– 2017 –
The beginner’s guide on how to prevent technology from failing
By Ariel Harlap, Techno Culture Club co-director.
Preventative maintenance is one of the easiest way to keep your medialab or makerspace tools in proper working condition. However, prevention and maintenance are often overlooked when setting out to create a shared fabrication or media creation space. There are so many ways that electronic equipment can fail prematurely and troubleshooting or repair can often be more effort or costly than regular care and maintenance. As the saying goes, “mieux vaut prévenir que guérir,” or prevention is better than cure.
With all the new municipal fablabs and makerspaces starting up in and around Greater Montreal, and many of them relatively new to these technological adventures, we thought it’d be helpful to put together a list of best practices on taking care of technology and electronic equipment. Specifically, we’ve compiled a list recommended actions to take for both digital fabrication tools as well as audio, videography and photography equipment.
Too busy to read this now? We also made a printable, one-page checklist version of this article, available as a pdf.
Protection from ambient conditions
- Use an air purifier (ideally with HEPA) and replace the air filter regularly. Ideally, keep electronics off the floor.
- Store equipment in closed spaces with low air circulation.
- Use a dehumidifier (especially in hot, humid months) or store electronics in closed spaces with use silica gel desiccants.
Avoid overheating equipment
- Use an air conditioner or at least monitor equipment temperature on really hot days. Turn off equipment which is at risk of overheating.
Minimize direct sunlight and UV exposure
- Minimize the time equipment is in direct light by storing it inside, in the dark or add UV-blocking window film if you don’t have low-E coated windows.
Remove dust periodically
- Turn electronics off and use compressed air can on cooling fans and vents (at least yearly; or semi-monthly if in a dusty environment), on keyboards, and on screens
Periodically clean screens & lenses periodically
- Use compressed air to blow dust off the surface.
- If compressed air isn’t enough, gently use microfiber cloths or microfiber tissues.
- For camera lenses you’ll want to take special care if there are smudges. Use lens cleaning solution or reagent-grade isopropyl alcohol with microfiber tissues. Wear clean nitrile or other surgical gloves. Fold the tissue in half twice to create a smaller square with a thick folded edge on one side. Hold the tissue with tweezers near the unfolded edge and wet the folded edge with solution. Gently drag the wet, folded edge from one side of the lens to the other (do not rub back and forth). If another pass is needed, release the tissue from the tweezers and reverse the fold in the other direction to expose clean tissue. Repeat the process of wetting the tissue and cleaning the surface as before.
Clean and wipe-down buttons and keyboards regularly
- Unplug and use compressed air under the keys or at edges of buttons. Use isopropyl alcohol to sanitize and remove grease regularly (monthly or more depending on use).
Clean microphone grills
- Remove the microphone grill and foam windscreen, and wash them in lukewarm water. Optionally add a drop of mild detergent (dishwashing liquid). Gently remove stubborn material with a soft toothbrush. Let the grill and windscreen dry thoroughly before reassembling the microphone.
- If the grill isn’t removable, and for condenser mics, do not use water or any other liquid. Hold it upside down and gently brush it with a soft bristle brush.
Clean audio cable electronic contacts
- For highly oxidized contacts use Brasso and wipe off with a rag. When done, flush with 99% isopropyl alcohol to remove any residue from the Brasso.
- For relatively clean contacts, just use 99% isopropyl alcohol with a fine mist spray bottle or a pipe cleaner.
- To protect clean connections, use Deoxit ProGold Spray is most often recommended. Spray it on, wait a few seconds to let the excess drain off or evaporate, then mate the connections without touching the contacts.
Clean / lubricate moving parts and audio cable contacts
- Use a deoxidizer, such as DeoxIt D5, on very sticky knobs, if necessary remove the covers or front plates to be able to spray it inside. Finish up with a lubricant, such as DeoxIT Fader spray, for knobs, faders and sliders.
Lubricate CNC rods and clean 3D printer drive gears .
- Keep the moving parts well lubricated. Remove debris build up from the threaded or bearing rods with a paper towel. Then lubricate threaded rods, bushings and open linear bearings with a drop of high viscosity PTFE filled oil, such as Super Lube Synthetic Oil With PTFE. Also see the excellent reprap lubrication guide.
