As a supplier of all types of measuring instruments, we are regularly asked to quote the cost of repairing some of them. In days gone by, it was a common service offered by many in the industry but modern technology has changed all that while increasing the amount of garbage to the local landfill. Marketing and manufacturing are both to blame.

On the marketing side, service has been seen as a way to capture customers. How is this done? Simple: don’t sell parts to anyone that is not an authorized distributor of your products. This was highlighted in a recent article where one of the leading makers of farm equipment was taken to task for such a policy. Farmers were up in arms because they are used to doing their own repairs but now have to wait for the local equipment dealer to show up when there is a failure. As noted in the article, if a tractor breaks down during a harvest, the farmer cannot afford to wait half a day or more for the local expert to show up to replace a circuit board or two to get things working again.

On the manufacturing side, devices of all kinds are utilizing more electronics every day for faster, cheaper manufacturing costs. In other words, they get the humans out of the manufacture of the products as much as possible because they are too costly— even more so if they have to do repairs compared to the cost of a replacement. Many off-shore or private label devices are sold through organizations that do not maintain an inventory of spare parts so repairs are out of the question. When it’s an electronic component on a small circuit board that is defective, the whole board has to be replaced which often means it’s cheaper to replace the device.

Many devices, such as analog or digital micrometers, have a key mechanical component that has a direct effect on their performance—their lead screw. If calibration of the instrument reveals errors in linearity, the lead screw will likely be the cause. You might say that this is a simple item to replace which is true but it may not fix the problem or create a new one—parallelism error of the measuring faces. Unlike pure electronic devices, there is usually nothing you can adjust or ‘tweak’ to make it read right.

You may also discover that the error your calibration has discovered is as good as such an arrangement will ever get so it can’t be ‘fixed.’ The manufacturer’s specification should be consulted (if available) as you may discover what you’ve got is within it so replacing it with a new one won’t improve anything.

Too often the actual specifications instruments such as a micrometers, calipers or indicators were made to are not readily available so you don’t know how precise they were supposed to be when new. Your recalibration tolerances for them may be so liberal that it doesn’t matter, but they could also be the other way. This is where it is time for you to skip the DIY approach and talk to a company that specializes in such repair work to see what is normal for the type of instrument in question. Doing so may reveal that your recalibration tolerances are not realistic and they need fixing more than the instruments they refer to. And just to make your life more miserable, your uncertainty in the calibration could be such that you cannot declare a given instrument either good or bad.

When you have determined that a particular instrument is no longer suitable you can do your part to cut costs and save the environment by salvaging some bits and pieces off them before they hit the garbage. They are the little things that end up missing in action, items worth a dollar or less that prevent an instrument worth a couple of hundred dollars from working. They include screws that hold attachments in place, battery covers, ratchet or friction stops; petty cash items that cost a fortune to order in but that can prevent an instrument from working properly.

Keep such a recovery program cheap and simple. Use re-sealable plastic bags to store your ‘keepers.’ Label them by brand name and/or instrument type and you’re good to go.  Considering how the universe works, once you’re organized like this, you’ll rarely need your ‘keepers.’