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Author Topic: Affordable and Repairable Ham Radio Equipment  (Read 40531 times)

Posts: 60

« on: February 27, 2014, 08:27:10 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,

Posts: 1318

« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2014, 09:00:57 AM »

I don't agree withthe premise. I just repaired a   ADI 147..  replaced a 8 legged  chip.
ofthe  SOP size..(smaller version of  DIP) 
tools were  cheap variable heat  solder pencil,  dental pick, shish=ke=bab  stick for  pressure.
One think you maybe cant do with  surface mount is  save the old part..
I used pick tp put up pressure on  chip. heated all 4 legs on one side until it popped up.
heated other side to remove.  used solder sucker to clear  excess  solder fromthe pads.
hedl new chip down /aligned  with my  finger. heated each leg on one side to connect and  hold in place. then soldered the other side.
having some really thin solder helps  but isnt necessary.

I think most of the  surface mount problems arises from plain old fear, not any real lack of ability to be able to repair stuff.

Posts: 1324

« Reply #2 on: February 27, 2014, 09:45:16 AM »

It depends. Firstly, if you start getting ASICs on BGAs, then there are a few commercial operations that will remove the chip and replace for you - if they can get the device and with no guarantee of success. Next problem is actually knowing what the code is in the memory of a chip with memory so you can re- assuming you can get a chip to program. So simple standard surface mount ICs are one thing - anything special isn't.

Now you have to look at the way RF power transistors have come and gone since even the 1970s. Yet you can still get 6146s, which were introduced 59 years ago! So you have to very careful about the devices you use and their probable availability. Remember too that a lot of 'knock off' devices are in the market because companies need to keep an old design going.....and many of them are branded correctly but that's all the relationship that they have with the devices they are alleged to be.

So a repairable amateur transceiver is a nice idea, but keeping it repairable in a few years time is another matter.

Which is one reason I'm using a 1984 FT102, and have some spare ICs for it - it is repairable or something can be produced to a fit form and function repair without too much trouble.

An example of something commercial with these problems is the British Army Clansman radios that hams are picking up. Many of the ICs in those aren't and actually cannot be manufactured anymore - the factory that made them is half demolished and the paperwork and IC processes  have long gone, while a load of spares were in a warehouse that burned down!

It's likely to be easier to keep a 1936 HRO going that some more modern gear....

Posts: 15067

« Reply #3 on: February 27, 2014, 10:21:05 AM »

Elecraft comes to mind with their "all thru hole" kits. They seem to be moving away from that now to essentially mechanically assembling pre-built modules. I think if you try to build a completely repairable transceiver with no processors or other high-tech chips, it will lack many of the operational features that most hams want. It will also be more expensive to build (labor costs for installing thru-hole parts) which means customers will be paying more for less (except for the reparability). In addition, the "average ham" today will not have the test equipment or the experience to troubleshoot down to the defective component even if the design permits easy replacement. In order to have much success you'd have to spend more money providing complete schematics, theory of operation, and troubleshooting techniques. You would also have to maintain a complete stock of repair parts (more operating costs).

I worked in the electronics industry for a lot of years and I've run across a good deal of older equipment that was no longer repairable because transistors and other components were no longer available. Even with some of the stuff I designed myself, after a few years I had to make design modifications before I could build more units because one or more components were no longer available and I couldn't find any direct substitutions. Electronics moves really fast these days.


Bob  AA4PB
Garrisonville, VA

Posts: 60

« Reply #4 on: February 27, 2014, 01:03:02 PM »

I'm sorry, it was a stupid idea.

Posts: 6283

« Reply #5 on: February 27, 2014, 03:50:27 PM »

I'm sorry, it was a stupid idea.

The only 'stupid' idea/question is the one that isn't considered/asked.  The primary drawback of that idea would be the availability of parts and the cost.  It seems that the cost would make the rigs somewhat expensive--something that the newer ICs have bypassed by packing so many discrete parts into one inexpensive chip.  That has also reduced the component board considerably--resulting in smaller equipment.   As you said, the drawback is the inability of the weekend experimenter/ham to repair their own equipment.

It was worth considering even if it isn't practical--but it wasn't 'stupid.'  73!
« Last Edit: February 27, 2014, 03:53:06 PM by K1CJS » Logged

Posts: 1912

« Reply #6 on: February 27, 2014, 04:23:34 PM »

Well, I happen to like the idea, but I don't think there'd be enough of a market to stay in business.  DZ-Kit makes a nice transceiver that touches on your ideas, but the prices of the gear are high compared to what you can buy pre-assembled gear for.  The Elecraft K2 did a good job of demonstrating what you can do today with through-hole technology, but their habit of making nothing that won't fit into a carry-on airline bag hampered its ergonomic factors. 

