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Three reasons why doing component replacements on electronic boards is a bad idea

Samurai Appliance Repair Man

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A recent topic in the tech forums here at Appliantology illustrates perfectly a point I’ve made in the past that replacing components on electronic control boards, rather than replacing the whole board, is a bad idea both for the customer and for the technician.

The discussion was about a power supply problem on the main control board in a Kitchenaid KSCS25INSS refrigerator which is NLA. This topic pointed out three specific reasons why replacing components on electronic control boards is in neither the customer’s nor the technician’s best interest

In this case, we’re not talking about merely re-soldering a burnt solder connection (which I do often). We’re talking about identifying a visibly damaged component, such as a bulging electrolytic capacitor, spending time to source the replacement component(s), unsoldering the old component(s) and soldering in the new ones. 

Some techs see this component replacement on electronic boards as the new cash cow. I hope to disabuse you of this notion as well and show you how you are actually losing money when you do this.

In this particular case, there is a tech bulletin out about a service kit Whirlpool has released for the replacement board (PN W10823804). As one of the techs, @Rob Fowler, pointed out:

Quote

I sell them all the time because it is the factory recommended repair and it turns into a $600 dollar job and the customer gets the latest power supply and a board that is currently supported.

In this one statement, Rob neatly points out the three reasons why it is not a good idea to do component replacement on electronic control boards. Let’s break it down: 

1. You lose the markup on the replacement kit. 

A replacement capacitor costs maybe $0.23 or so. How much markup can you charge for a replacement cap? $1.00, maybe? How much can you charge for the entire repair? Service call plus skill fee, maybe $175? 

On the other hand, the service kit retails for over $350 and the completed job can easily sell for $600. 

Loser: Technician.

2. The customer misses out the latest engineering improvements in the service kit. 

Depending on the specific board and service kit in other situations, this may also include upgraded software on the board. The customer gets a much better repair with the latest hardware and software. If all you do is a bandaid repair by replacing a bulged cap, they get neither. In the case of refrigerators, you’re talking about better food preservation, user operability, and reduced chances of food loss. 

Loser: Customer.

3. The service kit is recommended and supported by the factory; the field repair is not. 

This means that if there’s a problem with the new service kit during the warranty period (usually a year), the factory will cover it. Both the customer and the technician are protected. Otherwise, the customer is paying for an inferior repair that you, as the tech, are on the hook for. 

Loser: Customer and technician. 

Replacing components on electronic control boards sounds sexy to some techs because electronics are mysterious to most of them. Maybe it gives them a sense of knowing more than they actually do. But at the end of the day, it’s the same old Parts Changing Monkey (PCM) game that so many techs today like to play. Replacing a visibly damaged component on an electronic board does not require any troubleshooting skills-- just unsolder the old one and solder in the new one. No complicated schematics and specifications to deal with. No need to understand the technology being used on modern, computer-controlled appliances. Just plug n' chug. 

In addition to all the foregoing, consider the time spent researching the needed components to buy, placing the order, storing and stocking the parts--- they’re chasing pennies and losing dollars.  

Learning how to troubleshoot electric circuits is the high income but difficult skill to acquire because you need to learn Ohm's Law, basic circuits, and a disciplined mental troubleshooting approach to problem solving. Low skill techs would rather replace an obviously damaged part than troubleshoot an invisible problem any day. But, as a general rule: high skill = high income. 

This situation also illustrates the value of being an active tech member at Appliantology and asking the right question when faced with a failed NLA board situation. Instead of asking, “Which component on the board should I replace?” ask, “Is there a service kit available for this board?” 

You may be asking, "Are there situations where component replacement on boards make sense for both the customer and the technician?" In situations where the board is NLA and there is no service kit available, the answer is another question: what’s your time worth?

If you’re slow and you service mostly low-end appliances, maybe you have more time than money. If you’re busy and your business is focused on high-end appliances, you probably don’t have time to waste playing trivial pursuit and replacing caps on boards— too much money to make on the next job.

One last thing I want to mention is that we have various contacts with manufacturers and know that they do not like techs doing component replacements on control boards, mostly for Reason 2 listed above. 

Some techs have a hostile attitude toward manufacturers. I’ve heard techs say juvenile things like, “We have to beat the manufacturers at their own game.” This is an asinine statement and if you listen to such petty-minded people, you will end up playing a chump-change parts changing game and never realize your full potential as a tech. 

Some manufacturers are aware they need to do a better job communicating with non-warranty techs. This is going to happen and has already started (announcement coming soon-- stay tuned). Some of this is being driven by Right to Repair laws. 

Meanwhile, your time is better spent improving your troubleshooting skills. Learn how to price your services according to your actual cost of doing business, not what seems “fair.” Finally, set your sights higher than PCM repairs, focusing on high-end and more complicated appliances that require higher skills to repair-- this is the single best way to increase your average repair ticket.


 

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excellent take on the situation please keep us in the loop on right to repair laws as this is a huge issue in Canada.

