Wall-E gets back on track

A simple cable tie comes to the rescue again.

Cast your minds back to 2008, and you might remember Wall-E, a Disney Pixar animated film set in the 29th century, where mass consumerism and environmental disregard have turned Earth into a literal wasteland. I’ll let you Google the rest of the plot yourself, but suffice to say that the film’s protagonist, Wall-E or Waste Allocation Load-Lifter; Earth class, is one of the cutest robots on the big screen. While the film’s environmental messages are extreme, there are clear warnings about the way our species generally looks after its home which were provoking twelve years ago, but are now ever more poignant in 2021.

No one does cinema merchandise quite like Disney, and it’s not without a slight sense of irony that the company produced many Wall-E related products to accompany the film’s release, all around the world. I wonder what proportion of those items are now in landfill? Something to ponder over a cup of tea or two.

Wall-E and I have quite a bit in common as we both have a penchant to collect discarded items. It’s not unheard of for me to collect broken objects from skips and from the side of the road, but that’s a blog entry for another day.

A local Worthing lady got in touch to ask if I would repair her much beloved Wall-E robot. How could I resist? A broken toy robot in need of some TLC, what’s not to like.

Make and model: Mattel Remote Control Wall-E

Fault reported: No drive on one side/ track

Cost of replacement machine: £75.00 (Amazon.co.uk, December 2020)

Manufacturer support: 0/10

Cost of parts (for this repair): 1p

My time spent on the repair: 1 hour

Tools needed: Screw drivers, pliers, cutters

Sundry items: None

Cleaning materials: Silicone spray, damp cloth

Repair difficulty: 5/10 (fiddly)

Beverages: 1 X tea

Biscuits consumed: 1 ginger nut (and maybe a slice of cake)

Just to warm you up, here’s a cool little slideshow

Being frank with you, I had my doubts with this one. Toys like this contain lots of small, fragile parts with little in the way of easy service access. My chances of success were 50/50, so I was going to need a bit of luck.

Wall-E’s tracks allow for movement forward (straight along) and also degrees of clockwork rotation. Wall-E isn’t supposed to turn left and right, strangely enough.

The problem with this Wall-E was that ‘he’ (I think) would only move around in circles and would not move forwards. Dizzy stuff. This was because one of the tracks wouldn’t move when operated by the remote control. Time to dig out the screwdrivers.

Mattel’s Wall-E comes apart in a fairly modular fashion. Things like the battery cover, main base cover, motor, gearbox and electronics are all neatly housed within the toy’s chassis, and it’s all held together with simple self-tapping screws. This meant that I at least stood a decent chance of getting the robot apart, without causing more damage. Often with toys like this, parts are clipped or glued together, making disassembly a fairly destructive affair. Dismantling this toy was fairly routine, luckily. Despite this luck, I knew that no spares would be available from the manufacturer, so extra care and tea were still needed.

The reason the track wouldn’t rotate was because whatever it was inside that was meant to drive it, was no longer doing its job. The motor was whirring when the ‘forward’ button was operated, so one could assume that the issue was likely to be mechanical. Things were looking up.

Two gearboxes operated by a single motor, propel the toy along or around in a circle. Depending on the direction of the motor’s spin, one or both gearboxes engage to drive the robot’s tracks. Upon inspection, this ‘motor-gearbox action’ was working well, but the output from one side was not turning, the side with the faulty track. Bingo!

The affected gearbox was simply held together with small self-tapping screws, which meant easy dismantling. At this stage I was wondering what I’d find inside. A shredded gear, pieces of plastic all over the place? Any of those things would have spelled disaster, so I was pleasantly surprised when all I saw was a small crack in the main output cog, which drives the track. Getting a small cog to match the damaged one might have been possible, but would have taken time and a lot of patience. I mean I’m fairly patient, but even I have my limits. As the cog hadn’t totally split in half, I simply put a small cable tie tightly around the cog’s shank. I’m sure you would have done the same.

After a little cog-fettling and a little trim of the cable tie with a sharp knife, I returned the repaired cog to the gearbox, with my fingers crossed.

Reassembling the gearboxes, motor and other gubbins to Wall-E’s interior was pretty much the reverse of what I’d done so far, taking care to lubricate things like track belts and sliding parts with a little silicone to ensure smooth service.

There was some evidence of previous battery leakage damage to a couple of the battery contacts, so a little battery compartment spring-cleaning with contact cleaner and an old toothbrush was required before new power was installed. Never throw away your old brush, they’re just so handy for cleaning in those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies.

I had all fingers and toes crossed before firing up Wall-E with fresh batteries for the first time. There were a lot of small fragile parts in Wall-E, and it wouldn’t have been inconceivable for me to have broken a wire by mistake. Fortunately, Wall-E sprang to life, and for the first time on my watch, went along in a straight line. How long would my cable tie fix last? Well, all I can say is that I gave the toy a thorough testing around the kitchen floor maybe once or twice before handing it back to the owner.

