Troubleshooting? Keep These Points in Mind

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Your conveyor broke, and it needs a larger shaft. At least, that’s what the maintenance technician says. But is his diagnosis and solution valid? What actually happened to the conveyor? When problems like this occur, troubleshooting can be difficult. The further up the chain a problem gets reported, the more difficult to diagnose it becomes as data gets lost and personnel color the circumstances with their opinions. Fortunately, you understand that problems get reported like a game of telephone, and you know (or will once you read this article) how to discover a problem’s cause.

First, you need to understand that people always have an agenda, even when they’re diagnosing a problem. A maintenance technician, for example, who didn’t want that conveyor will use everything that goes wrong as evidence that he was right from the start—the company should have purchased a different machine. He wants the conveyor to fail to prove his point. We’re not suggesting that he’ll sabotage the conveyor or neglect it, but he’ll certainly gripe about it every chance he gets. His attitude will color what he perceives to be the problem and how to fix it: “It was a piece of junk before we had it installed,” he’ll say. “It needs to be replaced.”

You also need to understand that people in different roles, with different levels of experience and training, won’t think the same way. The maintenance technician, for example, is focused on getting machines up and running as fast as possible so production can continue. His job requires he constantly respond to the outcome of problems. An engineer, on the other hand, is trained to find the root cause of a problem.

Thus, when faced with a broken shaft, a maintenance technician may say, “This conveyor needs a bigger shaft.” It’s the shaft that broke, so the shaft is the problem.

How his manager responds to his opinion depends on whether the manager thinks like an engineer or a maintenance person. He may report further up the chain that the conveyor “needs a bigger shaft.” Then again, he may further research the cause.

Whether it’s the maintenance manager or someone further up the chain, it’s important that somebody investigate the cause before altering the machine or blindly signing off on expensive replacement parts.  Often, an underlying issue will have caused the problem that got everyone’s attention. If this cause isn’t discovered, the conveyor will break again.

How to Troubleshoot Machine Breakages

So, get your eyes on the machine yourself. Collect as much information as possible. Work backward from the fail point, and do your best to identify the chain of events that resulted in the break. And make sure you have all the data before concluding your investigation. A lack of data results in invalid conclusions. This is why you get suggestions like “we need a bigger shaft” when the shaft isn’t the real issue. Somebody formed the opinion without having done calculations to know whether the shaft can handle the material. (Indeed, the person making this suggestion may now even know how to make such a calculation.) One data point—the broken shaft—isn’t enough to form an accurate suggestion. You need more information.

Of course, your data is limited. You’re working with one, possibly several, machines of the same make, so you lack a reference point from like machines to know how they normally perform and what issues typically cause the problem you’re facing.

This is why it’s important to contact the equipment vendor while troubleshooting. Vendors know their machines better than anyone, as they can access data from hundreds or thousands of installations. So, make sure to take advantage of their knowledge and experience. They can provide insight into your challenges you could not have otherwise gained.

Stay tuned! We have more on how to make the most of your vendor relationships in our next article …

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