Two symptoms... 1) Doesn't charge capacitor, no whine, flash ready no longer illuminates. 2) After the flash is on for a while, lcd displays 'bat' even though I swap batteries to known good units. It stopped charging after a time of heavy flash use.
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The energy for the very short, very high brightness flash is held in the flash capacitor of the photo flash lamp. This capacitor degrades if is not charged for long (years), and needs formatting, which is a slow charging and 2-3 consecutive shots. Sometime the first charging takes significantly longer than normal time, even minutes. If however the ready lamp does not come up even after some minutes, the flash lamp may have developed an internal fault, which can only fixed by a trained repairman. Another common culprit is wrong contact in the battery compartment. Batteries left in the flash for long often leak, and corrode the contact springs and leaves. These can be cleaned with soaked with vinegar cotton tabs (ear cleaning buds), followed by mechanical cleaning with pencil eraser.
It is strange that all three units have the same problem. I am assuming that when you tested your three units that you did so by attaching them to your camera. If all three are bad, it could be that the problem is in your camera. Let's disregard the ready light for the moment because the ready light could be bad or your flash is only partially charging. As an experiment, turn on one of your SB-600's and after allowing time for it to charge, short out the contact pins on the flash shoe. If it flashes, it could be the camera at fault.
The SB-600 is an older unit. If you have three of them, I will assume that you are using them professionally and they have had heavy consistent use. As a result, your speedlight's capacitors may have reached the end of their life span.
Let's look at what may be happening. By charging, it means that the batteries in your speedlight are supplying a low voltage to a capacitor bank that charge to a higher voltage that is sufficient to fire the flash tube. All capacitors deteriorate over time and use and will lose their ability to charge and maintain a charge. Given the age of your equipment, that may be the case. If you have the knowledge and equipment, I would replace the capacitors on one of your units and see if it works. If not, I would send one of the units into Nikon for a free repair estimate. They can be reached at 1-800-645-6687 9AM-8PM EST, Monday to Friday.
I've got three 285HVs and have had this problem. Obviously, make sure the batteries are good and the door and inside terminals are not corroded. The whine sound that you usually hear is the high voltage circuit. the reason it changes pitch is that the main capacitor is charging. As the charge gets greater and greater, the pitch with go up as the circuit changes the power being fed to the capacitor. If you don't hear the "whine" then it's either the HV circuit isn't working (probably not) or the capacitor has gone bad. These things are sealed but can decay internally due to their structure. Usually this is due to the dielectric components breaking down or the electrolytic goo drying up (usually what causes it).
Sometimes, you can let it sit with good batteries and the switch on to see if it will eventually start to charge the cap. Most of the time tho, this is an indication that the capacitor or the charging circuit is dead. It can be repaired but sending it off will usually be more expensive than replacing the unit.
put in a fresh set of batteries. The ready light won't turn on until the flash capacitor is fully charged. And if your battery is weak, it can take very long (minutes!) to fill the capacitor. You still can fire the flash even it is not ready, it will just dump whatever power it stored in the capacitor.
Then I'd say it's a reasonably sure thing that the green light is just burned out, The lights are supposed to be off at first, then red when there's a partial charge, then green when there's a full charge, then flashing between red and green when the "battery saver" kicks in. If you're seeing off, then red, then off, then flashing red, then that means everything in the charging circuit is working perfectly, there's just no green light.