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Mac's Service Shop: How Good Are We?
April 1960 Electronics World

April 1960 Electronics World

April 1960 Electronics World Cover - RF Cafe Table of Contents 

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Electronics World, published May 1959 - December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

I love me some good "Mac's Service Shop" episodes. In this saga, Barney got an earful from a customer who referred to all electronics technicians as "robbers, crooks, and inefficient boobs." During a bout of self-assessment as to whether the woman had a point, Mac makes the following obvious and somewhat profound observation, "The manufacturer has to daddy the first breakdown because it happened before any of us touched the receiver." That statement is as true today as it was nearly six decades previous. It applies to every product made, electronic or otherwise, provided the user hasn't been abusive purposely or accidentally. Truth is that depending on the design and manufacturing process, even subsequent breakdowns could easily be blamed on the product itself and not on the repair effort that remedied the first breakdown - a point Mac also makes. Is Mac a sage or would modern sarcastic lingo label him as Captain Obvious? Knowing Mac as well as we do, "sage" is the appropriate term. Read on for proof of the assertion. Comparison of the procurement and cost-of-ownership between commercial (consumer) and military electronics gear ensues.

Mac's Service Shop: How Good Are We?

Mac's Service Shop: How Good Are We?, April 1960 Electronics World - RF CafeBy John T. Frye

Barney stood in the wide-open door of Mac's Service Shop drinking in the beauty of the spring day outside. The warm sun beat down from a cloudless sky, and the breeze was so gentle it barely stirred the limp pennants adorning the gas station across the way.

"Man, what a sample of summer this is!" he called over his shoulder to Mac, his employer, busy at the service bench.

"Don't let it fool you," Mac grunted.

"Tomorrow it will probably be snowing; so let's not catch spring fever quite yet, huh?"

"Soul-shrunken slave driver!" Barney growled as he turned reluctantly away from the door and walked into the service department. "I really need something to pick me up. The woman who owned the TV set I delivered just before lunch really read my pedigree. In fact, she read the pedigree of the whole service profession. 'Robbers, crooks, and inefficient boobs' were among the kinder things she called us."

"What was her beef?" Mac asked with a quick frown.

"Nothing in particular, but she said she had already spent a fortune on that set before she called us. Now we were sticking her another ten dollars, and she was sure the set would go out again in a few days."

"Did you tell her that if her husband had kept his busy little screwdriver out of the set when the capacitor shorted we would not have had to bring in the receiver for alignment?"

"Sure, but she said that was just an excuse. Her husband tells her electronic technicians are obviously a sorry lot; otherwise they could fix a set so that it would stay fixed. Just between us girls, what do you think? Are we doing a reasonably good job or are we fooling ourselves and our customers? After letting her bend my ear, I'm not sure."

"She must have been a persuasive talker," Mac said with a grin; "but let's examine her suspicions and accusations as objectively as we, the accused, can. In the first place, service technicians can refuse to shoulder all the blame for the set's failure. The manufacturer has to daddy the first breakdown because it happened before any of us touched the receiver. What's more, we both know that a very high percentage of subsequent failures have absolutely nothing to do with repairs we have made. They are caused by continued breakdown of original components. But a lot of people seem to think like the Chinese when it comes to TV sets. It is said that when you save the life of a Chinaman you are responsible for him from that time on; and many customers seem to believe that once a service technician has taken the back off their receiver, anything that happens to it from that day forth is his fault."

"And how!" Barney agreed.

"Of course we must not overlook the fact a technician could put in a wrong replacement that would place additional strain on an original part and make it fail, but this rarely happens. Anyway, saying that if a technician really knew his business he could repair a TV set so it would not break down again is foolishness. It is only slightly nearer the truth to say that if a manufacturer knew his business he could produce a set that would never need maintenance at all.

"But actually all this proves nothing. To judge how good or bad a job the service technicians are doing, we need something with which to compare; and I think I've found it in a couple of reports coming out of the 41st annual Preparedness meeting of the American Ordnance Association that met in New York the last of 1959 and the Sixth National Symposium on Reliability and Quality Control in Electronics held in Washington the first of this year. Much of the discussion in these two groups centered around problems of maintaining military electronic equipment."

"Hold on!" Barney objected. "I don't think such a comparison would be fair to us. After all, military electronic equipment is built to very exacting specifications, employing only the best of parts. Much of that equipment is manufactured on a cost-plus basis so the manufacturer does not have to cut corners to meet tough competition as radio and TV manufacturers do. Then, too, the maintenance men are carefully trained to be specialists. Ordinarily each one services only a few pieces of equipment and so becomes darned familiar with that equipment. On top of that, the military electronics shops I have visited had fine, laboratory-type service equipment beyond the reach of the average service technician. My mouth waters just remembering the wide-band scopes, the calibrated signal generators, and the spare-parts storeroom of that Air Force Base electronics shop I visited last Armed Forces Day."

"Before you start hollering 'Foul!' answer me this: how many TV sets per hundred do you think are out of commission waiting to be serviced here in town at this moment?"

"M-m-m-m-m-m, not more than seven or eight per hundred at the outside," Barney said after a little reflection.