- Clean the drive gear of your 3D printer. Getting access to your printer’s drive gear may be as simple as loosening a screw with a hex key or require some disassembly. Scrape away filament debris from the gear teeth with a toothbrush or a razor. After replacing the gear, make sure to tighten the screw on the flat edge of the motor shaft.
- For 3D printers, additionally you may need to occasionally check and tighten the belt tension and consider different methods for cleaning the nozzle.
Protect electrical equipment from surges, and if necessary, interruptions
- Use surge suppressing power bars or surge protectors to protect from electrical surges. These should have a UL label and at least 600 joules. Choose protectors that have suppression indicators or cut off power once it no longer pvrotects the devices.
- If using a desktop computer, you’ll want to avoid it shutting down abruptly when there are power interruptions. Use a UPS with an appropriate wattage for your computers and screen. Set it up so that the power interruption signals the computer to shutdown.
Secure loose cables
- When you need temporary power far from the installed electrical outlets, use gaffer tape to avoid trip hazards. Also, use tie wraps and cable organizers to tidy up cables under and behind desk areas.
- Get appropriately-sized bins and parts organizers. Label bins with label stickers or using a label-maker. It helps others find their way around your inventory.
Coiling wires properly
- Learn and practice the under-over technique for coiling wires to minimize twisting and strain on the cables.
- If you expect to be transporting electronic equipment for your activities, consider making or purchasing protective cases with closed-cell foam padding. In a pinch, bubble wrap and a suitcase and some care will do the trick.
Keep your inventory up to date
- Use a spreadsheet to keep an up-to-date list of your equipment. When you buy (or get rid of) equipment make sure to edit your spreadsheet. Obviously keeping track of sub-dollar items might not be worth necessary. When your inventory needs outgrow a spreadsheet, consider using a database (e.g., sodadb.com or fieldbook.com) or more custom solution which works well for rapid lending with barcodes (techshop.io).
Minimizing human error
Clarifying requirements for usage permission
- Make it clear what you expect of users of your equipment. Do they need to participate in an introductory training, complete an online quiz, be supervised at all times, or just demonstrate competency 1-on-1 ? Be flexible enough to accommodate different needs and schedules so that you don’t unnecessarily exclude people from becoming self-sufficient with your equipment.
Make documentation accessible
- Take time to provide how-to’s or simplified manuals. As problems come up and get resolved, document these in a troubleshooting guide. Make it easy for visitors and participants to contribute or at least provide feedback on your documentation. Consider creating videos which demonstrate proper usage of the equipment.
Post procedural reminders next to dangerous or delicate equipment
- If you want to make sure that people don’t blow out speakers, or use a laser cutter to cut inappropriate materials or use it without proper ventilation, then post numbered checklists on them. Print large and legible fonts in high-contrast and consider adding iconography to draw attention to the critical steps.
Make it easy for visitors and your staff to know who to contact in case problems come up.
- Consider providing a troubleshooting email address and share the responsibility of answering messages among the team.
Create a reliable support network
- Seek out some local organizations that can provide repair services and specialized technical support for your equipment.
- Add the customer support contact information for the equipment in your inventory spreadsheet to a document made accessible to staff and, optionally, users.
Have a cable tester on hand for troubleshooting
- Plan to periodically test audio cables with a tester, such as the Pyle Pro PCT-40.
Periodically run a test print on your 3D printer
- Test print a difficult test file or the standard benchy or a calibration cube to verify if the printer is still in good working condition.
So now what?
At this point you may be wondering, where do I start? Schedule a day a year, such as Static Electricity Day (January 9th), when you’ll gather your lab mates together to review, clean, and maintain your tech inventory. Then, put on some thematic music and choose three easy tasks from the list above to do right now.
What about the people and relationships?
We’ve tried to cover the most important technical and procedural aspects of preventative maintenance. Meanwhile, we’ve intentionally left out all the strategies for keeping your space running smoothly which touch upon community engagement. In an upcoming article we will dive into that and explore how community engagement can make your space more resilient.