As Murphy's Law would predict, electrical control system issues usually happen with the worst possible timing. Having a plan in place can help mitigate the risks from unexpected issues. We recommend preparing a troubleshooting plan for these times. Starting with these seven steps can save you time and get to the root of the problem.
Navigate Electrical Troubleshooting for Your Facility
Often, we are quick to jump directly into fixing a problem when, in fact, it would benefit us to be methodical with our process. Here, we share a troubleshooting process to help you navigate your facility's electrical troubleshooting. Before you start guessing and fixing the problem, walk through these steps.
- Gather Information. The first step of any electrical system troubleshooting exercise involves gathering as much information about the problem as possible. Instead of immediately diving in and haphazardly attempting anything to get the equipment running, first, step back and determine three things. 1) How is the equipment supposed to operate? 2) What technical documentation is available for the equipment? 3) Is someone familiar with similar equipment who may have experienced this same issue?
- Understand the malfunction and the role the malfunctioning equipment plays within the entire process. When you understand how the equipment and process are supposed to work, you can better understand what part of it is not functioning correctly.
- Identify what can be measured so that you can identify items that are outside the acceptable range. For example, are there voltage readings or temperature readings that would help you evaluate the source of the problem?
- Identify the source of the problem using available data and analytical tools to isolate the defective component. This could involve isolating components and evaluating their circuit parameters or isolating the circuits by a group when dealing with a complicated circuit.
- Correct/repair the damaged component.
- Verify the repair after completion. Once the repair has been performed, start the system to ensure it now runs as required. This is important because there may have been other underlying problems. For example, there may be an issue with a circuit causing a fuse to blow (such as a shorted electrical connection). If this is the case, additional troubleshooting will be required.
- Perform root cause analysis to determine what really caused the problem. Since one of the objectives of troubleshooting is to ensure the problem doesn't reoccur, it is crucial to determine what really caused the malfunction and take action to provide a permanent solution.
As you begin your troubleshooting, it may feel that it takes more time to go through a full process. But, in the end, it will save time when you can isolate entire components from the process. If troubleshooting becomes too frustrating, ask for help. Sometimes bringing in a fresh set of eyes can more quickly uncover what you have been missing. Even if your objective is to pull in an outside resource, following your troubleshooting plan will speed the process because you can provide detailed information to those you contract to help.
Troubleshooting an electrical system fault can be a challenging but ultimately rewarding task. It's exciting to see your efforts work out. Good Luck!
Brian Olsen, Control Systems Developer II
This article was originally published May 24, 2017, and was reviewed and updated on April 25, 2022.