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An Odd Sort of "Tube" Problem
March 1960 Electronics World

March 1960 Electronics World

March 1960 Electronics World Cover - RF Cafe  Table of Contents

Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles from Electronics World, published May 1959 - December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.

Electronics repair shops - what's left of them - probably don't experience the sort of problem illustrated in this story composed after the manner of John Frye's "Mac's Service Shop" dramas. However, similar situations can and almost certainly do crop up in many other customer service venues. The point of the article is how easily, especially in the span of an entire year, seemingly minor oversights repeated with regularity, can add up to alarmingly large numbers. Actually, the phenomenon occurs for you with many things when you bother to tally them up.

Example: According to the U.S. census Bureau's 2017 report, the average one-way commute time is about 26 minutes both to and from work, or about 52 minutes per day. Allowing for two weeks of vacation, two weeks of absentee time, ten holidays, and fifty-two two-day weekends, that leaves 365 - 10 - 10 - 10 - 104 = 231 commuting days per year. Accordingly, the average total commute time is 231 x 52 = 12,012 minutes (wow!), or 200 hours per year. That means the average worker spends the equivalent of five, forty-hour work weeks each year travelling to and from work. Small numbers really add up!

BTW, my longest commute was from Hagerstown, Maryland to Comsat in Germantown, Maryland. On a good traffic day it took about 55 minutes each way, but rarely did it take less than about 65 minutes (often 70-80 minutes). For four years I spent the equivalent of 12 work weeks per year just driving to and from work - ugh! (...and that was on top of 10- to 12-hour work days being the norm.)

An Odd Sort of "Tube" Problem

An Odd Sort of "Tube" Problem, March 1960 Electronics World - RF CafeBy George D. Philpott

The case of the vanishing tubes: Is your service shop haunted by this type of inventory problem?

"Someone sure has taken Ace TV for a ride this time," Ray Warner, manager, announced grimly as he handed the yearly inventory sheet to Ann, the company's attractive office girl.

She studied the figures briefly, glanced at Ray, then ran a hasty column on the adding machine. "Six hundred tubes short," she stated. "This is serious, Ray. What are you going to do?"

"Find the thief - and fire him!" was his flat reply.

"Let the insurance company handle things," she suggested, fingering through the index file for their phone number.

The expression on Ray's face seemed to darken. "Not yet ... there could be a mistake," he said, adding, "It's not good business to stir up suspicion among employees ... not until I've made a re-check, at least." Sharpening his pencil in the device near the door, Ray took a new inventory blank, dated it, and then disappeared into the service department again. Alone, Ann closed her eyes and tried to visualize the guilty employee. One of them was a systematic thief.

It was easy to eliminate old Doc Brennen: over six years with Ace; expert technician; a real gentleman and family man. If Doc had one doubtful habit it was taking a beer or two during his lunch hour. Certainly no crime.

Her mind jumped to the next suspect, Super-Sonic Smith. She pictured a young fellow from the trade-school set of technicians, a whiz-bang of complications who could zip through a TV set and find more things wrong than a stage director doing his bit at a dress rehearsal. Locating the basic trouble in a receiver was something again for Super-Sonic, however. She knew it was not at all unusual for him to become hopelessly involved in a routine repair. Some of his jobs bounced like rubber checks. He took his kidding like a man, though, and tackled each beef with renewed vigor, in an honest way. Ann, allowed him to slip from her mind.

She automatically skipped the boy, Ted. He was an after-school lad who dusted, polished cabinets, and burned the rubbish; a child, really, without a tarnished thought in his head.

This left Mr. Tish, the new man. According to Ray, he was the best bench man ever to work for Ace. Thinking back, she recalled the day five weeks ago when Mr. Tish had walked through the front door and asked to speak to Ray. The men talked a few minutes, disappeared into the service department, and the next thing she knew Mr. Tish was on the payroll. At the time she thought it was odd that he offered little in the way of information about himself except for his social security number - and then only after she asked him several times.

With a satisfied start, she straightened in her chair and returned to her work. Mr. Tish, with those dark, searching eyes, was the man!

Later that afternoon, when Ray returned from the tube shelves with a long face and verification of the shortage, Ann lost little time in making her suspicions known.

"Strange," Ray said, scratching his head, "when I took the first count this morning, before anything turned up, Mr. Tish came to the shelf for a tube and said something about a shortage. As I recall he asked if we had been robbing ourselves."

Ann's smile was not as sweet as it appeared: "He knows plenty," she fired.

"Maybe I'd better have a talk with him!"

