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Author Topic: Affordable and Repairable Ham Radio Equipment  (Read 13421 times)
WB0UQD
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Posts: 44




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« on: February 27, 2014, 08:25:09 AM »

If you don't mind, I would please like to ask your opinion on something...
 
I previously worked at an electronics company, and I know it is next to impossible to remove todays fine-pitch integrated circuits from a modern radio, without very expensive equipment. This means that almost all Ham Radio equipment sold today is impossible for the average Ham to repair. I also know that when I started Ham Radio, you could build your own "homebrew" equipment, and even repair or modify solid state equipment you purchased. (I am not proposing tube equipment, as tubes are getting hard to find.)
 
Since there are hundreds of solid state ham radio patents that have now expired, I was thinking about starting a company that made Affordable and Repairable Ham Radio equipment. These Ham Radios would not have microprocessors with multi-level menus, but would instead use discrete solid state components that could be repaired in case of a broken radio. It would bring "troubleshooting", and increased electronics knowledge, back into Ham Radio. These radios would be larger than todays radios, but many radios today are so small they do not really make a good-looking desktop radio. 
 
Do you think it is worthwhile to pursue this? Any input would be greatly appreciated.
 
Thank you so much,
 
73's
 
Mike WB0UQD
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W1JKA
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Posts: 1619




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« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2014, 09:29:43 AM »

  Would your part supply, production and marketing cost and needed profit margin be competitive with a similar unit manufactured today? Keep in mind that the younger and new hams of today are brought up in a planned obsolescence environment and the majority not really into repairs of any type. I like your idea but I'm an old timer and on the short end of the stick.
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N2EY
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Posts: 3860




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« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2014, 10:01:44 AM »

This sort of thing is already being done, most notably by a company called Elecraft. Although they do use processors.

Still, I think the concept has merit.

Here are two possible approaches:

1) Look at what user-replaceable parts are available at reasonable prices and design a rig around them. (The Elecraft K1 and K2 basically do this.)

2) Design a modular rig, similar to the way a desktop PC is built. The various modules might or might not be user-repairable, but the rig would always be repairable by module replacement. Something like the R-390 receiver.

The Big Problem in both cases is that the cost may be higher. One of the reasons SMT was developed is that it's cheaper to manufacture than through-hole technology.

73 de Jim, N2EY
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KD0WZW
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Posts: 34




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« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2014, 11:17:29 AM »

was it really necessary to post this in 3 or 4 separate forums here?  Sheesh...
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WB0UQD
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Posts: 44




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« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2014, 01:03:44 PM »

I'm sorry.... it was a stupid idea.
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SWL2002
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Posts: 227




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« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2014, 05:10:10 AM »

You are going to have a lot of problems sourcing non SMT components.  This is why the k3 and kx3 from electcraft are not true kits - they use preassembled SMT pcbs and still have the issues of repairability that you are trying to avoid.
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KB1GMX
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Posts: 716




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« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2014, 11:21:21 AM »

SMT radios are repairable and generally not that much harder than discreet device radios.

That said... SMT forces troubleshooting as its more involved to change out multi-pin devices.
Having dealt with many people that do repairs, most like to swap parts, or do things like, "oh,
its in a socket so it must fail often." logic.  That not troubleshooting its shotgunning aka
changing stuff till it works.   If the parts are small and less easy to remove you need to be
sure before yanking it out that it needed to be. 

Just because its not SMT does not make it easier if the offending board is the one between
the top and bottom and opening it to that level means its not operable due to the number
of leads that needed to be disconnected or unplugged.  Making repairable gear is a design
concept and is more than just the parts used.  Accessibility matters.

I have considerable experience fixing commercial and other beside design and build and the
SMT size is often not a greater problem and far more often they work better.   Its no too
surprising that due to SMT parts what used to be a multi-layer collection of boards or worse
cordwood (think old moto HTs) are now a single board and at least accessible.

Some of the worst gear to fix were tube and transistor gear due to voltages or physical
construction that made access hazardous or worse impossible.  To the latter, anyone
remember the MOTRAC radios of the early 70s? if the IF board failed it was in a silver
plated aluminum trough and soldered in, getting it out was difficult putting it back was
near impossible due to the heat needed to solder and unsolder as the trough was
a die cast aluminum chassis of considerable heatsinking ability.

