MRO Q&A: Formula for Troubleshooting

MRO Q&A is a Food Processing series addressing maintenance, repair and operational issues in food plants.

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Q: We recently have had several occasions of poor troubleshooting, resulting in a lot of lost time and lost product. Are there standard troubleshooting techniques that can help us?

A: Great question. Troubleshooting is essential for the efficient use of purchased assets. There is a basic platform from which all specific techniques originate, and there are several processes that address each phase. The basics of troubleshooting method steps are:

  • Define what the deviation from normal is. This entails comparative thinking, which compares normal functions to those under default conditions and will require an in-depth knowledge of the system functionality. The key is identifying the last normal function that occurred and the next function (if the functions are in series) that didn’t.
  • Determine the source of this deviation. This could be as simple as a visual realization of what’s broken to a brainstorming session or data collection step to gather data to further determine deviations from established norms. 
  • Correct the deviation. This could be executing the trial and error technique, adding/removing components to fix the problem or developing hypotheses that could lead to solving the problem through additional experimentation. 
  • Verify the root cause of the deviation. Once you believe you have solved the problem, validate it by reversing the correction to ensure you not only solved the problem, but you can also recreate it. 
  • Institutionalize the resolution. Once the solution is known, you can put in place maintenance procedures, redesigns, component inspections, policies or procedures or implement changes in work processes which will result in the mitigation or elimination of problem.
  • Follow up. Set up a periodic double-check in your follow up file to make sure this problem hasn’t recurred.

In addition to comparative thinking, other problem solving/analysis techniques you might consider investigating include the "5 Whys" process, Kepner-Tregoe problem solving techniques, Pareto data analysis and Fishbone charting. One of the deterrents to expeditious troubleshooting has been the inability to accurately assimilate human data and machine data into one coherent set of data that leads to the root cause. Both are vital to problem identification and resolution. The people who run your processes are as invaluable in helping resolving problems as data from the equipment. Listen to both!

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Food Processing Magazine.

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