73, K8AC

Posts: 2405

« Reply #7 on: February 28, 2014, 10:02:49 AM »

if you were to spend the extra money to make sections modular and replaceable, money that does no good and puts you at a cost disadvantage to the toss-'em rigs we have now, then you might offer future serviceability.  at the cost of deterioration of the modular interconnects requiring maintenance.

assuming you were still around, or all the I/O stuff was parked in open source for re-engineering.

believe it or not, the stampede to new technology every few years would make basic tube rigs more approachable.  but then you run into the declining manufacturing base for the bits and pieces of electromechanical and passive components.

IMPHO we have crossed the river long ago.

Posts: 408

« Reply #8 on: February 28, 2014, 10:33:54 AM »

I'm sorry, it was a stupid idea.

  Actually a very reasonable , rational concept . I understood you when you first posted and was amazed to see a respondent pat himself on the back for replacing an 8 pin chip ! Evidently some have never faced an 88 pin + fine pitch chip , let alone a no longer available , proprietary chip , display or other such component . A myopic comment at best , sorry but he had that coming  .
  Actually in some cases , there are surface mount situations where the components are easier to replace than thru hole and an 8 pin chip is one of those cases . Sad fact is today's radios are destined to be limited life, limited repairablilty devices .
  Yes , a decent radio made from discrete components that could be readily available for years to come would be very welcome for some of us .  The large scale integration and microprocessor laden controls make that highly unlikely .
  The situation makes our old stuff all the more attractive for those who like to roll their own repairs .

Posts: 1

« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2014, 04:28:03 AM »


Good Morning Guys from the United Kingdom (or should it be 'Queendom' ?)..

Very interesting topic, and one that I have thought about quite often.     I have a 'Throw Away' transceiver in the form of a Yaesu FT-950.... 1,250 GB Pounds (1,900 USD) here in England.    I would guess that other than re-alignment or PA components, it would be in the dumpster in about 10-15 years time.    I certainly am not capable of any fault finding or repairs, other than in Valved (tubed) equipment, as at almost 80 years old I am only capable of soldering real point to point wires and large size components.... like condensers (I think you call them 'capacitors' these days!).

During a brain storm a couple of years ago, I decided to go back to the days when all the equipment that I wanted was too expensive, but is now very affordable.... So, I bought a Kenwood TS-830S dated 1982 - 32 years old, but working and looking like new for 250 GB Pounds (400 USD), loving it!!!.... I next bought a Yaesu FT-102 of the same vintage and at the same price.... both of these outperform the FT-950 and many other transceivers currently on the market today when A/B switched on weak signals.     Check out the Sherwood Engineering Test page for confirmation of my findings.

So lets get back to the topic I have steered away from..... I can buy two Transceivers, one 'as new' and the other 'spares or repair' for about a third of a new 'black box'..... If the good Lord is willing and the creek don't run dry, I will be capable of keeping these dear old ladies on the air for the next 32 years of their lives  ( I will be 110 !!), and able to operate 'real radios' - that need acquired experience to 'Plate and Load' and also to pull out the DX on receive.   Gosh!! - they also keep the shack warm and lit with that dull red glow, and the smell of burning dust that only thermionic valves (tubes) can generate.

Who needs so called 'Modern Technology' that is no better than that of 32 years ago, and to pay Mega Bucks for it? .... Certainly not me !!   Now lets get on Flea Bay, and sell this danged FT-950  !!!

Later insertion..... Sadly, it looks like I have to keep this FT-950, as I don't have 60 Metres or General coverage Rx on the Hybrids !!

Kind thoughts and Vy 73 de

John (M0OBU)

« Last Edit: March 01, 2014, 04:32:53 AM by 2E0JJH » Logged

Posts: 2405

« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2014, 11:36:09 AM »

that's why there were a lot of GCRs back in the day, or separates for that matter.  you could haywire or convert something for regionally-accepted bands. trade up one piece at a time, there was still a market, and folks fixed their own stuff.

as noted, some things you just can't do with hollow-state because of the complexity, such as DSP.  you had IF shift on a lot of older receivers, notch filters, and stuff.  but think of all the tubes, and added complexity and analog tuning, for digital hacks.  nobody even thought of transceivers until SSB came along, and the cost of duplicating the circuitry started to get in engineers' heads, probably thanks to the marketing folks squeaking about market cost.

unfortunately, once you got into the silicon cycle, and the push for more gates per chip was overwhelming in the demand part of the market, you got into the Moore's Law rush, meaning wafer sizes had to go up and up to get a countable number of active dies off a wafer, that the obsolence cycle became evil. it was an acceptable part of life to re-engineer the characteristics of tube X into a smaller envelope, and it was just math and less-costly retooling.  if nobody wanted 2-inch wafers any more, now it started to become a dollar decision to remask a bunch of slow-moving parts onto a larger wafer.  particularly when the older equipment to handle small wafers went MD.

that's how we lost the MOSFET generation.  in onesies, the 40673 was $2.60 because all the TV sets used them.  now when you find them, it's common to see $15 on fleabay.