SMT is not all that bad.

Allison
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G3RZP
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Posts: 4393




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« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2014, 12:03:24 AM »

SMT can be a bit difficult when you have 5 Amps and 1200 volts of RF, as in my antenna tuner for 160 - the folded unipole is high impedance and reactive! You would really need 15oz/sq ft PCB to get negligible skin effect to start with....
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K2GWK
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Posts: 378


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« Reply #8 on: March 06, 2014, 03:27:56 PM »

SMT radios are repairable and generally not that much harder than discreet device radios.

That said... SMT forces troubleshooting as its more involved to change out multi-pin devices.
Having dealt with many people that do repairs, most like to swap parts, or do things like, "oh,
its in a socket so it must fail often." logic.  That not troubleshooting its shotgunning aka
changing stuff till it works.   If the parts are small and less easy to remove you need to be
sure before yanking it out that it needed to be.  

Just because its not SMT does not make it easier if the offending board is the one between
the top and bottom and opening it to that level means its not operable due to the number
of leads that needed to be disconnected or unplugged.  Making repairable gear is a design
concept and is more than just the parts used.  Accessibility matters.

I have considerable experience fixing commercial and other beside design and build and the
SMT size is often not a greater problem and far more often they work better.   Its no too
surprising that due to SMT parts what used to be a multi-layer collection of boards or worse
cordwood (think old moto HTs) are now a single board and at least accessible.

Some of the worst gear to fix were tube and transistor gear due to voltages or physical
construction that made access hazardous or worse impossible.  To the latter, anyone
remember the MOTRAC radios of the early 70s? if the IF board failed it was in a silver
plated aluminum trough and soldered in, getting it out was difficult putting it back was
near impossible due to the heat needed to solder and unsolder as the trough was
a die cast aluminum chassis of considerable heatsinking ability.

SMT is not all that bad.

Allison

A lot of the SMT boards produced today are considered throw-away's. With high technical labor costs in most cases it is more cost effective to replace the board with a new one and toss the old one in the trash. Must repair centers trouble shoot to the board or assembly level these days because of high labor costs and simply toss the bad part. If it costs $100 to manufacture a board why would anyone want to pay $80 to $150/hr for a technician to trouble shoot it to the component level? With today's high level of integration (trying to stick 100 lbs of crap into a 5 lb bag) most of the boards could never be repaired by a human.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2014, 03:32:48 PM by K2GWK » Logged

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KB1GMX
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Posts: 716




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« Reply #9 on: March 07, 2014, 10:24:54 AM »

>>>labor costs and simply toss the bad part. If it costs $100 to manufacture a board why
would anyone want to pay $80 to $150/hr for a technician to trouble shoot it to the component
level?   With today's high level of integration (trying to stick 100 lbs of crap into a 5 lb bag) most
of the boards could never be repaired by a human.<<<


There are two sides to this.  If the board is available go for the new, its cheaper.  Its a
not a challenge.  What if its not?  What if the vendor went out of business, or their supplier?

How about 10 years from now?  A good example is my IC245 transceiver (mine was made '73). 
The IC for the PLL is officially as of 2000 unobtainium, I know because they told me I was
lucky to get the very last one!    My Tempo-One is maybe 40 years old, its still repairable I made
a choice to swap out the 6JS6 sweep tubes for 6146s as the latter are widely available cheap
and the sweep tubes are stupid expensive for NOS.  The mod was trivial and the radio is nothing
but simple to fix, then again it is a simple radio.

So here you have your superwiz 2500 buck radio now 6-10 years old and the board is
unavailable there is only one choice fix, hopefully try to find another that can be used
for the part, or trash.  The problem of finding another for parts is likely the part that
failed is a high failure item and scarce for that reason.   Fix might be hours of work
replace is maybe out of the question ($$$$).     A real example is a PRC1099 new
over 6K$ I had to repair one that a CA4067B chip failed.  That chip went extinct less
than a few years after the radio was made in the mid 80s (likely using a lifetime buy
of the part).   The fix was a three chip replacement on a hand made board using
available parts to synthesize the logic and then had wire it to the surface mount
control board.   Most people that  play with green radios would have put it aside in
hopes of finding another with problems somewhat cheap they could rob the hopefully
working control board from.

