Troubleshooting: A required skill for success

Time-measured exercises show that students can gain 80% average improvement in troubleshooting efficiency after a two-day course, according to Gary Cliett, president, IEC Simulations (Port Arthur, Tex.)


Test your troubleshooting knowledge


1) Troubleshooting is an exact science based on logic.

2) Voltage is present on variable frequency drives when the frequency is zero.

3) Programmable logic controller ladder logic is based on relay logic.

4) Distributed control system software logic is a form of series and parallel circuits.

5) 4-20 mA loops are based on Ohms law.

Visit for the test answers and to enter a drawing to attend a free IEC Simulations training course.

W hen mechanics, electricians, instrument technicians, and operators are asked if they know how to troubleshoot, most will respond "I sure do." When those same people are asked to explain their troubleshooting methodology the reply is often "Troubleshooting is something you either know how to do or you don't."

Granted, to become excellent at troubleshooting requires applying logic, but logic is a science, not an art form. Rare is the mechanic, electrician, instrument technician, or operator who can't learn to become more proficient at troubleshooting.

Students improve 80%

Based on time-measured exercises, students can gain 80% average improvement in troubleshooting efficiency after a two-day course according to IEC Simulations (Port Arthur, Tex.). IEC Simulations' course introduces a three-step troubleshooting methodology designed to improve process and equipment troubleshooting skills.

One way to approach troubleshooting is to examine existing information in a different way. For instance, until seemingly different forms of circuitry diagrams-instrument loops, programmable controller ladder logic, and distributed control system configuration documentation-are assembled, viewed, and understood as a complete picture of the problem at hand, incorrect conclusions can be formed.

Developing a common troubleshooting methodology among team members becomes increasingly important with more complex problems. Timed examples expose differences, and individual strengths and weaknesses when students rotate positions of reading prints, using test equipment, and defining and understanding interlocks and controlling devices.

The `light' goes on

Recurring bad practices, such as misleading resistance checks, misunderstood voltage checks, ground and neutral confusion, documentation reading errors, misunderstood interlock assignments, and a general lack of a defined, repeatable troubleshooting methodology, can lead to incorrect conclusions.

Learning, adopting, and following a well-defined problem resolution methodology can improve troubleshooting efficiency and that can lead to a quicker "on-line" operational status and improved profitability.

Troubleshooting tips include:

  • Develop a common language/terms/ knowledge base among team members;

  • Assemble disparate pieces of documentation/ evidence to examine the problem as a whole; and

  • Agree upon a repeatable methodology to gain consistent improvements over time.

Raising the bar

Most annual reports state intellectual capital (employees) to be the company's most valuable asset. Rare are the opportunities to raise the performance bar of an entire workforce and quantify the results. When investments in intellectual capital directly and positively impact a company, improve employee self-confidence and morale, and produce a company wide pride-in-ownership attitude, customers become more satisfied, shareholder value soars and that leads to success.

Gary Cliett is the founder and president of IEC Simulations.

For more information about IEC Simulations troubleshooting methodology and training courses, circle 231, or visit or .

Dave Harrold, senior editor

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