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Who works in electronics repair? Advice needed.

Discussion in 'Off Topic [BG]' started by Mike M., Jan 29, 2014.

  1. Mike M.

    Mike M.

    Feb 14, 2010
    Hello gang. A few of you might know whats going on with me in that I got laid off from my job on December 4, 2013. I was working in a CNC machine shop in the inspection department where I ran a CMM.

    I've got applications and resumes everywhere. I even responded to adds on Craigslist for CNC operators (of which I use to do) but have gotten no replies. Offhand, things aren't looking to good in the manufacturing sector. I'm not giving up hope of finding something even if it's not in that field, however.....

    Been giving a lot of thought to my future. I'm 60 years old, I'm basically a blue collor workhorse with ever growing aches and pains who can't keep on doing physical jobs for too much longer without causing further physical damage. My back and my knees are giving me grief and to some degree my hands have been hurting lately. I can't even stand for anymore than 30 minutes without my back feeling like it's going to cave in on me.

    I'm trying to think of something that's "respectful of my years/condition" and I think it's down to taking a chance and reinventing myself even at this stage in my life. Offhand, I don't think I have any other choice. I'll go back to a factory if I HAVE to, but I really don't want to.

    So, I'm giving very strong consideration of finding the right online course for electronics, specifically aimed at electronic repairs. Even though I don't know the first thing about electronics, I find the idea to be very appealing....working on, trouble shooting and repairing things from cellphones to computer components to whatever. Been looking online and offhand Penn Foster sounds like they have a good program. But then, my search has just started.

    So....and as I originally asked....does anyone here work in electronics repairs? What was your course of study and how long did it take? Are you happy with it? Seems to me that you'd have work all the time repairing things. Any and all advice or suggestions is more than welcome.

    As always, thanks in advance for your time.
  2. DiabolusInMusic

    DiabolusInMusic Functionless Art is Merely Tolerated Vandalism Supporting Member

    I do not do it personally, but I use to run an electronics warehouse so I would deal with a handful of electronic repair shops on a regular basis. I also know a few friends that have taken trade school courses for electronics repair. The guys I know that went to electronics repair all ended up getting jobs on factory lines doing machine repair and one guy at a agricultural place running computer controlled sprinklers and such.

    In regards to home electronics repairs, you will be so busy you will be fighting to hold all the backed up orders. The problem is that the pay is not very good ($15-low $20s/hour in my area)and the stress is very high as people are constantly breathing down your neck wondering where their DVD player or some other "must have" item is. Most people are dicks and think the repair should take a day, even though most times you are just waiting on parts from a supplier. If you like your job though, all the guys I dealt with were always happy, especially the business owners. They do alright and they NEVER have to advertise for work beyond a sign in the front.

    That is my two cents. Best of luck no matter what you do choose.

    EDIT: I should add, the most common stuff we worked with was TV's, and TV repair is considerably easier than it once was, most of the time the thing is dead or you just replace a few boards.
  3. I've done some repair work on the side, and it's a rough way to make a living.

    First and foremost, people do not want to pay much to have their equipment repaired. They've just burned up their amp and they expect you to fix it for $50. The fact that you may have 8 hours of labor invested by the time you're done...they don't care. (An hour just to locate/download/print a schematic and another hour to order parts, for example)

    Then there's the repair jobs that look simple...so you quote $50 thinking it will only take an hour or two. Suddenly nothing goes right, and that 2 hours turns into 8, and STILL something goofy is going on. Or you're buttoning up your simple repair job, and your screwdriver slips...you've just busted something and it's your fault, now you must fix that on your own dime.

    And then there's the customers that drop off their gear, they agree to your price, you do the work...and they don't show up to pay and reclaim the gear. (There's a lot of hoops to go through if you want to sell their stuff if they don't claim it, it's not as easy as it sounds to do it legally)

    So here's the basic business model. You're going to go into business: whether repairing guitars/amps or making stuff such as guitars and amps or parts. Estimate how much business you will actually do, say on a weekly basis: how many orders you will get, how much you can charge per order. This determines your expected weekly income. Most folks overestimate this.

