Computer repairs production line


One of the cool things I do, is volunteer at a local organization that salvages and repairs used computers and gives them away to the poor. Like most computer techs, my home is full of computer related scrap and thus it was not difficult to convert my own salvage and repairs projects to their use. And even though over the years I have moved away from the practical work somewhat and instead work in their R&D department, where we come up with various methods to increase efficiency.

Each year to date, we have invested a bit of time around the newyears to implement some minor revolution in the way repairs work.

The first year, the workshop was chaos, which had become a jumble of desks and computers nobody could figure out, over time. For starters I might add that there was a computer filled with tortillas somewhere in there. We cleaned up the place and gave people clearer instructions, we separated out the process of installing software to drives into a seperate step.

The second year, we reorganized the desks in the room to be formed into a shape that allowed people to more quickly and easily access to stockpiles of components and walk in and out. During this time we were able to ramp up production up to about a thousand computers per year.

The third year, wet tidied up the workstations and bundled the wires into tidy channels. We cleaned out a whole new area of the bunker we inhabit and made it hygienic to work in. We also went trough all the parts and excluded any malfunctioning ones that have been returning into storage repeatedly.

This is the fourth year. Though the R&D chief and I have been somewhat dismayed as to how things have degenerated over time... The people who stuck to doing the work have become more and more rushing and destructive and the recovery efficiency ratios have dropped noticeably. Technicians would get bored by all the broken equipment and end up frying it as-if it didn't matter, instead of learning more advanced methods of repairs. Basically people problems and us techs are not good at dealing with them.

But then this is just another problem right? Our current attempt is aimed at recovering our efficiency ratios, by turning the production lines into a pipeline. Instead of ramming the production into the rushed mass-production full of missed steps and wasted equipment -- that it is now, we break it up into steps, which forces people to focus on the details and follow proper procedures, which are designed to yield predictably working computers.

The phases of the pipeline are:
1. Preparation: Here the computer cases are completed and power supply units are tested to work properly, CMOS batteries are replaced and the dust is cleaned out of the boxes.
2. Hardware: Here the motherboards are inspected for defects and tested if they work reliably, the computer is stress-tested to look for cooling problems.
3. Disassembly: Computers that don't have what it takes to be computers are taken to this step and are disassembled into parts
4. Testing: Parts from Disassembly are tested here, working parts are stored in a spares stockpile, whereas the malfunctioning parts are discarded. This spares stockpile supplies various other stages with parts.
5. Software: In this phase, computers are configured and loaded with a pre-burned harddrive with an operating system. There are a few additional steps to make sure everything is up to spec.
6. Quality Control: Does just what it says on the tin. If computers aren't good enough they are sent into one of the earlier phases. If not they are documented and sent to the finished computers stockpile to be given away.

There's also a few added tricks, like that computers get color-coded depending on where in the pipeline they are, so if a coffee break pops in and people drop all the equipment and go, they can start where they left off, when they return.

The R&D crew, as well as the management guy came in and helped us redecorate, so to speak. We cleaned up the mess other people have made, vacuum the floors, cleaned up leftover parts and sorted the half-finished computers. Then we optimized the workstations for different phases in the pipeline, and marked them with color-coded flowcharts(!), describing every step of the way.

Just in case this attempt fails because of the people involved, I want to have it documented here that it existed! See the desks cleaned up and prepared for work to begin, with the flowcharts stuck to their surface.