Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mainenance: The stuff I get into!!

Our space is small but that doesn't mean we can't splurge on a luxury to two. One of those splurges is an IRobot Rumba. We call him Pierre - our little French maid, and when we leave the house to make a shopping run we just punch his button and leave him to sweep and vacuum the place for us. He even has his own living quarters by the door where he can keep himself charged up and ready to go.

Pierre is hard working and, despite being French, surprisingly effective, but we are kind of hard on him. For one thing we spend most of our days moving back and forth between inside and outside - a lot! - and since we're not inclined to take our boots off every time we do (The refrigerator is out in the barn where we don't have to listen to it run all the time. Can you imagine trying to make dinner if you had to take your boots on and off with every trip!!!) we are constantly tracking grit into the house. On top of that our floor is raw concrete so is pretty tough on Pierre's underpinnings.

Poor thing looks like a turtle turned over on its back!
But IRobot has done an excellent job of designing a product that the consumer can take apart, replace parts - which are readily available - and just generally keep it running, right down to using captured screws so none of them go skittering off to those un-findable hiding spots every workbench seems to have. I suspect the fact that much of the market for  IRobot's various robots is military and police departments has something to do with their FRU (Field Replaceable Unit) design.(Not like our air-popper which now lets out a terrible scream every time we start a batch of popcorn. I tried to get to the motor and bearings inside there but discovered the thing is assembled by gluing it together so the only fix is to throw it away.)

So, over the years we've had Pierre we've replaced bits and pieces here and there but the other day he threw a new kind of temper tantrum (And not the cute kind like when the little bump-sensor on the front gets stuck and he starts spinning around on the floor like a cat desperately trying to back his head out of a can!) This time I noticed that he sounded different and a quick check showed he wasn't picking up the grit. On further investigation I discovered that the vacuum part of him was working fine but the brushes underneath weren't spinning and picking up the heavier stuff. Well I'm no expert, but that can't be good!

I knew the problem was in the brush unit but I didn't really know what was in there. Maybe a belt was worn out, a clutch was dirty, the motor wasn't getting juice?? Who knows. But what the hell, he already doesn't work, so how much worse can I make it?!

I took my screwdriver to him and started performing surgery; blind surgery. And found he has a whole gearbox inside that red brush-carrier. A gearbox that wasn't gearing anymore. . . Fortunately IRobot thought of that and designed the motor that turns those gears with a clutch so nothing was burned up. Not knowing what I was doing still didn't stop me and I kept taking more and more bits apart until I opened up the gear box and found it all bound up. Fortunately I was able to pop each gear loose and clean the gunk out of them and the housing with alcohol and an old electric toothbrush (Honest! I used an old one!) and I even managed to get all the bits put back in the right places again! I don't know exactly what sort of grease was in there in the first place but now he has a load of lithium grease in his gears and is back to doing the job he's paid to do.

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