Troubleshooting Success is a Mix of Personality and Process

The keys to making money and enjoying a long and healthy career, according to a couple of veteran electrical troubleshooting pros, are: Live by the three Ps and follow a proven problem-solving process.

The methodical five-step approach to safe troubleshooting is anchored in a lifetime of experience. Chris Harris, an electrical instructor at the Harriman Campus of the Tennessee College of Applied Technology (TCAT), says students have to exhibit the three Ps: Patience, Perseverance, and Perfection.

“Patience helps a lot, but it’s a different kind of patience where you have to sit and look at something and be able to zone everything else out,” says Harris, a former Marine who draws comparisons from his Tennessee roots.

“It’s like a race horse with tunnel vision when they put the blinders on it; you have to have the ability to shut everything else out.”

For Warren Rhude, whose career with Ontario Hydro spanned 18 years before launching a software electrical simulation training company, the five- step approach reinforces a way of addressing and solving a problem.

“I could see that troubleshooting was not being taught,” recalls Rhude, who went on to develop training programs for Toronto Hydro.

“Too often I would see guys approach a problem and just start taking meter readings all over the place,” he adds.

“A lot of random meter testing is a dead giveaway that a person doesn’t have a plan or a process to tackle a problem.”

By definition, a troubleshooter is a person skilled at anticipating or solving problems. Whether handling machinery and technical equipment or dealing with a diplomatic or political dispute, the job involves identifying a problem and fixing it. In the industry settings observed by Harris and Rhude, the troubleshooter is viewed as the person who is curious and creative, always keen to tackle a technical problem. The result is that the trusted troubleshooter is like a superhero, called in to save the day – or the night – when the phone rings at 2:00 am, the production line is down, and workers have been forced to the sidelines.

The Five-Step Approach to Troubleshooting

  1. Observation
  2. Define Problem Area
  3. Identify Possible/ Probable Causes
  4. Test
  5. Repair/Replace and Confirm

From the moment that a troubleshooter receives the call to solve a problem, Rhude says that it’s vital that the person knows how the equipment works and then prepares by packing tools and testing equipment along with schematic diagrams, incident reports, and a notebook. At every stage, troubleshooters should always follow the safety rules and policies of their organization or school and make sure that the circuit is locked out before disconnecting components or wires.

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It is important that troubleshooters pay attention and observe so they understand how the equipment is designed to operate because it is careful observation combined with reasoning that helps identify the cause of many faults. Then make notes on all the features that are operating improperly and watch for signs of mechanical damage on equipment including chafed wires, signs of impact, loose components, and parts lying on the bottom of the cabinet. Look for evidence of overheating, especially on wiring, relay coils, and printed circuit boards.

Define Problem Area

At this stage logic and reasoning should be applied when pinpointing a problem area so that specific zones can be ruled out for not being linked to the problem.

“If I open the door and the hinges squeak then I don’t need to grease the door knob,” says Harris with a laugh before advising that a little bit o