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Mrs. Samurai

Posted

One of the main takeaways I hope people get from this post is that there are several important considerations when it comes to doing field board repairs. It takes business savvy to know if and when they are appropriate. 

A tech with an electronics background and enough experience to be discerning can do these on occasion in particular scenarios that will benefit their business in some way.

Techs who do not already possess this skill set should focus first on learning appliance technology and troubleshooting and gaining experience before even thinking of these repairs.

Time is our most precious resource. We see a lot of techs who are frustrated because they feel like they work all the time, but aren’t earning what they want or need. Our message is always about how to use your time and resources wisely.

 

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Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

Yep, first things first: learn the fundamental skills of the trade like basic electricity, circuits, how to read a timing chart, and troubleshooting with schematics— skills you’ll use everyday— before you start jumping down PCM rabbit holes like the occasional board repair. 

You also need to have an overall vision for your business with a longer time horizon than just the immediate job you’re working on. What are your financial and personal goals for the next year and five years?  Then decide on how best to spend your time pursuing your goals, whatever they may be.

As George Bush famously said, “It’s all about the strategery.”

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Terry Carmen

Posted (edited)

I've done a lot of electronics work over the years and built my first computer from a box of parts, and *could* repair most of the boards if I wanted to.

The catch is, "I don't want to" because of the 11th commandment "The last person to touch it, owns it".

I don't want to get a callback in a few months when the new part failed for the same mysterious reason that killed the old part.

I also don't want the opportunity to see if my liability insurance covers unauthorized board modifications if my repair suddenly bursts into flames.

Also, I'm perfectly happy to tell the customer "Sorry, the part is NLA", collect my service call and move on down the road.

Your mileage may vary.

Edited by Terry Carmen
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Samurai Appliance Repair Man

Posted

Great comments, @Terry Carmen

I think many of the techs doing board repairs are young techs with poor troubleshooting skills who are easily impressed by gadgets and bling and simply don’t know any better. The intent of this blog post is to offer a bigger perspective. 

Time is cheap when we are young. That is when we should be investing our time in building real technical skills that will enable us to maximize the profitability of our business, whether a one-man operation or a multi-tech company. It’s a choice between wasting time playing trivial pursuit for peanuts on the occasional board repair or building technical and troubleshooting skills that are used every day doing lucrative repairs on higher-end, more expensive appliances.  

10 hours ago, Terry Carmen said:

Also, I'm perfectly happy to tell the customer "Sorry, the part is NLA", collect my service call and move on down the road.

Exactly- because we don’t have an unlimited supply of time so we want to leverage it for the highest compensation we can get. If we’ve built our business correctly and mastered fundamental troubleshooting skills, we should be busy and profitable; disposable income should be plentiful and disposable time should be non-existent.  That means our time has high value and there’s a higher paying service call scheduled and waiting for you down the road; you simply don’t have time to waste on chump-change board repairs. (With the added “bonus” of creating a liability for you). 
 

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Mrs. Samurai

Posted

10 hours ago, Terry Carmen said:

I don't want to get a callback in a few months when the new part failed for the same mysterious reason that killed the old part.

Excellent point! That could have been reason #4 in Samurai's blog post. It's another good supporting argument for how these board repairs require savvy to decide when they are appropriate to offer.

10 hours ago, Terry Carmen said:

Your mileage may vary.

Exactly. We occasionally get push-back on this topic from techs who don't read the post carefully. Samurai said,

Quote

In situations where the board is NLA and there is no service kit available, the answer is another question: what’s your time worth? If you’re slow and you service mostly low-end appliances, maybe you have more time than money.

Different markets certainly have different characteristics. On the other hand, we have seen many techs over the years who hesitate to charge fees that would allow them to have a prosperous business because they think they are stuck charging peanuts. With the encouragement of other Appliantologists (and getting training as needed to up their game), when they charge what they are worth and focus on delivering excellent service, their bottom line improves. We've seen it many times.

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The capacitor plague was a problem related to a higher-than-expected failure rate of non-solid aluminum electrolytic capacitors, between 1999 and 2007, especially those from some Taiwanese manufacturers, due to faulty electrolyte composition that caused corrosion accompanied by gas generation

A lot of products from 2009 fail from this esp Flat screens LCD and Plasma, Imacs, monitors etc

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I hear ya on this, and I do understand. But I am still not sure about some things, but I am willing to listen and I am earestly interested in your reasoning. Domo...

