Our robots have exchangeable CD drive units. When you’re ripping thousands of CDs, even when spread across multiple robots and multiple CD trays, you go through a lot of CD drives. Or so I thought.
Pre-robot we were upgrading our computer systems pretty regularly and ten plus years ago every new PC included a CD unit primed for ripping CDs. I have replaced a few PCs, and replaced a couple more drive because we were trying to standardise on Sony drives to get consistent, high quality rips. When volumes meant we had to start investing in robots I had it in my mind that we’d have to replace the drives on a pretty regular basis. Once a year? More?
Thankfully that hasn’t proved to be the case. Our main workhorse has four CD drives and that was installed January 2015. As we rip CDs our system keeps a log of any errors, by drive letter. Six months in one of the drives was reporting an unusual number of errors, faults that weren’t replicated when the same music CDs were ripped on other drives in the same system. Drive three was promptly replaced under warranty. And we had a crash course in how to dismantle a stack of CD trays. Since then, plain sailing. I have the running total and each of those drives has ripped more CDs in two years than normal people would rip in their lifetime. Multiples of the largest batch of music we’ve ever had. Still going strong.
When I was talking to a neighbour I was surprised to hear his drive had failed. I bumped into him on the way back from the High Street where he’d bought a new Panasonic drive for around £25. In his view not a huge amount to be able to restore CD service. On a tower system, once you’ve worked out how to get the covers off the system and get physical access to the components swapping out a CD tray is simple. Through this we got into the conversation where I explained how reliable our drives had been and (roughly) how many CDs they’d ripped. There was no wood around to touch so I cursed myself.
On Tuesday last week the topmost CD tray stopped working. It opened it’s little tray about half way then stopped. Dead? Well no, and if you ever have a CD unit fail this is worth checking. You can open any tray – even if it’s stuck firmly shut – by inserting a straightened paper clip into the tiny hole you’ll see just above the button you press to cue the tray to open. You can then prise open the tray and remove the CD if there’s one stranded inside. With the tray open look into the mouth of the unit and you should see a small band running from one largish wheel across to a very small wheel to its right. Your may be broken or missing – as was mine. It was resting in the back of the cavity, failed and split.
If you look at the image above the culprit looks rather oval, it’s marooned between the small drive motor to the right and the plastic tray.
That band is the drive which opens and closes the CD tray. It performs no other function and for the sake of one small band your CD tray may be broken. I decided that rather than order a special replacement CD unit from the manufacturer (weighing in at just under £100 pre-Brexit) I’d see if I could replace the snapped band. I looked on eBay and found a supplier of these bands, they’re square in profile and pretty stiff. I think I paid under £3 for a set of five. Although these do fit a computer CD tray they were mainly described as being for the X Box games console. Then came fitting.
First I tried to loop the band around the spindles while the unit was still inside the robot. No luck with that, the access was too restricted, the band doesn’t flex much and the two spindles it loops round were hard to access. But it’s worth a try and I think someone with a better touch and maybe a couple of tweezers might be able to do it. Then I dismantled the CD tower – which sounds more daunting than it was – and removed the broken unit. Working on a desk I tried again to insert the band into the mouth of the draw. No luck, if you’re a dentist you’ll probably find this a doddle and you don’t have to make smalltalk with your patient.
Final step was to dismantle the CD unit. If you search YouTube you will find several helpful videos explaining how this can be done. Having now done it, next time I’ll jump straight to this method rather than try the other failed time saving brainwaves. One small point, doing this involved breaking that seal that says warranty void etc so if your system is relatively new you might not want to do this. Once the top and bottom plates were taken off it was an easy matter to access the band drive train and loop the new one over. Put it all back together the same way you took it apart, store the unused bands where you can find them should you need them again. Put repaired unit back into tower and breath sigh of relief there are no small screws or fiddly bits left over.
It did cross my mind that a small elastic band would have worked as a stop-gap but having made the full repair using the correct item in a pretty short order I don’t think that would have been worth the bother. If I could have inserted the band without taking the tray apart I’d recommend that but given the time it takes to strip down the unit my suggestion would be to wait until you can get the proper drive band. Power up the robot and check all’s working, run a few test music rips and we’re ready to go. The flexibility of the robot’s control software means we can run it with any drive switched off but we’d been running at 75% capacity since the band snapped. With full capacity restored we’ve been running a batch of 1500 CDs, plus two new clients work that came in a day or two ago. Since the repair the drive has been through 300+ discs and shows no sign of logical or physical fails.
Moral of my tale? If your CD unit fails with a tray malfunction don’t be afraid the replace that little rubber band.
PS: Just a thought after posting, I wondered if any CD drive manufacturer published figures for how long these things might be expected to last. Did some digging and it seems that the figure I had in mind, MTBF (mean time between failures) is no longer agreed as the industry standard measure and only one company, BenQ, suggested a figure (expressed as power on hours) which was 125,000 hours. That’s just over 14 years. I also saw another figure which shows just how much the activity of burning discs (which we don’t do) dramatically shortens drive life. That was down to a mere 3,000 hours. So there.