A very interesting post by Jack Ganssle over at Embedded.com about his adventures and lessons learned from a trip to the Bahamas and a chat with the engineer charged with maintaining an island Intel 8085 based telecom system. An apt discussion especially with the CES (Consumer Electronics Show) going on, an event showcasing the latest and greatest of what mostly is ‘disposable’ technology.
Many devices, however, must still be built for areas, industries, and regions where replacement is simply not a viable option, whether its because of remoteness or lack of parts. In the early days of computing surface mount devices were few and far between. The DIP rained supreme, and the end user was often very good at debugging with simple tools. Sockets made repairing boards much easier and even discrete resistors could be changed out without much trouble. Upgrading your computer often involved replacing the processor with a faster one, then changing the clock crystal to support it, and switching out individual RAM chips to ones with a faster access time to support the now faster processor. You then used the left over parts to either repair another system, or build another project.
From the article:
“Here in Staniel Cay there’s no FedEx; no UPS; no postal system. The mail boat arrives once every two weeks, more or less, if the weather is good. Occasionally it sinks.”
JITS (Just In Time Supply) is simply not an option there. And its not just the Bahamas where repair is the only option. It’s not limited to non hi tech areas. When something breaks in space, perhaps the most hi tech environment of all, you can’t go to town and get new parts, you have to make do, that’s real engineering. Apollo 13 showed how things could be repaired with very unusual articles, and similar ‘fixes’ are common on the International Space Station.
Give it a read, its as entertaining as it is educational.