Guide to Troubleshooting Electrical and Electronic Systems
Drawn from old USITT workshops and my experience as a field service technician at Sea World Cleveland.

As the complexity of lighting, sound, computer and other electrical systems increases, so does the difficulty in effectively diagnosing and repairing them. Try these tips to help make your troubleshooting experiences a little speedier and a lot less stressfull.
  • Clarify the problem Don't jump in with your wire cutters blazing unless you know exactly what your symptoms are. Question the person who reported the problem. What exactly happened? Had they noticed any problems prior to the failure? If possible, try and recreate the situation.
  • Has the item in question ever worked? Are you repairing a system or just adding a new function? If it worked before, you know something broke and you just have to track it down and repair it. If it has always been a problem, or is a new function, you are dealing with an installation problem.
  • Look for the obvious Double check all cables and connections. A large number of my service calls were resolved by plugging the item in, or replacing a cable which had been knocked loose.
  • Divide and ConquerTry to isolate components and reduce complexity. You are narrowing down the source of the problem now. Limit the number of variables. This will also tell you if a component has failed, or if two or more components are no longer interfacing properly.
  • Replace one part at a timeSure you could replace every possible trouble component, but even this may not solve component interaction problems. See if the behavior of the system changes after you have replaced just one component. Does the problem go away? Is there a new problem? If you have multiple failures, this is the way to track them down. In very complex repairs, keep a written record of every repair you make or attempt.
  • Change a component once Even if you are sure it is the problem, don't waste your time replacing the same thing again and again. The chances of the replacement part being faulty are slim. Worse, if the problem is big enough, every replacement part you install could be getting fried beyond recognition by a bigger problem somewhere else. Checking for faulty replacement parts should be a low priority.
  • Have the right tools for the jobThat doesn't mean you need every tool ever made, or even every tool you carry, but just those appropriate for what you are working on. This makes life easier and safer. Leatherman tools can be handy, but in a real project multi-tools will only create a bigger hassle.
  • Prioritize If you have multiple failures. Try and repair the most critical systems first.
  • Call for help This is where that paperwork will be usefull. First, make sure you are talking to the right person. The 1-800 number technician can teach you how to double click the AOL icon, but won't be much help if you need the pinouts on a proprietary system. Why bother explaining the problem over and over again? Experience The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer . Try and have a clear and concise description of the problem. Have all your product names, serial numbers, and software versions handy.

And lastly, know when to call it quitsOr call it art.And if you are lucky enough to work for the government or a state school, call it "Good enough for government work." Sometimes it is just out of your range of expertise. Don't loose sleep over it, just move on.

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