Jump to content
Click here to check out our structured, online appliance repair training courses for rookies and experienced techs.

FAQs | Repair Videos | Academy | Newsletter | Podcast | Contact

Stay connected with us...

Subscribe to our YouTube channel for lots of appliance repair tips and help! Subscribe to our MST Radio podcast to learn secrets of the trade. Sign up for our free newsletter and keep up with all things Appliantology.

Samurai Appliance Repair Man's Blog

  • entries
    844
  • comments
    1,174
  • views
    2,493,729

Field repairs on electronic control boards: the new PCM frontier

Samurai Appliance Repair Man

1,101 views

I used to do board level repairs on state of the art computer controlled radar systems where there was real troubleshooting involved with signal generators, digital probes, oscilloscopes, and a fully stocked bench. Yes, you had to understand how electronics circuits work and how to read electronic schematics. I did this all day long for several years in the Navy and with Delta Air Lines. And by the way, almost all the electronic failures in these units were completely invisible— you had to find the problem with skillfully selected electrical measurements. That ain't what we're talking about here with PCM (parts changing monkey) field repairs on electronic control boards. 

What we're talking about here is PCM stuff- finding visibly burned triacs or bulging capacitors on a board and replacing it. No troubleshooting, just monkey see monkey do. In their shortsightedness, many guys are spending time on this rather than learning how circuits work and how to troubleshoot. And they think that because they can change a bulging cap, they know electronics.   

The impulse to improve their expertise is good, but this is the wrong application. As I've shown in other posts, board-level repair should be done rarely and only in very particular circumstances.

The notion that board repairs can improve your bottom line is also wrong-headed...

Question: How often do you run into electronics boards with a visibly failed component and is a good candidate for a field repair (no urethane coating, damage contained to one or two parts, no damage to the chips that store the software program)? 

Answer: Less than 5% of total call volume. Electric circuit troubleshooting, on the other hand, applies to about 85 to 90% of the total call volume. Put your time into gaining expertise where it’s needed most often.

Meanwhile, many techs can’t even tell from the schematic when loads are in series vs parallel. Some of these same techs think that L1 and L2 are in phase with each other and they'll prove it to you by looking at the output of a sound generator on an oscilloscope. This is the depth of understanding about basic electricity that is ubiquitous in the appliance repair trade today. This is where idiocracy meets appliance repair. 

It’s like this: if you cannot pick up a schematic, read it and understand how electrons shoot through those circuits, troubleshoot problems with your meter and properly interpret what your meter is showing you, then you have no business wasting time learning PCM board repairs. First things first- spend your time learning skills that will serve you on almost every service call you run. 

Learning how to troubleshoot and think analytically is hard. But the PCM game is easy-- that’s exactly its appeal. This is why field repairs on electronic control boards is the new PCM frontier. 

 

 

  • Like 7


15 Comments


Recommended Comments

acfixerdude

Posted

I'd say that at least 75% of my repairs needing a board replacement are a failed capacitor, relay, blown trace or a cold solder joint. 

Knowledge of how to repair these boards properly and safely is a huge benefit to our customers if we can prevent a second trip out. We typically only offer the service if it is an NLA board or if it is a super easy and obvious fix and the board is not local.

As a mechanical engineer who has taken engineering level electrical circuit courses, built boards, etc, I think your statement is valid on some accounts. Technicians wanting to learn board repair should first build up their electrical troubleshooting skills as it will provide for faster diagnosis and a better bottom line. Once they have achieved that, then they could spend the time and effort into learning board repair or anything else to make their business better. 

 

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

15 minutes ago, acfixerdude said:

I'd say that at least 75% of my repairs needing a board replacement are a failed capacitor, relay, blown trace or a cold solder joint. 

 

My own experience is less than 5% of total calls are candidates for board repairs of the type you describe. What percentage of your total call volume do these types of board repairs comprise?

15 minutes ago, acfixerdude said:

Technicians wanting to learn board repair should first build up their electrical troubleshooting skills as it will provide for faster diagnosis and a better bottom line.

Exactly right— much bigger and faster payoff learning the basic troubleshooting skills that all techs need.  I’m seeing guys neglecting learning basic electricity and circuits in favor of replacing the occasional bulging cap or stuck relay. That’s the shortsightedness and laziness that I’m addressing in my post. 

Thanks for your comments, Michael! 

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment

I believe you are correct Scott. I have to agree with you. Electric circuit trouble shooting far out weighs trouble shooting and repairing the board. To trouble shoot the board properly is good enough. Order the board and move on...

 

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

Brother Quick, you're an old dawg like I am and we see the world pretty much the same way. One thing that means is we have sharp awareness of how little time we actually have in life.

Hmm.. Spend time stocking and storing tinky little relays and triacs for the once on a blue moon repair or, as you say, replace the board and move on.

Or not.

If the customer doesn't want to replace the board, it's most likely not a high value customer but one always looking for cheap cheap cheap. I don't have time for that bird song anymore. I'd rather save that time slot for another paying customer.