Time for a celebratory cuppa and ginger nut.

FixItWorkshop, Worthing, January’21, Wall-E running well!

Leave the light on…

A Philips outdoor wall lamp with a major case of built-in obsolescence, gets a cheap fix.

A mate of mine mentioned that his outdoor wall light had given-up-the-ghost, despite not being more than three years old.  He’d put them up around his house as part of an extension and exterior restoration project.  The trouble was that despite only being a few years old, the product now seemed to be discontinued.  This meant that, should the lamp need to be replaced, he would need to replace all of them (three in this case) to keep them matching.  Annoying quite frankly.

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FixItWorkshop, March’19, Philips outdoor wall light, working.

He’d read that the bulb within the Philips lamp was not replaceable, in which case a faulty lamp would render the whole thing broken, which seemed very daft to me.  Items made in such a way that prevents even the most basic of repair get me very annoyed.  Sometimes an item is developed in such a way for safety reasons but I suspect that most of the time, the motive is just pure greed.  It’s such a shame.

At my mate’s house, over a cup of tea, I removed the lamp from the wall to take back to the workshop, to see what Philips had been getting up to.

Opening up the casing was straightforward, just a few simple screws and retaining nuts holding the casing together, before finally revealing the bulb itself, under a lamp diffuser.

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FixItWorkshop, March’19, Philips outdoor wall light, lamp unit.

The bulb/ lamp unit itself appeared to be a custom/ bespoke disc light, that wasn’t user serviceable.  It had blown and there was evidence of scorching on a few of the LEDs, linked in series, indicating the failure of the entire circuit.

I couldn’t find any replacement disc LEDs suitable for the lamp from any of the usual sources, which I expected.  It could be that Philips can supply a replacement disc, but this was not evident on their website.

Not wanting to be beaten by a bespoke part, I thought about what else might work, within the lamp’s enclosure, to have the same effect.  I had a spare GU9 LED bulb, about the same brightness, sitting on the shelf, left over from another project which was going spare, so I set about fitting it in the space.

The generic GU9 bulb, available from most hardware shops, fitted in the existing disc mounting bracket, with a small modification and once connected to the lamp’s circuitry, worked well, albeit with a slightly warmer glow.

In case anyone else has the same problem, I made a little video of the repair.  I hope it gives others inspiration if faced with a similar problem.

Cost of replacement (with something similar): £50.00.  Cost of repair:  £1.50 for the bulb and a couple of Belgian beers for my time.

 

Vedette Wall Clock ne marche pas

A little repair on a French wall clock

This lovely wall clock had been running perfectly fine until a friend of mine decided to move it temporarily from the wall, during a recent bout of home decorating.  Now, I’m no expert on French wall clocks, but we think this one is circa 1920s or 30s, but either way, it’s a lovely thing to have in the house.  This one is also fitted with Westminster chimes, so one assumes it was made for the English market as an export item, all those years ago.

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FixItWorkshop, Jan’18, Vedette Wall Clock (French)

Once the paint had dried, the owner decided to re-fit the clock to its hook on the wall, but it simply didn’t run, even when fully wound-up.  Strange, what had happened?

Having a quick look at the front of the clock revealed nothing much.  The pendulum was where it should be and appeared to swing freely, as a pendulum should, but there was a slightly strange ‘double-click’ tick-tock, indicating something wasn’t right.  Clocks of this type should emit a definite even tick – tock -tick-tock.  This one wasn’t. Hmm.

Before going to see the clock, I had already decided that the small spring that suspends the pendulum could have been broken, so I packed a few spares I happened to have, just in case.  Opening up the mechanism revealed that the spring was actually intact, not bent or warped and therefore perfectly serviceable.  It was fairly obvious almost immediately that the small clasp which secures the pendulum to the escapement lever was bent and the probably cause of the problem.  All that was needed was a small amount of tinker-time to fix that with a small pair of pliers.  However, that wasn’t the end of the story.  Having undergone a ham-fisted removal from the wall, the escapement pendulum lever was now in a slightly different position and some more fettling was required to get the clock back ‘in-beat’, a common requirement on this mechanism type and often the reason why a clock won’t run, even when fully wound.

As the clock mechanism was out of the main casing (see photo) I decided to prop-up the mechanism on two tins of beans to allow the pendulum to hang over the side of a level table.  This allowed me to access to the clock’s mechanism and hear what was going on clearly.  A slight adjustment on the main pendulum lever to the right on this mechanism and the clock was back ‘in beat’, keeping good time.

After giving the case a general clean up and polish, I refitted the clock mechanism back inside it and hung the whole thing back on its hook, back where it belonged, on the wall.

Cost of a replacement: Sky’s the limit. Cost of repair; 1 cup of tea and 1 chocolate digestive.