1) I can surely agree that many of use, including myself, have very little technical training in electronics, but that doesn't necessarily mean much for this case. I'm not a trained car mechanic, but I can change out basic components of car. And I consider this a simple component failure. Sure we have to ask ourselves 'why this failed', but can't sometimes an electrical component just plain ol fail... maybe fatigue, poor materials, whatever... but just because this capacitor fails isn't indicative of a another component failure, imo. My limited experience has shown me otherwise, that there has never been another component failure associated with the capacitor failure. Now I will have to say that I an not equipped for testing the entirety of the muthaboard, and I understand that refurb outfits (corecentric, fixboard, etc) do have substantial testing equipment, but before I started replacingthe caps myself, I did send them off for refurb, and every single time I got them back, the only thing I've seen replced was the cap. I know, I know, that's definately not definative, but I do question how much testing actually goes into this refurb at one of those outfits. Perhaps a lot, perhaps none. And then I would also specificlly like to know exactly what they are tesing- which as far as I know could be nothing.

2) The refurb was offered for many years as a repair by Whirlpool, there was no update to software, or I assume that there was none because it doesn't say it was, I've never heard or read of where anyone has mentioned that it does. But again, this is an assumption. As far as I'm concerned, on these units, with these two boards specifically- they worked fine for a decade, I don't see any reason to change this. It was mentioned that these boards are 'currently supported'- just what does that mean? And just how has the 'currently supported' board benefitted you? I've changed out these kits in the past, I saw no support, and nothing changed. Now this is not the same as poorly engineered, poor quality units that were POS's the day they came out, and attempts at fixing what is inherently a flawed design is to swap a bunch of components that have 'software updates'- like Samsung fridge where they want you to replace a host of components, including boards, ice makers, auger motors, thermistors, evap covers, drain kits, etc. If I knew specificlly the reason(s) why there was a software update, I'd be more apt to replace the board.

3) My good friend Mr Samurai, you are a true expert. Your confidence and expertise allows you to command a board replacement cost or nearing $600 where I believe that many cannot do so, for various reasons, including confidence and/or ability, and just as important, often because of market and what the consumer is willing to pay. The price range on fridges that use these boards range from what $1200ish for the basic SxS, to maybe $10k for the 48bu? So the real issue is pricing for profit. Which is a matter of figuring out how much profit each scenario would get. Plus there are other things to consider besides immediate profit. We'll assume the stated cost of repair as $600. My cost $227.07. Marcone currently does not have it in stock, so I could order it from Jacksonville and pay the $5 shipping. Now let's not forget the $60 core, and equally there is expense in having to return that core if you have to ship it back- which then includes time and postage. I'll assume that the business can absorb core costs, as well as that it returns cores in batch and there is little labor. A generous estimate is $5 associated costs. So now we're up to $237.07. $600-$237.07= $362.93 profit. Sweet! But wait, shit, there's two trips involved. If we're using the metric that we use for every other call, we take the profit and divide by how times ya had to go there. So now this equates to $181.46 profit per call. BUT, the rub is that the majority of folks are not getting $600 for this job.

4) Food loss. The customer is not calling because they fear food loss in the future from not having the new 'updated software' board, they are calling because they are currently losing product. We can only speculate on what might happen in the future, and this is regardless of what component was replaced. If possible, I would like to know specificlly on what future issues were had after replacing the cap on this board. 

Anywho, I certainly will keep an open mind and engage in discussion of this.

Timbo

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Mrs. Samurai

Posted

Hi @Koi Guy

I just had a couple of quick comments on your questions. 

1. Any one tech's particular experience is limited, which is why collaborating with lots of other techs here at Appliantology is so valuable. You can learn from other's experience and adjust your practices to avoid problems, rather than just learning the hard way on your own. And you can especially learn from the Samurai, who has compiled hundreds of thousands of repairs experiences in his head from running these Forums over the years.

There should be "standard operating procedures" that every business follows in order to ensure adequate profits. These SOPs should minimize risks to the tech/bottom line. There is enough evidence from the collective years of experience among the techs here to show that replacing components on boards has a higher risk-to-profit ratio than most other types of repairs, and thus should be a rare exception rather than an SOP.

Some techs don't take the time to develop SOPs or a longer view of their business. This needs to be done if you want to have real income and financial security. Be sure you aren't "chasing pennies instead of dollars".

2. Board configurations and best repair practices are changing rapidly enough that you want to be careful how much you base your SOPs on machines that are more than a few years old.

3. We didn't initiate this discussion of the $600 board replacement. Another member did. This isn't just coming from us and our experience. Plus, this is just one particular example of what is a much bigger picture about how to spend your time as a tech to ensure business success. 

4. Some techs do the component replacement (even if a board is available) thinking they are helping out their customer by offering a lower-price alternative. This is just an example of how you are potentially short-changing the customer. A certain percentage of board failures were caused by another issue in the machine. This means a certain percentage of board repairs are going to result in a new failure within a short amount of time. For refrigerators, that can cause some major unhappiness in the customer.

3 hours ago, Koi Guy said:

I certainly will keep an open mind

Awesome - always a good thing to do!

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johnsavit

Posted

I ONLY sell and install JAZZ boards repaired by myself. They are better than  the  new  ones as I have solved the weakness of these boards. My  father  went through 3 new ('snapped' in front of him) boards before replacing his fridge.

I have yet to have one fail (knocking on head)

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