And again, we're talking about candidate board repairs that amount to less than 5% of total call volume-- something proponents won’t or don’t address. 

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Mrs. Samurai

Posted

Quote

The impulse to improve their expertise is good, but this is the wrong application. As I've shown in other posts, board-level repair should be done rarely and only in very particular circumstances.

I think some people who have read this post are missing an important point. As trainers, every day we see techs with knowledge gaps that are a detriment to their success. They can't identify whether loads are in series or parallel, don't understand voltage drop, don't understand shorts and shunts, etc. Things that are critical for effective troubleshooting.

Everyone has limited time to learn, so setting priorities is crucial. Performing board-level repairs has enough uncertainty and liability risks that techs should put that skill way down the list of skills they need to acquire.

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted (edited)

Totally spot on! Thanks for emphasizing that point about priorities, @Mrs. Samurai.  

If people would carefully reread what I wrote in the post and click the link to the other post where I show doing a field repair, you’ll see that I am not against doing certain types of board repairs.

However, I disapprove of guys who don’t know basic electricity, circuits, schematics, and troubleshooting, wasting time on board repairs when they don’t even know the basics of their trade.

If a tech has the basics down cold and they want to play with board repairs, more power to ‘em (pardon the pun).

But when I see guys going after board repairs as the new cash cow (which it is not) when they don’t even understand L1 and L2, for example, or the other basics that you mentioned, I  have a problem with that because it feeds the PCM mindset that is the scourge of our trade. 

Edited by Samurai Appliance Repair Man
  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Lorainfurniture

Posted

Interesting,  I never repair boards in the field, but I have no problem doing some repairs at my shop.  The reason I don’t do it in the field is twofold: the increased probability of failure, and honestly, it’s easier to charge $450 for a whole board than one 3 cent capacitor.  

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

10 hours ago, Lorainfurniture said:

the increased probability of failure,

Good point. 

10 hours ago, Lorainfurniture said:

honestly, it’s easier to charge $450 for a whole board than one 3 cent capacitor.  

There it is. 

Even if you wanted to give a price break for replacing the cap, you have different real costs to factor in: time spent locating and buying the 3 cent cap, if you already have a stock of caps, you have to remember where since the last time you used them, time to let your soldering iron warm up, time to desolder and solder in the replacement— this is all real time spent that you need to be paid for if you’re running a profitable business.

And this is assuming a field repair. If in shop, you have an extra trip to cover. 

So even if you wanted to give a price break, it couldn’t be much and remain a profitable job and now you have a perception problem with the customer: “What, you’re going to charge me $350 to replace that little thing?” 

And then suppose something else in the board fails unrelated (so you thought) to the repair you did. Suppose the board is in a refrigerator and that failure causes the compressor to stay offline, box warms up, and they have $500 of food loss or something much worse resulting in property or people damage. Since you modified a factory board, you are now in direct line of fire for liability and the manufacturer is off the hook. 

If it’s not something like a burnt solder joint, just replace the board and move on.

Even in the case of a simple burnt solder joint repair, I tell the customer no guarantees and I only charge my service call fee for this repair.  No profit in that job, but it’s so rare that I don’t worry about it, it’s a customer relations thing. 

 

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment
rbmappltech

Posted

There seems to be some controversy over board repair. I come from a military electronics Research and Development background, along with a consumer electronics background. So board repair is nothing new to me. When components fail you have to know why and if that component failure affects others components electrically attach to that circuit.  Most board repairs are simple when it comes to appliance boards. Cold solder joints, bad caps, relays, shorted diodes stuff like that.  Overall appliance repair is not set up for component level troubleshooting, more so for board replacement. Overall most repairs done in other industries are board replacement, so component level troubleshooting is slowly becoming a thing of the past. I would say its a judgement call when it comes to board level repair. At least for me, when I can repair a board I will do it and make a good profit on the repair.

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment
Mrs. Samurai

Posted

I think part of why our comments about board repairs always seem to ruffle some feathers and make the topic appear to be controversial is that people don’t read what we are saying carefully, nor do they consider our unique perspective on the trade. 

We are not saying field board repairs are never a good thing to do and don't belong in a competent techs' repertoire. (We have several videos showing Samurai doing them.)

We are not saying that every person out there who talks about or does field board repairs is a PCM.

We are saying that we see a lot of people placing field board repairs too high on the hierarchy of skills that a profitable tech needs to have or spend time pursuing. Field board repairs come with a variety of downsides that need to be carefully considered, and the times where they are truly warranted and advantageous are relatively rare. (As you said, @rbmappltech, it's a judgement call. This means the tech needs to have enough experience and skill to have sound judgement.)

Yet we see techs who still don't know what we consider "fundamental" skills spending time gearing up for board repair rather than getting the basics - the electrical troubleshooting skills that will ensure that they are profitable in the long term - nailed down.

Our unique perspective comes from this: over 20 years of running online appliance repair communities, interacting with thousands of techs. In the past 5 years of Master Samurai Tech, we’ve worked with over 1500 students. We just simply have a lot of data about this topic that very few others do.

