Precision Instrument & Equipment Repairer
A precision instrument and equipment repairer could...
|Fix the hydraulic lift on a dentist's chair.||Save a tourist's vacation by fixing a broken camera.|
|Repair damaged musical instruments for orchestra players.||Help save a patient's life by making sure that a defibrillator is working.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||One of the basic truths in the universe is that objects tend to go from a state of higher organization to a state of lower organization over time. In other words, things break down, and when those things are precision instruments or equipment, they require the services of very specialized technicians to restore them to their working order. Precision instrument or equipment technicians often combine a love of music, medicine, electronics, or antiques with delicate mechanical repair work.|
|Key Requirements||Acute vision and hearing, excellent fine motor and communication skills, and a love for working with your hands|
|Minimum Degree||Vocational or Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Algebra, geometry, algebra II, English; if available, applied technology, computer science, music|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
For most precision equipment repairers, the most significant source of postsecondary education is on-the-job training. Even in positions where an associate's or bachelor's degree is required, an internship or apprenticeship is generally required before a technician is fully qualified. In some cases, learning these trades can take as many as seven years.
Education and Training
Most employers require at least a high school diploma for beginning precision instrument and equipment repairers. Many employers prefer applicants with some postsecondary education.
The educational background required for camera and photographic equipment repairers varies, but some knowledge of electronics is necessary. Some workers complete postsecondary training, such as an associate's degree, in electronics. The job requires the ability to read electronic schematic diagrams and comprehend other technical information, in addition to manual dexterity. New employees are trained on the job in two stages over about a year. First, they learn to repair a single product over a couple of weeks. Then they learn to repair other products and refine their skills for 6 to 12 months while working under the close supervision of an experienced repairer. Finally, repairers continually teach themselves through studying manuals and attending manufacturer-sponsored seminars on the specifics of new models.
Training also varies for watch and clock repairers. Several associations, including the American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute and the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, offer certifications. Some certifications can be completed in a few months; others require simply passing an examination; the most demanding certifications require 3,000 hours, taken over 2 years, of classroom time in technical institutes or colleges. Those who have earned the most demanding certifications are usually the most sought-after by employers. Clock repairers generally require less training than do watch repairers, because watches have smaller components and require greater precision. Some repairers opt to learn through assisting a master watch repairer. Nevertheless, developing proficiency in watch or clock repair requires several years of education and experience.
For musical instrument repairers and tuners, employers prefer individuals with post-high school training in music repair technology. According to a Piano Technicians Guild membership survey, the overwhelming majority of respondents had at least some college education; most had a bachelor's or higher degree, although not always in music repair technology. Almost all repairers have a strong musical background; many are musicians themselves. Also, a basic ability to play the instruments being repaired is normally required. Courses in instrument repair are offered only at a few technical schools and colleges. Correspondence courses are common for piano tuners. Graduates of these programs normally receive additional training on the job, working with an experienced repairer. Many musical instrument repairers and tuners begin learning their trade on the job as assistants or apprentices. Trainees perform a variety of tasks around the shop. Full qualification usually requires 2-5 years of training and practice. Musical instrument repair and tuning requires good manual dexterity, a strong sense of pitch, and good hand-eye coordination.
Medical equipment repairers' training includes on-the-job training, manufacturer training classes, and associate degree programs. While an associate's degree in electronics or medical technology is normally required, training varies by specialty. For those with a background in electronics, on-the-job training is more common for workers repairing less electronically sophisticated equipment, such as hospital beds or electric wheelchairs. An associate or even a bachelor's degree, often in medical technology or engineering, and a passing grade on a certification exam is likely to be required of persons repairing more complicated equipment, such as CAT scanners and defibrillators. Many repairers are trained in the military. New repairers begin by observing and assisting an experienced worker over a period of 3 to 6 months, learning a single piece of equipment at a time. Gradually, they begin working independently, while still under close supervision. Biomedical equipment repairers are constantly learning new technologies and equipment through seminars, self-study, and certification exams.
Educational requirements for other precision instrument and equipment repair jobs also vary, but include a high school diploma, with a focus on mathematics and science courses. Because repairers need to understand blueprints, electrical schematic diagrams, and electrical, hydraulic, and electromechanical systems, most employers require an associate or sometimes a bachelor's degree in instrumentation and control, electronics, or a related engineering field. In addition to formal education, a year or two of on-the-job training is required before a repairer is considered fully qualified. Many instrument and equipment repairers begin by working in a factory in another capacity, such as repairing electrical equipment. As companies seek to improve efficiency, other types of repair workers are trained to repair precision measuring equipment.
Much training takes place on the job. The ability to read and understand technical manuals is important. Necessary physical qualities include good fine-motor skills and acute vision. Those working with musical instruments must also have good hearing. Also, precision equipment repairers must be able to pay close attention to details, enjoy problem solving, and have the desire to disassemble machines to see how they work. Most precision equipment repairers must be able to work alone with minimal supervision.
