Creating A Spare Parts Monster

Been having an entertaining email exchange for months with a guy from a Canadian electronics company. I call him “W.” W runs his own successful operation specializing in some unusual and very interesting electronics. Not only does he perform masterful work restoring and reselling vintage test gear from Bill and Dave’s company, he also does technical/parts support for our obsolete products. Support we as a company fail to provide. There are a number of stupid reasons for that which I will explain in detail soon. Anyway, W also manufactures products for the Canadian Aerospace and Defense industry, is a major supplier of vintage nixie tubes, and designs his own unique electronic night lights. Truly amazing stuff that leaves me in awe of W’s creativity.

Our correspondence started months ago when I was doing some online research concerning nixie tubes. Entirely by accident I ran across W’s company website and was blown away by the amount of information plus available stock he offered in those hard to find vacuum tubes. While looking over his nixie stuff I noticed a section of W’s website is devoted solely to Bill and Dave’s test and measurement gear. Clicking on that link brought me into a wonderful collection of antique equipment that appeared to be brand new. All of it was fully functional, calibrated, and ready for sale. It was like being in a museum sitting at my desk looking at all of those veteran workhorses. The thing that really caught my eye and made me laugh though was a comment W had written about our company breakup. His comment was cynical yet totally to the point. I agreed completely with his view that Bill and Dave’s company split was one of the biggest mistakes any company had ever made in the worldwide technology industry.

I wrote a response that afternoon to W mentioning his comment about our company. Identifying myself as an employee of Bill and Dave’s I inquired about buying some of his nixies for a home brewed clock project. He responded quickly. Very helpful, and amusing to read his emails. W seemed like a good guy. Things leading to things W asked for assistance on obscure components and miscellaneous parts for our obsolete instruments. I kinda figured that was going to happen but I didn’t mind. Since then W has been extremely generous by shipping me some excellent nixie stuff. I have been using any spare time I have on the job to do research for W. Rummaging around through old engineering documents, microfilm archives, product manuals, databases, and the MPL. The MPL is what we call the “Master Parts List.” That massive collection of dusty three ring binders contains component information dating back to the 1950s era.

So far I’ve had pretty good success digging up some totally obscure archived info. One of the biggest headaches W has when repairing our old instruments is obtaining spare parts. We don’t offer much for sale direct from the company and in rare cases where we will supply a needed vintage part, we price gouge the shit out of you for it.

If W troubleshoots an instrument down to the component level, say he finds a bad IC on a board, the only information he has is a proprietary part number from Bill and Dave’s company. In the electronics industry there is a globally accepted part identification system called JEDEC. It stands for Joint Electron Device Engineering Council. JEDEC part numbers are unique and exclusive to each and every electronic component manufactured within the last three or four decades. As one can imagine there must be millions of components out there on the market which means there’s at least that many corresponding JEDEC numbers. Here at Bill and Dave’s nobody thought it a good idea to supply that information in our instrument manuals. Armed only with a company part number you have no way to cross reference to a commercially available spare part.

Here’s an example. Let’s say W was troubleshooting a malfunctioning vintage instrument and he isolated the problem to a transistor that fried itself. W looks up the part on a board reference diagram included in the original instrument manual. With the ref diagram he can locate the part and cross reference it’s designator to a four by four or a five by five part number. He can’t order the transistor from us anymore and he has no JEDEC equivalent number. So he’s essentially screwed. I have access to decades worth of our in-house archives though. With a little patience and a lot of luck I can locate that info. Part number 1854-0800 turns out to be an old Motorola transistor that was replaced at some point by another Motorola part. I cross reference to JEDEC number MJE521K which is the commercially available replacement part. W then goes online with that info to find the obsolete part costs fifty cents and orders one. Bingo! Problem solved.

It’s been fun helping W out with this junk and I have been learning a bunch of things about our company history along the way. These days W hits me up for help at least twice a week. Sometimes it takes me a few weeks before I have anything to report back to him. I have become a component detective, which is kind of silly. Many employees working in engineering support or in our obsolete instrument repair groups are generally eager to help me out when I drop by with questions about antique equipment. We do still have some awesome people working here. That’s a fact.


~ by factorypeasant on January 16, 2007.

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