Ask anyone about their IC756 classic about the display.  Someone worked out a solution
but it requires mods to the board and at last look 185euros for a replacement display,
not cheap but a new radio in the same class is easily 1K$! 

Sure having someone do the work is expensive but it can be done.  I've seen expensive
embedded control board get chips (try swapping out a 288 pin BGA, painful, scary, but
doable) replaced and its costly but a new board is worse or unobtainium.

In the end a Baofeng at 35$ is "cost of repair exceeds value of unit!".  More expensive
the gear more likely the repair cost becomes reasonable and whole unit replacement is
less likely even over time.


Allison

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K9ZF
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Posts: 76


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« Reply #10 on: March 07, 2014, 11:25:21 AM »

I like the idea, but as a business I don't think there is a big enough market to make a profit.

Ham radio in general is a pretty small market, and when you start slicing that down in to small niches, there is not much left.

However, what might be more viable is a company using your ideas to produce kit projects.  Design a transceiver and put together a kit and make it modular so you can add accessories.  Add modules to improve performance, etc...   Hmmm, does sound a bit like Elecraft...

Hey, if you do it, how about some VHF all mode gear?  I would love to see a new FT736R.  Start with 2 meter, all modes.  Add a module for 6 meters.  Add a module for 222.  Add a module for 432/440.... You get the idea.    Don't worry about bells and whistles, just make a GOOD receiver and a clean transmitter and you will start out ahead of the competition!

Best of luck
73
Dan

--
K9ZF
Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Clark County Indiana. EM78el
former K9ZF /R no budget Rover ***QRP-l #1269
Check out the Rover Resource Page at:
<http://www.qsl.net/n9rla>
List Administrator for: InHam+grid-loc+ham-books
Ask me how to join the Indiana Ham Mailing list!
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K9ZF
Amateur Radio Emergency Service, Clark County Indiana. EM78el
The once and future K9ZF /R no budget Rover
 ***QRP-l #1269
Check out the Rover Resource Page at:
<http://www.qsl.net/n9rla>
List Administrator for: InHam+grid-loc+ham-books
Ask me how to join the Indiana Ham Maili
G3RZP
Member

Posts: 4393




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« Reply #11 on: March 08, 2014, 12:53:06 AM »

Allison

>I've seen expensive embedded control board get chips (try swapping out a 288 pin BGA, painful, scary, but doable)<

I would say 'if you are lucky'. I've seen it offered by a professional company who charge a lot for doing it, but they give no guarantee of success: they reckoned on getting about a 50% success rate for a 512BGA.

It's so much easier when all you need to do is plug another 6C6 in the pre WW2 HRO!
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KB1GMX
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Posts: 716




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« Reply #12 on: March 09, 2014, 04:26:03 PM »


Plugging in the 6C6, yes easier until like some IC and final transistors they too
become extinct.  The advantage is you can sub a 6J7 or something.

Having a few radios that glow I can relate to the ease of some repairs.  Ever
hunt for a plate load capacitor for a HW101 because someone had buggered
the plates on the one in there?  Not fun.


Allison

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G3RZP
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Posts: 4393




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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2014, 01:27:28 AM »

One of these days I'll get around to parting out my old HW101......Its big problem is the SSB filter has a response with 6dB ripple and is 1.8kHz wide at -6dB. Getting a new one is expensive and my FT102 is far better anyway.
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AF7EC
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« Reply #14 on: March 12, 2014, 06:01:30 PM »

Mike, I really like this idea, but as others have said, you'd have to appeal enough to those who have open wallets to make it worth your while.

I personally have thought of doing this, as I've found SMT stuff to be troublesome compared to through-hole circuits, and I know others feel this way.

If you do get it off the ground, I would LOVE a catalog, or link to your product page!  Cheesy

73,

Will B
AF7EC
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