Because many precision instrument and equipment repairers are self-employed, they must also have business skills. Although business most often comes from word-of-mouth advertising, repairers must nevertheless work to establish themselves in the industry. Further, they must manage their business operations, which may mean purchasing insurance and managing their own accounting.
Nature of the Work
Repairing and maintaining watches, cameras, musical instruments, medical equipment, and other precision instruments requires a high level of skill and attention to detail. Some devices contain tiny gears that must be manufactured to within one one-hundredth of a millimeter of design specifications, and other devices contain sophisticated electronic controls. Job descriptions vary greatly, depending on the type of instrument being repaired.
Camera and photographic equipment repairers fix broken cameras and other optical devices. The repairer must first determine whether a repair should be attempted, because many inexpensive cameras cost more to repair than to replace. The most complicated or expensive repairs are usually referred back to the manufacturer or to a large repair center. If the repairer decides to proceed with the job, the problem must be diagnosed, often by disassembling numerous small parts in order to reach the source. The defective parts are then replaced or repaired. Many problems are caused by the electronic circuits used in cameras, and fixing these circuits requires an understanding of electronics. Because many of the components involved are extremely small, repairers must have a great deal of manual dexterity. Frequently, older camera parts are no longer available, requiring repairers to build replacement parts or to strip junked cameras. When machining new parts, workers often use a small lathe, a grinding wheel, and other metalworking tools.
Repairs on digital cameras are similar to those on conventional cameras, but because digital cameras have no film to wind, they have fewer moving parts. Digital cameras rely on software, so any repair to the lens requires that it be calibrated with the use of software and by connecting the camera to a personal computer. Because digital cameras are generally more expensive and more widely used than film cameras, they are quickly becoming the most important source of business for camera repairers.
Watch and clock repairers work almost exclusively on expensive and antique timepieces, because moderately priced timepieces are cheaper to replace than to repair. Electrically powered clocks and quartz watches and clocks function with almost no moving parts, limiting necessary maintenance to replacing the battery. Many expensive timepieces still employ old-style mechanical movements and a manual or automatic winding mechanism. This type of timepiece must be regularly adjusted and maintained. Repair and maintenance work on a mechanical timepiece requires using hand tools to disassemble many fine gears and components. Each part is inspected for signs of wear. Some gears or springs may need to be replaced or machined. Exterior portions of the watch may require polishing and buffing. Specialized machines are used to clean all of the parts with ultrasonic waves and a series of baths in cleaning agents. Reassembling a watch often requires lubricating key parts. As with older cameras, replacement parts are frequently unavailable for antique watches or clocks. In such cases, watch repairers must machine their own parts. They employ small lathes and other machines in creating tiny parts.
Musical instrument repairers and tuners combine their love of music with a highly skilled craft. These artisans, often referred to as technicians, work in four specialties: band instruments, pianos and organs, orchestral string instruments, and guitars.
Band instrument repairers, brass and wind instrument repairers, and percussion instrument repairers focus on woodwind, brass, reed, and percussion instruments damaged through deterioration or by accident. In most cases, the problem with the instrument will be clear, but in some cases, the repairers must diagnose the issue. They may unscrew and remove rod pins, keys, worn cork pads, and pistons and remove soldered parts by means of gas torches. Using filling techniques or a mallet, they repair dents in metal and wood. They also use gas torches, grinding wheels, lathes, shears, mallets, and small hand tools and, are skilled in metalworking and woodworking.
Violin and guitar repairers adjust and repair stringed instruments. Some repairers work on both stringed and band instruments. Initially, repairers play and inspect the instrument to find any defects. They replace or repair cracked or broken sections and damaged parts. They also restring the instruments and repair damage to their finish. Because the specifications of all types of instruments vary greatly, custom parts machining is considered an essential skill.
Piano tuners and repairers use different techniques, skills, and tools. Most workers in this group are tuners; only a few workers in this occupation specialize in refurbishing older pianos. Tuning involves tightening and loosening different strings to achieve the proper tone or pitch. Pitch matching is usually done by ear—an experienced tuner can compare the sound of a pitch with a tuning fork, and then with other pitches on the piano to make sure it is tuned properly. Tuners must make house calls, as piano tuning is sensitive to movement and most pianos cannot be transported easily. Some repairers specialize in restoring older pianos. Restoration is complicated work, often involving replacing many of the parts, which number more than 12,000 in some pianos. With proper maintenance and restoration, pianos often survive more than 100 years.
Pipe organ repairers do work similar to that of piano repairers, but with organ pipes rather than piano strings. Tuning pipe organs is very complicated, as most organs have thousands of pipes, and different pipes are tuned in different ways. Additionally, many repairers assemble new organs or expand organs with new ranks of pipes. Even with repairers working in teams or with assistants, organ maintenance can take several weeks or even months, depending upon the size of the organ.