    Now determine your weekly expenses. You'll need startup costs: capital equipment such as soldering stations, oscilloscope, DMM, sig gen, test leads, etc. You will also need an initial complement of supplies: wire, solder, resistors, capacitors, maybe a few various generic transistors, some IC's. You may have to take out a loan; or maybe you have the money in the bank--in that case, still consider it a loan to your business. Amortize that capital equipment cost out, let's say over a year for purposes of this illustration. Figure you've just spent $5200 in startup costs, divide that out by 52 weeks and that equals $100 per week of expense to repay your startup cost. Then add in other weekly expenses: house payment, insurance, water/elec/phone bills, web site, etc, figured on a per week basis. Now add in your operating expenses to actually do the work: your expected pay per hour, times how many hours per week you expect to work. Add in cost of materials too, including pre-ordering more material. And add contingency. Now you have your total weekly expenses; note that most people underestimate these.

    Hopefully your expected income will exceed your weekly expenses and you will make a profit. If not, you have lost money and you will go bankrupt. You can conceivably work backwards and play with your "pay per hour" number to see if you can eek out a living.

    The basic principle, though is that when you take an order and people give you money, the money that you receive should actually cover the cost of doing all your business up to that point. You must be able to repair the item, or make the item, and give it to them, without needing any more money to cover your costs up to that point. If you cannot do that, your business model has failed: probably you haven't secured enough startup capital to amortize out your startup costs, and/or you've underestimated expenses, and/or you've overestimated income.

    Of course, some people claim "that's not how my business works!". Usually their business is broke and not delivering product. Successful businesses have a solid business model: they cover their startup costs and operating expenses with their income.

    edit: Oops, I left out an important start-up cost most people overlook: You aren't going to get a whole lot of business when you first start out. It may be several months, maybe even a year, before your repair business gets up to full speed. As part of your initial loan to get started, include borrowing enough money to cover your expenses as your business starts up. (Again, this gets amortized back in)
  4. t77mackie


    Jun 13, 2012
    Wormtown, MA
    I took electronics for a bit back in school. If you take some courses plan on doing lots of algebra.

    It seems these days folks will just throw out broken electronics and buy new stuff. Too bad.

    Good luck!
  5. Hey Mike!

    Well, I'm back on the job hunt as an Electronics Tech and I spent 5 years in the US Army as a Radio/COMSEC Repair Specialist. If you are asking about the training itself, I got about 6 months of Basic Electronics shoved down my throat in about 8 weeks and then another 4 months of hands-on training dealing with the actual equipment I would be working on.

    The job: I dealt with tactical communications systems mostly in my time, and even in the military it's hit or miss - modern solid-state electronics systems are pretty durable pieces of equipment so they don't break often. But when they do - I hope you studied well :). In the civilian world, what I've seen thus far, the emphasis is less on the hardware faults and more on the software faults so getting some training and experience in coding and de-bugging would be a big plus - that's my biggest flaw right now.

    Additionally, since the hardware is getting more and more reliable and packages are being made in a replaceable manner...nuts and bolts ET jobs are getting slimmer (seen a TV repair man lately??) because the hardware doesn't break that often...and when it does the End Item tells you what is broken and you can either replace that piece with very limited troubleshooting or the whole item gets replaced. Because it's cheaper to manufacture it as a throwaway piece as opposed to making it field- or bench-serviceable.

    Good news: I just moved to Seattle and it seems business for ETs here is booming. Working on a few leads right now, Avionics and Space stuff - very exciting. Another company I talked to that manufactures RF Amplifiers is looking for younger folks who can grow with the company as their current lineup of techs is strong but a bit aged. I'd have wider prospects if I had coding and de-bugging experience, but Languages are scary for me.

    As for learning Electronics, I've got a friend of mine who makes a salary I wouldn't mind having at her age - she's an Electrical Engineer and she chose that on the basis that she knew almost nothing about Electricity and Electronics so you will be in good company :)

    Let me know if you have any specific questions about the job or what I've seen thus far. If you like solving problems and being regarded as a Voodoo Master among non-Electronic disciplines it's definitely a good field, but just don't let yourself get limited into being a hardware-only guy like me - diversify into a code language or two, even an easy one.

