A Sense for Troubleshooting

 In the world of support, there comes a time when we need to troubleshoot a technical problem. You can maximize efficiency by using all of the tools at hand, including all five of your natural senses, (sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell) when troubleshooting any device or situation. Let’s address a sample of what information can be gained from each sense.

Sight. Using your eyes you can visually inspect for problems. Look for physical damage in the form of cracked/broken chassis, burned components, water where it should not be, no water where it should be, display function, presence of smoke, etc.

Hearing. Using your ears has become a lot more critical and useful with modern devices. This sense has to be trained, though. Learn what devices sound like when they are working correctly, as each can make a unique sound. Relays click in accordance with the program of the device. Valves have a sound as they open and shut. High-frequency electronics have a whine or shriek to them. In addition, listen for loose parts, electrical arcing, or the whistle of an air leak.

Touch. This tends to be the most painful of your senses to use, as it tells us about extremes. Such is the case if you touch voltages that can shock or components that are too hot or too cold. In addition, your hands can be excellent at finding sharp objects. Joking aside, this is the sense to be the most cautious about using. It is our sense of touch that can check for temperature by proximity.

Smell. This sense is used in a warning capacity. The odors that most are familiar with are those of hot or burned electronics. You can smell ozone from arcing. Other odors can be caused by chemicals that have intruded or been spilled onto or into the unit (coffee and cola are common culprits in this category). Be very cautious of scents with which you are not familiar. They could be from anything in the environment and can range from solvents, to anesthetics, to sterilization gases.

Taste. Simply put, never taste anything in the laboratory. Do not eat or drink in the laboratory, as you probably work with solvents, lead solder, cleaning agents, and contaminated equipment. Taste is used in the same warning capacity as smell. There are some things that you cannot directly smell that will cause a tang or acrid “taste" when inhaled.

It is the combined input of the five senses, plus an individual’s experience, that generates the “sixth sense” used in troubleshooting—intuition. It is intuition developed from experience that tells you when you can jump directly to the cause of an abstract problem. It is experience that teaches you when and when not to listen to your intuition. For many modern devices—despite your experience and intuition—you still may need to follow a stepwise procedure. These procedures can reveal secondary damage and/or provide a degree of safety by forcing you to perform operations in a specified order.

The final and most important of our senses is common sense. It is when this sense is impaired or ignored that we can injure others or ourselves. A commonsense rule when working on medical equipment is, if you do not understand it, do not touch it. Unplug devices before working on them. Disconnect battery power as well, because many devices can still generate high voltage and currents from battery power alone. Assume all capacitors are charged. Finally, assume that problems that go away by themselves will come back by themselves.

Jason A. Brookbank is the service and technical support manager for Metron US, Grand Rapids, Mich.

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