Saving A Scope From The Dumpster

If you read Hackaday, you probably get the title of [SunEstra’s] post: A Casual Date with the Dumpster. Many great hacking projects start with finding one man’s trash. This June, [SunEstra] rescued an old Tektronix 2465B oscilloscope, which appeared to be in good shape. Why we never find four-channel 400 MHz scopes in the dumpster is hard to explain, but we are still happy for him, if not a little jealous.

As you might expect, powering up the scope was a disappointment. Relays clicked. Lights flashed. But no display. Adjusting the grid bias on the CRT brought up the display, but it also brought up something else: an error message.

The scope was complaining of “test failure 05-40.” A look through the manual reveals that is “positive level too positive.” Huh. Too much of a good thing, we guess. The test checks the A5 board, so a visual inspection there was the first step.

Unsurprisingly, there were electrolytic capacitors leaking electrolyte. This is, apparently, a well-known problem with this scope. Replacing the electrolytics with some similar tantalum capacitors. In a few cases, the corrosion had eaten pads off the PCB, and some were damaged during the removal. It took a little ingenuity to connect the new parts on the board.

The result? A working scope. Maybe the scope will help repair the next thing that comes out of the dumpster. Sometimes, the best dumpster dives involve intercepting the gear before it hits the dumpster. We keep hoping to run into one of these on the curb (the linked post seems dead, but the video is still there).

DIY Repair Brings An X-Ray Microscope Back Into Focus

Aside from idle curiosity, very few of us need to see inside chips and components to diagnose a circuit. But reverse engineering is another story; being able to see what lies beneath the inscrutable epoxy blobs that protect the silicon within is a vital capability, one that might justify the expense involved in procuring an X-ray imager.  But what’s to be done when such an exotic and expensive — not to mention potentially deadly — machine breaks down? Obviously, you fix it yourself!

To be fair, [Shahriar]’s Faxitron MX-20 digital X-ray microscope was only a little wonky. It still generally worked, but just took a while to snap into the kind of sharp focus that he needs to really delve into the guts of a chip. This one problem was more than enough to justify tearing into the machine, but not without first reviewing the essentials of X-ray production — a subject that we’ve given a detailed look, too — to better understand the potential hazards of a DIY repair.

With that out of the way and with the machine completely powered down, [Shahriar] got down to the repair. The engineering of the instrument is pretty impressive, as it should be for something dealing with high voltage, heavy thermal loads, and ionizing radiation. The power supply board was an obvious place to start, since electrostatically focusing an X-ray beam depends on controlling the high voltage on the cathode cup. After confirming the high-voltage module was still working, [Shahriar] homed in on a potential culprit — a DIP reed relay.

Replacing that did the trick, enough so that he was able to image the bad component with the X-ray imager. The images are amazing; you can clearly see the dual magnetic reed switches, and the focus is so sharp you can make out the wire of the coil. There are a couple of other X-ray treats, so make sure you check them out in the video below.

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Putting The Magic Smoke Back Into A Dodgy Spectrum Analyzer

The trouble with fixing electronics is that most devices are just black boxes — literally. Tear it down, look inside, but it usually doesn’t matter — all you see are black epoxy blobs, taunting you with the fact that one or more of them are dead with no external indication of the culprit.

Sometimes, though, you get lucky, as [FeedbackLoop] did with this Rigol spectrum analyzer fix. The instrument powered up and sort of worked, but the noise floor was unacceptably high. Even before opening it up, there was clearly a problem; in general, spectrum analyzers shouldn’t rattle. Upon teardown, it was clear that someone had been inside before and got reassembly wrong, with a loose fastener and some obviously shorted components to show for it. But while the scorched remains of components made a great place to start diagnosis, it doesn’t mean the fix was going to be easy.

Figuring out the values of the nuked components required a little detective work. The blast zone seemed to once hold a couple of resistors, a capacitor, a set of PIN diodes, and a couple of tiny inductors. Also nearby were a pair of chips, sadly with the markings lasered off. With some online snooping and a little bit of common sense, [FeedbackLoop] was able to come up with plausible values for most of these — even the chips, which turned out to be HMC221 RF switches.

Cleaning up the board was a bit of a chore — the shorted components left quite a crater in the board, which was filled with CA glue, and a bunch of missing pads. This called for some SMD soldering heroics, which sadly didn’t fix the noise problem. Replacing the two RF switches and the PIN diodes seemed to fix the problem, albeit at the cost of some loss. Sometimes, good enough is good enough.

This isn’t the first time [FeedbackLoop] has gotten lucky with choice test equipment in need of repairs — this memory module transplant on a scopemeter comes to mind.

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When Tail Lights Lose Touch With Reality

To study the history of the automobile is to also be a student of technological progress — as with each decade’s models come new innovations to make them better handling, more corrosion-resistant, faster, more efficient, or whatever the needs of the moment dictate. But sometimes that technological advancement goes awry and works against the motorist, making for a vehicle that’s substantially worse than what went before. [FordTechMakuloco] has a video with an example in a Ford pickup, which we believe deserves to be shared.

