develop STEM courses at these levels. A question persists in whether engineering subjects should even be taught at secondary school and Level 3 or whether students should go down an academic route of mathematics and physics.

Has the IET evaluated the new Computer Science GCSE and A Level yet?

The maker movement does not appear to be factored into the equation by the IET. Should youngsters spend their time dabbling about with engineering outside of school or should they instead knuckle down with studies and participate in more conventional hobbies? I'm not sure if the situation has changed, but the maker movement was in my youthful days more prevalent amongst state school and home educated students rather than students who attended independent schools. There seemed to be an attitude that students from posh schools shouldn't spend time outside of school building Lego Mindstorms robots or things out of bits from broken video recorders.
We have become a throw away society, spurred by the relative cheapness and market abundance of the most commonly used items
gkenyon 82239607
1038 Posts

Carl Watkin:
We have become a throw away society, spurred by the relative cheapness and market abundance of the most commonly used items

Some methods of manufacture prevent repair. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, such as multilayer boards. Have a PC at home that almost certainly has a dry or broken joint in the motherboard - not worth even considering looking at it.

In other cases, for example clips on casings, I sometimes wonder whether they are designed that way for ease of manufacture ... or to make it devilishly difficult to repair. I wouldn't like to speculate on all the motives for any particular product, as I can see both sides of the argument for many.

However, a particular case which often causes me to start to boil up, is that of "wall warts" that are glued together ... and then the glue becomes brittle with the heat in use, and fails ... so the casing comes apart when you try and unplug it, leaving a very dangerous situation.
angry
Even cars are becoming more difficult to repair, apart from inserting new "black boxes". I could strip a Layland engine down to its con rods, but recently, our garage had to close its repair shop for two weeks while it waited for a new diagnostic computer.
If a headlight fails now, I can't just replace the bulb, it's a complete sealed unit that's required. I'm sure that's more profitable for Peugeot-Citroen, but it creates a lot of waste.

 
Kathryn Bain 97869023
360 Posts
It's great to see that not everything is just thrown away and that people are making a real effort (and a creative effort) to recycle and reuse.  The BBC have a programme on their mid-afternoon schedules called Money for Nothing where items headed for landfill are given a new lease of life - it would be really good to see some electrical items on there too :)

My own fixes tend to involve gaffer tape as I don't have the skills of an engineer! :)
For those occasions when you just can't repair things yourself, here's an excellent spares website that I'd recommend as its kept quite a few of our household appliances and other items going for several years www.buyspares.co.uk
 
I find it incredibly satisfying saving something from land fill. Even moreso the deeper I move into management and the dreaded conference calls. I've restored a 1977 Meddings pillar drill which is almost finished including a 3 phase conversion and VFD. I enjoyed it so much along with the Brobdingnagian castings and solid engineering, I'm now rebuilding a 1960's Startrite Table Saw- the quality of the CI castings is superior to all but the most expensive modern machinery.

That said; I was fortunate enough to get onto a beta program for a lovely little OBD2 programming device for my Land Rover upon which I did all the maintenance right until I sold it (fuel economy was risible at best) Very enjoyable way to spend the weekend. Needless to say an Ethernet to OBD2 interface was one of the first things I bought for my new car.

I am a life-long tinkerer though, and confess to dismantling a "sweep" quartz clock movement which was sensitive to how the clock was angled. a little carefully applied heat and re-shaping of a shaft and it was another device saved from the bin; plus a nice chance to understand the mechanism.

Very interesting topic, thank you.

Stephen
Andy Millar 33788107
1713 Posts
In reply to Graham's point from some way up, my experience of lean manufacturing is that inability to repair is a byproduct rather than an aim. In practice, any bit of technology you can think of is so cheap now because of, say, clip together casing that it is cheaper to buy five of them and throw them away over a 10 year period as it was (say) 20 years ago to buy one that was kept going for 10 years through repair. And in any case developments in technology tend to mean that consumers press for the new one after two years anyway.

Personally I disagree with this view (partly for environmental reasons), and I am delighted that I have always worked in industries where products are designed to be kept going. Interesting that someone above mentions the rail industry, it would stagger visitors to my previous employer when I proudly showed them the 50 year old products on the shelf in our repair cell, which we would repair if we possibly could. "Surely that's bad for business, don't you want to sell them new ones?" they would say. No, what we wanted to sell was reliability and service. It's horses for courses.

It does wind me up when white goods shops try to sell extended warranties by saying "of course you can't expect these to last as long as they used to". I have been known to ask them why in that case they are selling goods they know to be shoddy!

Anyway, just finishing refurbishing four electric guitars as a favour for my local school, that was fun smiley  When will somebody invent a really good refurbishing coating for connectors? But I suppose I answered that question at the start of this piece!
What personally comes to mind is the right speaker of my Sennheiser HD202 headphones which ceased functioning presumably due to mistreatment of the wires. The indecision of attempting a repair or buying anew has left me without proper headphones for over a year!
I love the challenge of bringing something that a lot of people would throw away back to life... from our old washing machine (2 sets of motor brushes until the bearings finally gave out), through to replacing a tiny switch on my daughter's tablet computer, the switch itself removed from another unit that had bricked. Power supplies for TVs seem to be a regular one for me as well, a few replacement capacitors and they work like new (well, when you can get the TV cases apart...) And I got my Roomba robot working with a new optical switch. That was a fun afternoon's work!

At home we try to repair rather than replace where possible, and it is a shame that more and more consumer electronics are produced without the capacity for repair. And even in industry, replacement seems to be the preferred option. I work in the water industry and in most cases it is certainly easier (and in a lot of cases, cheaper) to replace. I do try to repair where I can, and have had a lot of successes doing so at work, but it is the exception rather than the norm.



 

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