  6. buzzbass

    buzzbass Shoo Shoo Retarded Flu ! Supporting Member

    Apr 23, 2003
    Go into IT. Specifially Data Storage & Backup Technologies. Those are in demand & pretty easy to learn. Cloud computing is also very poular right now as is VMWare.
  7. Kubicki440


    Feb 6, 2011
    I started with vocational training in High School with a 2-year course in Industrial Electronics back in 1985. From there went on to ITT Tech to obtain my AAS in EET (2 years). Then on to obtain my Bachelors.

    It's tough in this field, I can say it is a dog-eat-dog world. Most electronic components are disposable compared to the electronics hoopla back in the 80's and 90's.

    I was able to have my degrees laterally fill other various electrical jobs over the years, and now I am back into the electronics field once again. I currently perform repairs and calibration (metrology) for industrial hygiene equipment.

    I know of a co-worker that is taking the Penn Foster course, it isn't bad but not sure how recognized the certificate is. I agree the IT field may be a better way to go, IMO.

  8. Mike M.

    Mike M.

    Feb 14, 2010
    Thanks gang. I appreciate all that's been said. Got a lot to think about but I'm going to further dig into this with a lot of online searching and asking questions.

    Thanks again.
  9. How 'bout amp repair?
  10. Have fun with that! I've taken various cracks at it throughout the years, but if it goes beyond a cranky pot or a visible fault, it's almost not worth it unless you are affiliated with a shop that is certified by a manufacturer - they control the repair manuals and proprietary parts :/

    Oh ya, you will want a Function Generator, O-Scope, Power Meter, DC Power Supply, and possibly a Spectrum Analyzer as well just to do basic troubleshooting - hope you got a few grand to spend and some spare square footage in your place to put a bench.

  11. Kubicki440


    Feb 6, 2011
    I agree, add a variac, DMM, Good solder-reflow station, and signal tracer as well. If you can obtain them--service manuals are quite handy as they often give troubleshooting hints and where to look for the faults as well as logic block diagrams and schematics. It's been awhile since I have used Howard Sams, but they did have a few service manuals for amps.

    Three things paramount in basic troubleshooting... eyes, ears, nose. Eyes of course looking for anything burnt, loose, or damaged, ears for any weird or unusual sounds, and nose for smelling of ozone (after awhile you begin to recognize the component characteristic smell once they emit smoke). LOL

  12. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    First, let me commend you for being willing to "reinvent yourself"! Not to be cliche, but that attitude is half the battle.

    I hold an A.A.S. in Electronics and am a licensed master electrician.

    My bread and butter now is more the electrical side as my primary job is an industrial electrician, but the electronics come in handy every now and then.

    My opinion, there is very little money to be made in electronics alone per se as so much is just disposable now and will only be more so in the future.

    Now most electronics degrees cirriculum include computer programming, which in my opinion IS a wise direction for those inclined to learn the skillset.

    Yeah, myself I do work on my own amplifiers, and do plan to continue to collect some additional test equipment here and there, but I'd really hate to rely on that to make a living. :p
  13. Mike M.

    Mike M.

    Feb 14, 2010
    Ya know.....computer programming is something that I never even considered. I'll have to look into this as well.

    Any tips or suggestions? Don't know the first thing about the best course of study for something like this.

  14. MJ5150

    MJ5150 Terrific Twister

    Apr 12, 2001
    Lacey, WA
    I have one. Check out this thread: http://www.talkbass.com/forum/f34/any-c-types-out-here-1009073/ You don't even need to leave TBOT to start searching for info. :D

    There are a few more threads in TBOT about computer programming as well. As you'll see from that thread, there are some programmers right here among us.

  15. experimental bassist

    experimental bassist

    Mar 15, 2009
    My pleasure.

    My oldest son graduated last year with his B.S. in Computer Science.

    It's all way above me, but that field must be in demand. He and pretty much everyone in his class had multiple job offers even before graduation.

    He took a great job here in town designing test software for a well respected and well known financial analysis company.

    So programming is obviously good, although to be fair Computer Science is a rigorous and in depth way to go about it. I think in general the IT related suggestions in this thread like the Data Storage and Backup are excellent ideas as well.