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Occam’s Razor Applied to Troubleshooting

Occam’s Razor is based on the principle that the simplest solution is most often the correct one. In the world of troubleshooting, Occam’s Razor is absolutely critical for making the best use of time and resources. Whether you service your own equipment in-house or service customer equipment in the field, the 80/20 rule applies to troubleshooting in a number of ways. The majority of all equipment breakdowns can be explained by a small number of component failures.

Failure Modes and their Frequency

While the possible failure modes for a given piece of equipment are numerous, most of them seldom or never happen. For example, a copying machine will predictably need the fuser replaced after some time in service, so it’s important to train a new copier technician on how to identify and fix (or replace) a bad fuser. On the other hand, an I/O chip on the copier’s main control board could burn out, but this is not likely. Because different failure modes occur at different frequencies, it’s important to quickly decide which ones are likely. Your troubleshooting process, therefore, needs to incorporate Occam’s Razor. By nature, the simplest problems tend to be the ones that occur most often.

Define a Support Escalation Process

Technical support help lines define some sort of escalation process. The person who answers the phone will be a level one support technician. Level one support is trained to deal with a small number of problems that cause the majority of breakdowns. If level one cannot resolve the problem, a level two technician gets involved. Do you have this type of chain in place for your organization? If you create an escalation process, it will force you to think about how to apply Occam’s Razor to your support structure. A machine operator should typically be expected to resolve certain types of problems, and there should be a definition of what type of problem requires an electrician or electrical technician to investigate.

Look for the Most Recent Change

Technicians who know how to ask good questions and make careful observations can save themselves hours of work. It’s all too common to see someone tearing a piece of equipment apart, probing into a cabinet with an oscilloscope, or spending hours trying to diagnose a problem that could have been quickly identified. The first question to ask: what just changed? For example, if a setting was just changed on a control computer, is it possible to revert that setting and see if the problem goes away? If a wiring configuration was changed, could that be related to the problem? Sometimes, finding out what was changed requires asking the right questions. An operator might have changed a machine configuration and not realized that the change was worth mentioning.

It’s easy to overcomplicate the process of troubleshooting a non-operating piece of equipment, given the vast number of connection points and inter-related components. To avoid getting overwhelmed with possible problems and solutions, it’s important to remember to keep your approach simple.

 

This entry was posted on October 30th, 2013 and is filed under Electrical, General, Technology. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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