"I think it's rather late just to talk," she remarked.

The manager shrugged his shoulders and turned to the door. It was only fair to let any man speak his piece before condemning him. With this problem weighing on him, Ray walked slowly back to the service department.

Mr. Tish retained his characteristic calm. When Ray had confronted him with the statistics and also asked for an explanation of the strange statement he had made earlier at the tube shelves, he unhesitatingly answered "Ray, I'm not at all surprised at the shortage. Before I came here, I was considering a new field. I did some study with an eye to becoming an efficiency expert. That training taught me to examine carefully many seemingly unimportant details of shop work. As a result I came to the conclusion that you actually were robbing yourself, literally speaking, because of your system for handling tubes and parts. With a little cooperation, I may be able to show you what I mean." He turned to Doc and Super-Sonic. "Will you fellows help us all out by giving completely honest answers to a few questions?"

Doc gulped, but returned an amiable grin. Super-Sonic hopped to a more restful perch on top of the bench. "I'm listening, for a change," he said, wondering how he fitted into the picture.

Mr. Tish turned to Doc first. "Any of us can occasionally forget to take out of a customer's receiver a new tube that was put in, presumably temporarily, for test purposes, or else slip up on marking down a new tube that was installed in place of a defective one when we make out bills. Just on a rough guess, Doc: about how many would you say you lose that way in a week?"

Doc reddened slightly, but he didn't waver. "Well, Ray," he admitted, "I guess I've left my share of 'em in sets. I get busy, or I'm called to the phone, or a customer interrupts in the middle of a job. Some guy may want a car radio installed right away in the middle of something else. I forget until it's too late, sometimes. I might forget a few tubes a week. I'm sorry. I'll try to be more careful."

"A few tubes," mused Ray. "That's not six hundred."

"The list adds up fast," Mr. Tish resumed. "You aren't figuring on one broken tube per week per technician. That's not an unreasonable figure. Then there's that seemingly insignificant number of 'new defectives' gathering dust up on that high shelf, instead of being returned for credit before they get out of warranty. Experience gives me a pretty good idea of losses that should be expected in a four-man shop such as this one - especially where no systematic attempt is made to charge tubes to the individual job.

"Let's do some conservative figuring.

First, you usually have four men on the bench. That doesn't take into account you and the girl - and both of you sometimes check or otherwise handle tubes. During a busy day, one technician can handle fifty tubes, or even more. If he fails to charge for only three of them, because of the reasons we've already covered, in the course of a week - and that's only about 1 per-cent - then 150-odd tubes have jumped the fence in a year.

"Remember, this is for one man only. Also remember that we haven't covered all the ways in which tubes can vanish. Sometimes, in the customer's home, a tube is accidentally burned out on a tester, for example. Filament voltage may be set for 50 volts and the 6SN7 being checked flares like a flash bulb. The technician feels it isn't fair to charge the customer for such a mistake. And then there's petty theft. I'm not saying it happens here, but a small percentage of tubes in many shops find themselves emitting electrons in the sets of the technician's friends or neighbors. Am I getting home?" Mr. Tish smiled.

"On all channels," Ray murmured thoughtfully. "But, according to the way you figure, we should be short at least seven hundred tubes."

"Wow! We've got a surplus!" Super-Sonic exclaimed with a grin.

"As for remedying the situation," Ray queried, obviously relieved at this convincing accounting that avoided unpleasantness, "Do you have an answer ?"

Mr. Tish took a small pencil out of his shirt pocket, jotted a few tube numbers on the back of an old repair tag, and then said: "This answer is so simple I feel funny about being the one to mention it. However, every time a technician takes a tube from the shelf - regardless of how he intends to use it on the job - he should mark it down on the back of the repair ticket. When the job is finished and ready for billing, he should check the reverse side of the tag and charge accordingly for tubes replaced. This procedure will make sure that none are overlooked. It will also remind him to take out temporary substitutions that might otherwise be left in the set without charge. Complicated? No. Yet it takes care of the single factor that accounts for most of the tubes that show up missing on an inventory. As for the other losses, like burn-outs and breakage, figure a normal overhead charge of about three per-cent and allow that much leeway on inventory loss. That should be enough."

"I always allow for some loss," Ray replied cheerfully.

Mr. Tish gave him a knowing nod. "One important rule to remember, then," he concluded, raising the red tip of his pencil in front of Super-Sonic's wondering gaze. "Always write the tube numbers down with a red pencil. It's a 'tip' that might just keep you from getting a colored reputation."



Posted June 19, 2018

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