VCO Hell


Well, it’s finally happened. I’ve been trying to avoid working on the VCO assemblies on this product family since I got hired in. They hit me up recently and now I’ve got to train up on them and take over for Slobbering Mouth Kid. He’s leaving to work on another product transfer so I’ve been tapped on the shoulder to be one of the VCO gurus. Squirrel is also working on VCOs but she sucks at building and testing them, like most of the assemblers. The VCOs are the real heart of this instrument. Each box gets a matched set of the Voltage Controlled Oscillators and it’s what gives the units their impressive phase noise characteristics. VCOs are a motherfucker to build though, believe me. All of the parts are tiny and very delicate. I’ve already mutilated, crushed, and burned some of the materials trying to build my first couple of sets. You could practically sneeze on these things and completely destroy them. It’s that easy.

Each VCO is about the size of the palm of my hand. It’s a little rectangular box that’s made up of 17 or 18 glass pin diodes that are soldered into two identical paper thin copper plated boards. They have to be soldered into pairs and then the copper boards are folded carefully to form half a box shape. Under them are placed clear acrylic blocks and a mounting plate with a few copper threaded slugs. On the top of the whole assembly there’s a single tiny thru-hole PC board that has to be mounted together. Then the whole thing has to be tested by hand and tuned. The tuning process is mainly just running the copper threaded slugs up and down inside the acrylic blocks until you get the desired radio frequency band out of each section. It ain’t easy because making the slightest adjustment to the copper slugs or accidentally bumping the whole thing while it’s under test could throw it all out of whack. I’ve already had to start over from the beginning of the test process a couple of times ’cause I fucked up. Very frustrating.

I was actually afraid of being forced to work on these miserable little cubes and I knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Hopefully if I can get really good at building and testing them it won’t be so bad, but that’s probably going to take a minimum of six months before I’ll be reasonably good at it. Damn that’s a long time. The extra bummer is I’m still going to have all my other responsibilities on the line. This is just one extra job that’s now on my daily plate. So I’ve got chassis to build, power supplies, board modules, card cages, front panel displays, phase mods, frequency doublers, and the evil little VCOs. Oh yeah and I almost forgot about the “Stealth Box”. I build that now, too. I’m the only person left in the entire company that can build or repair it. Sheesh.


~ by factorypeasant on June 8, 2005.

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