I've got maybe 30,000 DSLAMs in the field that go MD on April 1st, full of customers.  there are legal constraints preventing swapping them all out for current stuff because of partnerships that put customers on them through ATM transport, not fiber/ethernet.  due to VLSI and gate arrays, no user serviceable parts inside.  older generations of equipment are marginally serviceable, but we have some 20 year old equipment still in service.  took a year and a million bucks just to get somebody to tool up and make fan trays for that stuff.  fan trays!

yeah, if life can be a dream, then why is mine a nightmare...
« Last Edit: March 01, 2014, 11:38:45 AM by KD0REQ » Logged

Posts: 349

« Reply #11 on: March 01, 2014, 03:16:40 PM »

It would be my thought to use the block diagram approach. If you have a main board and modules for each stage you could repair or rebuild a similar module to plug in. An oscillator is an oscillator as long as it fits the need and same for audio amps, detectors etc etc. I think the idea is worthwhile for at least basic units, The main board would remain the same as with the cabinet but each module can be updated to fit available components.

Posts: 70

« Reply #12 on: March 01, 2014, 03:40:05 PM »

I think it is a good thought provoking thread.

but I question the affordable?

I just was looking on eBay, and wonder how can something like a FT-101E can go for $152 (present bid) and not work?

I've seen a bunch of stuff (junk) at the last two swaps with price tags on them that I can not see people even considering - all of it not working but sold.

I believe many of these radios are just throwaways by specific design (closed market, low volume, etc. ...) so as I've done in the past, a few have become parts providers for something homebrew. I think there are ways around any issue but it all depends on how much one wants to get involved with it. I look at my 2m all mode rig and can't help but wonder if I can approve it by replacing the archaic microprocessor with something new and improved, then I think is it worth the hassle? 

Posts: 558

« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2014, 07:08:33 AM »

 I build and test tactical/public safety handhelds for a living. The lead/trace pitches are getting finer and boards are multi-layered to carry internal jumpers to vias. There are no active components imbedded inside the board layers...yet. Circuit boards are becoming macro-chips and approaching the edge of serviceability.
 Even though the factory wants us to diagnose an issue to the component level to verify our diagnosis, the repair may involve replacing the board assembly anyway. It comes down to cost for scrap, time and/or parts, whichever is most effective.
 We can test and rework them at the board level in a factory setting, but these tools (surface mount/POP-part on part/in-circuit test) would not be so easily available to the average hobbyist/tinkerer. Controlled hot air instead of soldering irons, for example.
 A factory service manual is #1 on the list. The internet also has a vast amount of information and techniques for some older, less classified units that may not be provided by the manufacturer.
 Dentist tools, smt service tools, steady hands and good eyes are necessary for fine work.
 Some radios have built-in tests which may help locate the issue to a particular area.
 As with automobile service, it is generally the little, simple things that get you.
 Our biggest problem is solder/part misalignment (usually can be verified by a visual inspection). Machines place and solder parts on the boards. Screwbots assemble boards to chassis held in fixtures.  Inspectors watch for anomalies. Environmental stress tests shake, chill and cook radios to incite possible failure. Tests can be routine when things pass. When they fail is when you are challenged to think.
 I like my vacuum tube boat anchors for what they are, none of these digital, voodoo microprocessor, non-serviceable or disposable transceivers for me. Granted they can do wonderful things and are necessary for their task, but I like things that I can fix.

Posts: 4546

« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2014, 08:50:19 AM »

Long ago and far away there was an episode of NOVA (or similar) on PBS dealing with NASA and the technological challenges of the 60's, Apollo missions in particular.

Texas Instruments owed their early success to NASA in large part because the space program was one of very few clients willing to pay a premium for integrated circuits. In the early days it was significantly cheaper to build an op amp from discrete parts on a pc board than to fab something like the venerable 741, but NASA was willing to pay $300+ each for the chip version because of size and weight constraints. The finest space capsule design has no value if it's too heavy to fly or there's no room inside for an astronaut.

At the time it was well known that chips would be a special application part that wasn't cost effective for consumer goods. When Bell Labs developed the first transistor it was known that tubes would remain the preferred device for high power / wide bandwidth applications. And that transistors were only good for Lo-Fi audio amplifiers as found in telephone systems and pocket AM radios. A journalist at the TI press conference for one of their first op-amps asked about field repair. Given the size and nature of the part, when one failed wouldn't it have to go back to the factory for repair? With the cost ratio of 100:1 or better between a tube and op amp it made no economic sense to replace a 741 like a 6AU6 or to stock very many spares. So the question became: "How difficult is it to repair a chip?"

The day will come when there's no shame in a board swap, the commercial guys crossed that bridge years ago.  Finding the replacement board might be a challenge but if a new piece costs less and does more there is something to be said for an upgrade...

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