Not many people spend their entire career in one place or the same position.

Photo by Nikita Kachanovsky

As you move up and on to different positions and other seemingly brighter opportunities, as most do for much of their career growth, the ability to step back and look at an issue becomes increasingly important.

You may be the last in line on the frontlines to get something running or the one that everyone else is looking to for ideas.

Either way, there are a few steps or guidelines I feel that can be kept in mind to make any automation troubleshooting experience go smooth and hopefully end with a successful result.


1. Previous Knowledge

Take advantage of the knowledge from the technician, the operator, and the maintenance personnel that deal with the issue every day. This is key. Every one of these positions involved has a unique perspective on the equipment or system.

Communication becomes more and more crucial in troubleshooting (just as most daily activities) especially as technology continues to move forward and continue to make the face to face interactions less and less common.

2. Understand & Review

Review and know what you are looking at. Whether it's a system or a single piece of equipment, know what you are looking at. Understand the problem at hand. Keep in mind too that diving way in-depth with technicalities may not be the best initial approach.

Take your time in reviewing and being sure something less technical or simple to fix could have been overlooked. Might be best to just find what it is supposed to do when the failure happens and work backward.

Sometimes a situation just needs a set of fresh eyes to help expose the issue.

3. Keep calm

Photo by Chandler Denise

Regardless if you have an entire afternoon or a few seconds to look over the code in the robot between items as they come down the assembly line (been there…not fun), keeping a cool head will ALWAYS be more beneficial to the troubleshooting process than getting frustrated or angry (at yourself or other people involved).

4. Take Notes

Do what you can to document steps taken previously and along the way. This is important when trying to be as efficient as possible and not trying the same thing more than once.

Good records will help with future issues on this equipment or similar equipment to determine if the same fix needs applied or something else needs to be looked at.

This can be as simple as Notepad notes in a text file or screen capture (with software or Alt + PrtScn). No such thing as too much information…ever!

5. Stumped?

Step back…take a walk…check postings (or post a question) in forums… come back tomorrow if you can. The key is to rest your thought process.

Sometimes, you will be surprised to see that the answer will just appear as if magic.

Be ready for a delay though. Sometimes this epiphany won't happen until you are fast asleep. Maybe it will wait until in the morning starting your shower and getting ready for the day.


Though these steps are good points to follow, I think the key is to stay calm and let your mind work.

Even though you may have the most advanced knowledge of the equipment or process, often it comes down to the thought process in finding the cause more than knowing the system like the back of your hand.

Written by Paul Hunt
Senior Automation Engineer and Freelance Writer
Edited for content and clarity by Shawn Tierney

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Paul Hunt

Paul Hunt is a freelance writer for The Automation Blog who spends his days working in industry as a Senior Automation Engineer and has experience with several different types of PLCs and controls systems.
Paul Hunt


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Forum Comments:
  1. Thanks for your article Paul!
    Couldn't help but think of the line, "Don't Panic," and "Thanks for all the Fish!"
    Thanks again,
    Shawn Tierney
    Industrial Automation Blogger at TheAutomationBlog.com
    Industrial Automation Instructor at TheAutomationSchool.com

2 Blog Comments

  1. Thanks, Shawn and that’s funny!

    “Always remember a towel”. Of course the proper PPE for the day to day as well. 😉

    Paul
    Automation Engineer
    Freelance writer at TheAutomationBlog.com

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