Keep Calm and Troubleshoot On

This blog post was written by Brian Olsen.

Stop guessing at problems – A simple process for troubleshooting electrical issues.

The plant is down and everyone is looking to you for why, and more importantly, when it will be fixed.

There are steps that you should take to troubleshoot the problem (please see the article 7 Steps For Electrical Troubleshooting). However, I can’t stress enough that first you need to gather information and truly understand the problem or the issue at hand.  I’ve seen hours wasted trying to replace parts that didn’t need replacing, because people were only guessing at what was wrong.  Time, parts, money, and energy were all wasted due to not taking a few moments to understand how the system should work and what the actually malfunctioning.

An example: A short while back I was onsite at a customer’s plant and was asked to help get a burner restarted.  I am not a burner expert nor did we have anything to do with that piece of equipment. I was hesitant, to say the least, in getting involved; however, I was asked to see if I could help.  So what was wrong?  The issue present was that the burner would start to fire and then quickly shut down.

Maintenance staff had already replaced one of the two natural gas valves, mainly because that valve failed to work properly once in the past, so therefore it was assumed it could be the cause of the problem this time as well.  They assumed filters on the natural gas lines were plugged and needed cleaning, so they cleaned them. When I was finally asked to help, I first went to the file cabinet to get all relevant information that I could on the burner, the burner control system, the schematic, as well as the piping and instrumentation diagrams. I then proceeded out to the burner area to watch what they were doing and listen to the operators talk about what they saw and how they thought it should work.

I didn’t say a word for the first half hour, merely gathered information and tried to understand the problem.  Fortunately, the valve that had recently been removed was still near the burner, so I took the opportunity to open the covers on the valve to see if I could figure out exactly how the device worked.  Once I felt I had sufficient information, I watched what seemed to be the 40th attempt to get the burner system lit. I noticed that the second natural gas valve would open and then abruptly close once the system fired.  I took the covers off of that one to watch the 41st attempt, and noticed the open limit indicator that told the system when the valve was open had failed to signal the system that it was indeed open.  One minute later, after a slight adjustment to the limit, the system fired on the 42nd attempt and the burner stayed lit.

When the pressure is high and all eyes are on, keep calm and troubleshoot on. But first gather information and truly understand what is taking place.