Medical equipment repairers, also known as biomedical equipment technicians, maintain, adjust, calibrate, and repair electronic, electromechanical, and hydraulic equipment used in hospitals and other medical environments. They use various tools, including multimeters, specialized software, and computers designed to communicate with specific pieces of hardware. These repairers use hand tools, soldering irons, and other electronic tools to repair and adjust equipment. Among the tools they use is equipment designed to simulate water or air pressure. Faulty circuit boards and other parts are normally removed and replaced. Medical equipment repairers must maintain careful, detailed logs of all maintenance and repair that they perform on each piece of equipment.
Medical equipment repairers work on medical equipment such as defibrillators, heart monitors, medical imaging equipment (x-rays, CAT scanners, and ultrasound equipment), voice-controlled operating tables, and electric wheelchairs. Because most equipment repairs take place within a hospital, medical equipment repairers must be comfortable working around patients. In some cases, repairs may take place while equipment is being used. When this is the case, the repairer must take great care to make sure that repairs do not disturb the patient.
Other precision instrument and equipment repairers service, repair, and replace a wide range of equipment associated with automated or instrument-controlled manufacturing processes. For most of these repairers, the emphasis is on determining the problem and how to best approach the solution. In many cases, replacement is preferable to repair, since precision parts are often very sensitive and may cost more to repair than replace. Replacement parts are not always available, so repairers sometimes machine or fabricate new parts. Repairers may also be responsible for preventive maintenance and calibration, which involves regular lubrication, cleaning, and adjustment of many measuring devices. Increasingly, it also involves solving computer software problems as more control devices, such as valves, are controlled by software. To adjust a control device, a technician may need to connect a laptop computer to the control device's computer and make adjustments through changes to the software commands.
Camera, watch, and musical instrument repairers work under fairly similar, solitary, low-stress conditions with minimal supervision. A quiet, well-lit workshop or repair shop is typical. Piano and organ tuners must travel to the instruments being repaired. Often, these workers can adjust their schedules, allowing for second jobs as needed. Musical instrument repairer jobs are attractive to many professional musicians and retirees because the flexible hours common to repair work allow these individuals time for other pursuits.
Medical equipment and other precision instrument and equipment repairers normally work daytime hours, but are often expected to be on call. Still, like other hospital and factory employees, some repairers work irregular hours. Medical equipment repairers must work in a patient environment, which has the potential to expose them to diseases and other health risks, but occupational injuries are relatively uncommon.
Precision instrument repairers work under a wide array of conditions, from hot, dirty, noisy factories, to air-conditioned workshops, to the outdoors on fieldwork. Attention to safety is essential, as the work sometimes involves dangerous machinery, toxic chemicals, or radiation. Due to the individualized nature of the work, supervision is fairly minimal.
On the Job
- Assembles parts and sub-assemblies of precision instruments and locks, timepieces and firearms.
- Dismantles precision instruments, locks, timepieces and firearms, repairing and replaces defective parts, and reassembles articles using hand and power tools and specially designed machines.
- Calibrates precision instruments using standard weights and measures, jigs and fixtures, and hand tools to adjust and align parts and small balancing weights.
- May estimate costs and prepare quotes for repairs.
Companies That Hire Precision Instrument & Equipment Repairers
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Applying Hooke's Law: Make Your Own Spring Scale
- Build a Water Clock to Show the Drip, Drip, Drip of Time
- Build Your Own Telescope
- Build Your Own Xylophone Out of Copper Pipe
- Building Banjos
- Digital Pinhole Camera
- Focusing Your Flash for 'Freezing' Motion
- Make Your Own Electric Guitar Pickup
- Make Your Own Piezoelectric Pickup for Acoustic Guitar
- Measuring the Surface Tension of Water
- Take a Musical Step Back in Time: Make Your Own Phonograph from Everyday Items
- Two-Point and Four-Point Methods for Measuring Small Resistances
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Precision Instrument & Equipment Repairer that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute (AWI): https://www.awci.com/
- Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI): https://www.aami.org/
- ISA-The Instrumentation, Systems, and Automation Society: https://www.isa.org/
- National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians (NAPBIRT): https://www.napbirt.org
- National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors: https://nawcc.org/
- Piano Technicians Guild: https://www.ptg.org/
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
- Texas State Technical College. (2007, December 11). Biomedical Equipment at Texas State Technical College. Retrieved April 9, 2014.
- Lincoln Motors. (1017, May 7). A short documentary on luthier Scott MacDonald. Retrieved May 19, 2017.
- Chapman, J. (2002, November 11). Technician keyed up over task of keeping pianos on right note. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
- Yury's Piano. (2003). Interview with Yury Livshetz, the proprietor. Retrieved September 9, 2009.
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