Nice story and an on-going lesson for up-and-coming engineers that despite the complexities of today's products and tool platforms, patience and persistence as well as a thirst for curiousity and an eye for creative problem solving are still the tried and true foundational skills for good engineers. Thanks for sharing.
Beth, I agree with you. That was an interesting story and a very interesting problem. There is no way to teach such skills. You just have to work with the equipment and understand it at many levels to find a solution.
Good point, Naperlou, One thing a really like about this solution is how those who built the pipe organ worked to replicate the problem 600 miles away. This is reminiscent of how the Apollo 13 problem was solved. Those in Houston tried to replicate the materials those in the spacecraft has so they could use those materials to solve the problem.
Not just a great example of patient and methodical troubleshooting - but also an example of how you can combine your areas of interest in your profession. While I have been a test engineer for years, I also have a passion for horses. I have a small business where my husband and I develop portable trail obstacles for horses. We often combine our mechanical engineering skills to solve problems with our obstacles and are currently developing some obstacles that are PIC controlled. We have a water obstacle that we eventually plan to have activated by a motion sensor. That's the awesome thing about engineering - you can bring it into so many different areas and work on those that specifically interest you - just as the author of this very interesting article has shown...
In the software world, SAP does the same thing. They are very specific about what hardware, system software and middleware can be used with their ERP products. This is a real pain, until you have a problem that needs fixing. With a certified installation, they have the test fixtures for all valid combinations and can run in the same environment that you have. It allows them to give a very high SLA.
I liked the fact the entire system was rebuilt and the fact that it wasnt a repeating failure. It was a try and try again to find the failure. Sometimes the textbooks make it sound so simple with the massless ropes and frictionless surfaces. Often it takes a lot of hands on time in the lab to solve a problem.
Agree with naperlou. Work with the equipment and understand it. And everything is significant; the 'burp' being a key clue in this story. This reinforces one key troubleshooting theorem I applied first as a technician and then after I got my EE degree: the problem that kicks your butt the hardest usually has the simplest solution, in this case replace the relay.
Many years ago I was engaged to help a client who had a lot of enthusiasm but little experience and had invested a lot of effort in an amazing invention based around a Tandy TRS80 computer. He was attempting to control the intensity of several low-voltage halogen projector bulbs by using simple circuits originally intended to vary the speed of a mains-voltage electric drill. This too was very temperamental and would sometimes work after a fashion but would eventually blow the fuses very spectacularly, accompanied by loud grunts from the transformers that fed the bulbs. I pointed out that such simple dimmer circuits had no protection against "half-cycling" wherein the AC delivered to the transformer acquired a significant DC component, with obvious results. The "universal motors" in old electric drills don't mind the ragged waveform, nor would a mains-voltage filament lamp. I completely redesigned the circuit to use low-voltage DC with PWM control of the brightness and the problem was solved.
Agree, great troubleshooting and teleservicing! This is very similar to another new article, "Super Mistake Caused Super Voltage" It sounds like the lesson for all of us is to really think through relays in power control applications! Don't regard them as a simple on/off contact device.
Interesting point, Naperlou. At the beginning, I would imagine it's a pain to have to follow SAP's system requirements. Yet I can see that would give SAP some control over keeping the system working correctly.
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