"I'll go along with that. Compare it with the 1952 survey cited by Rear Admiral Paul B. Stroop, Chief of the Navy Bureau of Weapons, which showed only one-third of its electronic equipment was functioning properly, with the remaining two-thirds either partially or entirely out of commission. And consider the remarks of Lt. Gen. Robert F. Sink, commander of the Army 18th Airborne Corps describing communications: 'When they are good, they are very good; and when they are bad, they are horrid.' He went on to say that Army communications equipment is superior to any ever before devised and is inherently capable of operating on any battlefield in the world. 'Under hothouse conditions it does,' he added sarcastically. 'The funny thing is, when they push-to-talk, commanders never know whether the system will work.'''

"Wow! Those military maintenance boys really are in a rough spot," Barney remarked. "At least our customers are not our superior officers."

"Vice Admiral William R. Smedberg, commander of the Second Fleet, paid the maintenance men a thoughtful compliment when he said that 'somehow the men who control and maintain our equipment have managed to stay on top of it.' That 'somehow' he uses indicates he understands that maintaining complicated electronic equipment is not easy. Rear Admiral Stroop appreciates this, too. He declared industry cannot answer the military's electronic problems through pyramiding circuitry, additional black boxes, and super-colossal gadgetry. He said, 'We must guard against producing equipment so sophisticated that our personnel cannot maintain it. Equipment must be tailored to talent available in the Armed Forces to operate and maintain it.' "

"Boy, I hope the manufacturers who make civilian radio and TV sets were listening," Barney said earnestly.

"Yes, and let us hope they were listening when W. T. Hudness, director of maintainers, Air Material Command, USAF, urged designers to consider the problems in finding defective small parts in a complex system which fails. He declared Air Force studies have shown the majority of system failures can be attributed to resistors and capacitors. Failures of this type, he pointed out, are very often difficult for a technician to find."

"I wish resistor and capacitor failures were the toughest service problems we had," Barney remarked; "but I wonder how a person could compare the cost of maintaining military equipment with the cost of service to our customers."

"Well, Mr. Hudness said the Air Force alone spent about six-hundred-million dollars last year for maintenance. Lt. Col. Wm. F. Stevens, opera­tions staff, Weapons Guidance Laboratory, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, said the AF estimates it spends ten times as much to maintain a complex system as it costs to build it. Rear Admiral Stroop said an AF report showed maintenance costs on electronic equipment during its operational life varies from two to ten times the acquisition cost. And just remember the operational life of AF electronic equipment is pretty short compared to a radio or TV set that may be kept in daily operation from ten to fifteen years."

"Wheeee-whoooo!" Barney whistled. "Wouldn't some of our customers squawk if they had to put out six-hundred dollars in service bills on their three-hundred-dollar TV set? And imagine what they would say if those service charges went up to $3000, or ten times the cost of the receiver!"

"Undoubtedly there are some factors in military servicing we are not taking into account," Mac said; "but these facts and figures are still mighty interesting. Military maintainers are carefully and intensely schooled and permitted to specialize on a few pieces of electronic gear. We are expected to be equally at home with hundreds of different models of radios, TV sets, tape recorders, record players, and hi-fi amplifiers. Government electronic shops are ordinarily stocked with the finest test equipment and an unlimited supply of replacement parts. We have to be satisfied with the test equipment we can afford; and we can't simply trace down the trouble to a comparatively large portion of the circuit and replace the whole thing as military maintainers often do. We've got to find the exact small component that failed and replace it from our limited stock of universal replacement parts in order to keep the service charges down."

"Yeah, and don't forget the ordinary customer feels he's been had if he has to payout half the original cost of his TV set in maintenance; yet the minimum maintenance figure you mentioned was four times this, and twenty times seemed to be the average. That hardly makes the service technician's solder gun look like a highwayman's pistol."

"True; but possibly the most significant thing in the long run is that the military is awakening to the fact that easy, low-cost maintenance begins with design. Equipment can be made easy to service if maintenance problems are kept in mind right from the start. What's more, the Armed Forces are no more convinced than we are that 'more complicated' necessarily means 'better.'"

"We've been saying that for a long time," Barney added; "but very little attention was paid to our griping. Now that Uncle Sam is echoing our words, I'll bet they carry more weight."

"Right," Mac said as he picked up his solder gun; "and if I'm not badly mistaken, the insistence of the Armed Forces on equipment that is easier to maintain is going to carryover into civilian design and make our job easier and our customers better satisfied in the long run."



Posted November 22, 2018

Mac's Radio Service Shop Episodes on RF Cafe

This series of instructive technodrama™ stories was the brainchild of none other than John T. Frye, creator of the Carl and Jerry series that ran in Popular Electronics for many years. "Mac's Radio Service Shop" began life in April 1948 in Radio News magazine (which later became Radio & Television News, then Electronics World), and changed its name to simply "Mac's Service Shop" until the final episode was published in a 1977 Popular Electronics magazine. "Mac" is electronics repair shop owner Mac McGregor, and Barney Jameson his his eager, if not somewhat naive, technician assistant. "Lessons" are taught in story format with dialogs between Mac and Barney.

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