By Warren Rhude
Equipment can malfunction for a variety of reasons. Mechanical contacts and parts can wear out; wires can overheat and burn open or short out; parts can be damaged by impact or abrasion; etc. Equipment may operate in a manner far different than it was designed to, or not at all.
Typically, when equipment fails there is a sense of urgency to get it fixed and working again. If the defective equipment is part of an assembly line, the whole assembly line could be down causing unexpected “time off” and lost revenue. If you are at a customer site to repair equipment, the customer may watch you, knowing that they are paying for every minute you spend troubleshooting and repairing their equipment. Either one of these scenarios – and there are more, can put a lot of pressure on you to solve the problem quickly.
So What is troubleshooting? It is the process of
analyzing the behavior or operation of a faulty circuit to determine what is
wrong with the circuit. It then involves identifying the defective component(s)
and repairing the circuit.
Depending on the type of equipment, troubleshooting can be a very challenging task. Sometimes problems are easily diagnosed and the problem component easily visible. Other times the symptoms as well as the faulty component can be difficult to diagnose. A defective relay with visual signs of burning should be easy to spot, whereas an intermittent problem caused by a high resistance connection can be much more difficult to find.
What makes an expert Troubleshooter? One trait of expert troubleshooters is that they are able to find virtually any fault in a reasonable amount of time. Easy faults, complicated faults, they find them all. Another trait is that they typically replace only the components that are defective. They seem to have a knack for finding out exactly what is wrong. No trial and error here. So what is their secret?
You might think that a person who has a very good understanding of how the equipment works, should be able to troubleshoot it effectively. Being a good at troubleshooting requires more than this.
Expert troubleshooters have a good understanding of the operation of electrical components that are used in circuits they are familiar with, and even ones they are not. They use a system or approach that allows them to logically and systematically analyze a circuit and determine exactly what is wrong. They also understand and effectively use tools such as prints, diagrams and test instruments to identify defective components. Finally, they have had the opportunity to develop and refine their troubleshooting skills.
If you want to troubleshoot like the pros you will need to develop your skills in each of these areas. Let’s look at them in more detail.
See A Systematic Approach to Troubleshooting for more details on this approach.
Various types of test instruments are available for testing electrical
circuits. The ones you choose depends on the type of circuit and its
components. A common test instrument which is invaluable to a troubleshooter
is a Multimeter. It is capable of measuring voltage and resistance with some
meters capable of other measurements such as current and capacitance.
You must be able to determine what type of test instrument to use, when and where to use it, and how to safely take readings with it.
Review your own skills in each of these areas. Improving any one of them, along with a good dose of practice, will improve your troubleshooting skills.
About the Author:
Warren Rhude is president of Simutech Multimedia Inc. an e-learning company that develops computer based training simulations for electrical troubleshooting. Warren has an electrical background and has taught troubleshooting for several years at a prominent electrical utility.
Simutech Multimedia has developed a series of award winning simulations for learning electrical troubleshooting skills. Click here for more information on these programs or to download a free demo.
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