We've seen techs succeed and techs fail. Many struggling to get by and bitter after years of effort.

Those who failed were usually working very hard, but didn't know what to prioritize in their business. Often they didn't know how to charge properly and what mix of jobs they needed to have. But they also didn't know what skills they needed to gain to be profitable, or they were too short-sighted to invest in training.

We have a quiz at our site called The Master Appliance Repair Tech Quiz. A tech who cannot ace this quiz needs more training to get his/her skills up to speed. The average score on this quiz by already-working techs is about 40%. These are not guys who need to be thinking about field board repairs yet.

For a tech who wants to earn a good living and stay in business for the long term, prioritizing training time and types of service calls is a must, and we are simply encouraging them to make sure they are focusing on first things first.
 

  • Like 2

Share this comment


Link to comment
acfixerdude

Posted

9 hours ago, Samurai Appliance Repair Man said:

Even in the case of a simple burnt solder joint repair, I tell the customer no guarantees and I only charge my service call fee for this repair.  No profit in that job, but it’s so rare that I don’t worry about it, it’s a customer relations thing. 

Why wouldn't you charge to fix that board? Its likely the only failure the board will have in the appliances lifetime. Charge the profit you would have made by just swapping the board and warranty it for a year (put cost towards new board if needed if it recalls you). Bluebook has even seen fit to add a new labor code for board repair. 

Screenshot_20190411-165430_Chrome.jpg

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

Good stuff, Michael, and the pricing side of this is certainly open to reasonable discussion about ways and means. But that’s not the main objection to doing board repairs as part of an appliance repair service. It’s best spelled out in @Mrs. Samurai‘s latest post.

There are lots of guys out there who don’t know how to use a schematic or timing chart to troubleshoot any electrical problem in all appliances, past, present, and future. They would never be able to troubleshoot either of these simple dryer problems. They might guess and get it right but they would never know why. 

They can’t be bothered with learning basic electricity and circuits in order to even be able to read and use the schematic like a real technician.

But they get all giddy and bubbly about replacing parts on a board because there’s none of that icky troubleshooting stuff that I’m always talking about. Nope, just plug n’ chug while sipping a cold one, and easy money. Life is good.. until the next 27 calls they couldn’t figure out, had to guess on parts, make multiple trips, or just punt. Oh, but they’ll make it up on that next board repair! 

I’m talking about the idiocracy aspect of touting board repair as the cure for what ails cash strapped appliance service businesses. As Susan said, this does not apply to real techs who are troubleshooting sharpshooters. What we’re saying is this: learn how to be real technician first before you start going down the board repair rabbit hole. Real technicians can both troubleshoot and change parts. But the troubleshooting is the high skill component of that equation and the one that leads to higher lifetime income. 

Changing parts on a board does not make someone a technician if they don’t know how to troubleshoot electric circuits with a schematic and meter.   

Share this comment


Link to comment
acfixerdude

Posted

I get your point of view and what you are trying to say, I was just replying to that particular point of your reply. We aren't charities and should definitely charge for our effort and knowledge. There is definitely very good money to be made. And it is a worthwhile skill to learn and hone, provided you're good to go on the basics and advanced troubleshooting. In fact, you might one day consider making a course on it with the other courses being prerequisites.

I figure if I can get a FCC out by doing a board repair and save the customer money at the same time, it's a win-win. It might even be faster than heading to the local parts store and getting the board. And then you have the service call only visits where the customer won't  do the repair because the board is too expensive, but if I can save them $150 or $200 by doing the board repair, they'll go for it. And then of course is the NLA boards. Bad power switch on a user interface? So easy to solder a new one in.

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Mrs. Samurai

Posted

13 hours ago, acfixerdude said:

And it is a worthwhile skill to learn and hone, provided you're good to go on the basics and advanced troubleshooting.

Yep!

13 hours ago, acfixerdude said:

In fact, you might one day consider making a course on it with the other courses being prerequisites.

What we'll probably do is beef up the discussion of board repairs within our existing courses, and/or do a webinar.

14 hours ago, acfixerdude said:

Bad power switch on a user interface? So easy to solder a new one in.

Yes, these repairs are easy - PCM repairs are by their very nature easy, and board repairs of the type we're talking about are PCM repairs. That doesn't mean you don't do them, but the judgement call on when they are wise to do takes the kind of experience you have, but unfortunately, a lot of techs don't. And, again, these types of repairs are not going to be a significant part of any business's bottom line, given the percentages involved and the fact that you are not making anything (significant) on the parts markup. A lot of techs don't understand the financial importance of making a profit on the parts and not just the labor.

Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Michael!

  • Like 1

Share this comment


Link to comment
Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

Thanks everyone for a great discussion! We always feel obligated to reply to good comments on a blog post and we enjoy doing it. But we’ve got courses and webinars to produce so we’re going to close off comments here for time considerations. But please feel free to start a new topic about this in the Dojo. 

Share this comment


Link to comment
Guest
This blog entry is now closed to further comments.
×
×
  • Create New...

Important Information

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better. You can adjust your cookie settings, otherwise we'll assume you're okay to continue.