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  • Writer's pictureDavid Peterson

How a Little Wiring Knowledge Leads to Huge Downtime Savings

In this article, I’m going to explain several different ways in which training in the areas of wiring and electrical troubleshooting can save you massive amounts of money.

I think we can all agree that inside even the most robust machinery, the electronics seem to fail more mysteriously than mechanical components.

Although mechanical components sure can fail in an epic fashion.

And loud.

And dish out some pretty good heart attacks.

But usually the mechanical failures of that sort come from operator error or some other control system that behaved improperly.

Maybe someone hit the start button at the wrong time, or moved a saw sideways during a cut.

If it’s a control system fault, then maybe a sensor eye got dirty and detected at the wrong time, or a number became too large for a variable within the program to contain and caused the fault.

Yes, absolutely, mechanical failures can lead to some pretty major downtime losses.

When they occur, all hands on deck to implement the repair.

But when electrical components and systems fail, just little minor problems, they can be the most frustrating source of lost time.

Because it’s harder to identify the failure point!

It takes SO much longer just to track down the problem!

When a mechanical component breaks catastrophically, it’s usually pretty obvious - bent metal, broken pins, things like that.

But when wiring is at fault, it can be a subtle as a wire that slipped out of a ferrule due to vibration.

The wire is still there and looks fine, but isn’t making the electrical connection.

A wire can be broken inside flexible insulation, maybe from being contained in a door hinge that’s opened and closed one too many times.

Those subtle root causes emphasize the need for technicians who can think quickly, and see ‘behind the scenes’ to find the failure point.

It’s almost like having x-ray vision, that ability to ‘see’ electron motion inside components and wires.

A good electrical technician has the ability to look at the control wiring diagram of a failed machine, and use just a few simple tools to trace the problem.

Schematic Reading

Before even the first meter measurement is taken, the electrician first needs to know what to expect.

If this wire should have power right now, then I should expect to see voltage if I measure it.

On the other hand, if I don’t really know what voltage state I expect, then no reading from any meter will be valuable, unless someone else can interpret the drawing for me.

Schematics are not always standardized.

There are good ones, great ones, and very poor ones.

Unfortunately, older equipment seems to be prone to the poorer schematics, having been designed before Computer Aided Drafting systems and color printers.

Additionally, symbols and conventions change over the years, so an experienced electrician may have a hard time troubleshooting a schematic loaded with networking and control system symbols.

The only solution?


Collect and examine all the schematics you can find. Even if it’s not for your equipment.

If possible, build or acquire a small panel with a power supply and DIN rail components to help you build a troubleshoot some of the simpler parts of diagrams.

If you find schematics for your equipment, and if the situation is safe, take measurements of operational equipment and ensure that they enforce your understanding of the drawing.

But above all else, you actually need to practice reading schematics in order to become proficient.

Practice works everywhere else, why not here?

Multimeter Reading

If you ask an electrician what two most important tools they can carry, the answer will most likely be ‘small screwdriver set and multimeter’.

Why those two?

They know how to implement a faster solution - they know the tool to find the problem, and they know the tool to fix the problem.

So many times, the failure is something small and simple.

- A contactor block on the back of a push button broke in the open position.

- One of the wires in a bank of terminal blocks worked loose and isn’t making contact.

- The coil of a solenoid was too hot and burned open.

So many tiny issues in wiring can create resistance in the wrong places, which leads to heat and power loss in the wrong places, all leading to failures.

When an electrician takes a voltage reading, what should he or she expect to see on an open switch? What about a closed switch? Between two ends of a wire?

These questions about voltage and many others should be second nature, and hopefully quite obvious to the troubleshooter.

That's why it's listed as one of the top 5 technician skills!

It should be a simple task to make basic point measurements, trace the incorrect voltages, and track down that failure.

How does my team get there?

The top priority for any lead electrician or maintenance supervisor should be the performance of the team working for them.

Nothing that happens in an electronic machine is 'magic', although often it seems that way.

You can always find ways to improve performance, speed, and safety from your technicians.

The best way is to provide knowledge and practice.

Knowledge in the form of training, books, online material, and the shared experience of others.

Practice includes wiring, print reading, diagnostics, discussions with others at similar stages of learning.

The knowledge aspect is something that can be acquired over a relatively short term, but the practice is continual.

If you have knowledge, you lose it unless you use it constantly.

Troubleshooting skills are no different.

Our classes are designed to help technicians see the big picture, and use creative troubleshooting skills to get you running faster and more smoothly.

Jon and David are both experienced in locating faults and designing solutions. We would love to be a part of your success as soon as you are ready.

Contact Us today!

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