Mean time between failure


With the recent natural disaster in Japan that led to the melt down of nuclear reactors the question of maintenance of other reactors – old and new – is under the spotlight. The old adage of “don’t fix it until it’s broken’ no longer cuts it and routine maintenance is imperative. Not least with respect to broadcast and semi-professional equipment.

Downtime costs money and can potentially lose clients, so how do suppliers, facilities houses, broadcasters and rental houses ensure that their needs are met in this regard?

There was a time when most of the larger facilities and broadcasters employed trained engineers whose skills included repairs to component level. But with the increased use of board exchange technology and interrogation of equipment via the Internet, most engineers are employed to ensure that the facility continues to run, but do not effect board repairs.

Enter the private engineer. Not employed by any specific supplier, facility or broadcaster, these unusual beings are able to repair, in their own workshops, a wide variety of equipment from many different suppliers. One such person is Ivor Westpfahl of Central Engineering based at Stonewedge Office Park in Johannesburg.
“I was at Video Lab for years and I saw a gap in the market,’ he says. “There was a private engineer at that time but he emigrated to Australia. He had been an authorised Sony dealer, so I figured that I could start out on my own and do the same thing.

“Most of my work is on Sony equipment but I also handle the maintenance and repair of a wide variety of equipment including Telecines. If the facilities have a fault that will require several hours of repair they send it to me. This also applies to broadcasters M-Net, SABC and Their resident engineers do whatever is required to keep the show going on a day to day basis, but they won’t repair to component level any longer.’

Fragile equipment

Westpfahl says that the amount of repairs required in the non-broadcast side of equipment is high due to their greater fragility. “Take the Sony PD 170, there are literally hundreds of them out there. These used to be serviced by Sony, but now I do this work and I have taken on ex-Sony staffer Martin Silver to handle these types of repairs.’

Another such provider of repair services, installations, system integration modifications and rig building is Timbre Broadcast Systems, which based in Bryanston. Timbre is an official Panasonic Broadcast Workshop and also repairs Sony, JVC and most types of equipment used in the broadcast industry.
Says Timbre’s Armand Claassens: “Generally the supplier, broadcaster or facility does not have their own repair workshop facilities and they can’t handle the workload – or it takes too long and they are unable to follow up with on site visits to repair system integration faults.

“We undertake most repairs to any broadcast related equipment as well as doing call outs to repair faults on site. The need for independents is always going to be high and there are very few people able to cover the broad spectrum required by the industry. For that matter there are very few people or companies able to offer a complete turnkey solution internally within their company. Combined with sales, which you get because of offering a good aftermarket service, business is good.’

The right stuff

Westpfahl believes there is probably scope for further expansion. “It’s just hard to find the right type of guy to expand the business. Sitting behind a bench fault finding is not everyone’s cup of tea.’

Dexter Forbes of Specialised Broadcast Sales and Services (SBSS), based in the Waterfront Studios complex in Cape Town, agrees about expansion. “We have recently taken on trainee Alain Trebo who was previously at Timbre in Johannesburg as the workload over the past three months has increased dramatically,’ says Forbes.

SBSS is a supplier of broadcast equipment as well as the only official Sony accredited workshop in the Cape Town region. They supply answers and advice to questions clients may have with regards to ever changing technology. Some of the major agencies they represent and support are Sony, Editshare, Steadicam and Digital Rapids to name a few.

“Our core business is to support the local television industry with maintenance and sales,’ says Forbes, “and included in our client list is the SABC, and all the major studios and facilities. In fact I recently completed a major service to one of’s Sony MSW-M 2000P multi format VTRs.

“The major suppliers it seems decided to outsource their repairs and maintenance some years ago because repairs down to component level (which I do) are time consuming and require “old’ skills. I have been in the business for 31 years so it’s second nature to me.’

There seems little doubt that the market for the independent maintenance engineer is constant and growing. Little wonder really when one considers the amount of equipment out there and the (almost) monthly introduction of new technology. A growing market indeed.


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