The problem with the vehicle was simple enough, indeed it’s one we’ve had in the past ourselves. Water got into a tail light, and corroded some connectors. The difference with this Ford though was that such a simple fault took out the whole car, and that the fix for a simple tail light cost $5600. The first was due to a vehicle-wide CAN bus going down due to the electrical short, and the second was due to the assembly containing an assortment of wiring and modules which couldn’t be replaced separately. These included some form of side-facing parking radar, a component unnecessary for operation of the light itself. Some relatively straightforward design and component supply decisions such as separating subsystems across multiple CAN busses, ensuring individual modules are separately available, and even designing connectors to face downwards and self-drain, could have fixed it, but the automaker chose instead to build in some planned obsolescence. Would you buy a Ford truck after seeing the video below the break?

We’ve written here before about how automotive design has taken this wrong path, and even advanced a manifesto as to how they might escape it. This Ford tail light seems to us an egregious example of electronics-as-the-new-rust rendering what should be a good vehicle into a badly designed piece of junk, and honestly it saddens us to see it. Oddly, there was once a time when a Ford truck was about as good as you could get.

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Transistor Radio Repair, More Complex Than It Seems

The humble transistor radio is one of those consumer devices that stubbornly refuses to go away, but it’s fair to say that it’s not the mover and shaker in the world of electronics it might once have been. Thus it’s also not a staple of the repair bench anymore, where fixing a pocket radio might have been all in a day’s work decades ago now they’re a rare sight. [David Tipton] has a Philips radio from we’re guessing the later half of the 1960s which didn’t work, and we’re along for the ride as he takes us through its repair.

It’s an extremely conventional design of the era, with a self-oscillating mixer, 455 kHz IF amplifier, and class AB audio amplifier. The devices are a little archaic by today’s standards, with comically low-gain germanium transistors and passives from the Ark. Injecting a signal reveals that the various stages all work, but that mixer isn’t oscillating. A lot of fault-finding ensues, and perhaps with a little bit of embarrassment, he eventually discovers a blob of solder shorting a collector resistor to ground. All isn’t over though, for the volume pot is also kaput. Who knew that the track from a modern component could be transplanted into one from the 1960s?

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The McDonald’s Ice Cream Machine Saga And Calls For Right To Repair

The inside of a Taylor C709 ice cream machine, as seen from the back with the cover on the electronics removed. (Credit: iFixit)
The inside of a Taylor C709 ice cream machine, as seen from the back with the cover over the electronics removed. (Credit: iFixit)

Raising a likely somewhat contentious topic, iFixit and Public Knowledge have challenged the manufacturer behind McDonald’s ice cream machines to make them easy to diagnose and repair. This is a subject that’s probably familiar to anyone who is vaguely familiar with US news and the importance of ice cream at McDonald’s locations to the point that a live tracker was set up so that furtive customers can catch a glimpse at said tracker before finding themselves staring in dismay at an ‘Out of Order’ sign on one of these Taylor ice cream machines.

The story is more complex than just a machine being “broken”, however. The maintenance contracts are lucrative, the instruction manual is long, and the error codes are cryptic. When you add to that the complexity of cleaning and maintaining the machines, it’s tempting to just claim the machine is out of order. These Taylor machines (the C602 and the C709 from the iFixit video) are a bit more complex than your usual ice cream maker in that they also have a pasteurization element that’s supposed to keep already poured mix safe to use the next day.

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Impulse Buying A 3040 CNC Machine, What Could Go Wrong?

[joekutz] made an impulse purchase of a CNC machine. It was a 3040 CNC that looked reasonably complete and had an attractive price, what could possibly go wrong? As it happens, [joekutz] really didn’t know what he was in for. Sometimes the price is good, but you pay in other ways. But where some would see defeat, [joekutz] sees an opportunity to document the restoration.

Dial indicators are useful tools for measuring how straight some parts aren’t.

The 3040 are relatively cheap and simple CNC machines that have been available from a variety of overseas retailers for years. They have 30 cm by 40 cm beds (hence the name) and while there are many variations, they all work about the same. [joekutz] expected that getting his up and running and converted to open source would be a fun weekend project, but it ended up taking far longer than that. In fact, it turns out that the machine was damaged in surprising and unexpected ways.

[joekutz] has a series of videos demonstrating the process of diagnosing and repairing the various things wrong with this device. In the first video, he dismantles the machine and discusses the next steps. In the second video, he takes some time to repair some dial indicators that will be critical for measuring the various things wrong with the CNC parts. Video number three delves into finding out the horrible things wrong with the machine, and the fourth is where repairs begin, including bending shafts and sanding blocks back into service.

Those videos are embedded below, and while the machine isn’t quite restored yet, progress is promising. We’ve seen easy and effective upgrades for such CNC machines before, but if you happen to be in more of a repair and restore situation, give [joekutz]’s work a look because it might just save you some time and frustration.

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