“My X axis stopped working. What’s wrong?”

I was in pre-and post-sales technical support professionally for about 20 years of my career. I’ve provided support over-the-phone, in the shop and in the field. I consider myself to be pretty good at the process of systematic troubleshooting.

My daddy used to say “If you drop your car keys in the street at night, look under the streetlights first, because it’s easiest” and “The best place to start is at the beginning“. The takeawayalways check the easiest or most obvious things first.

This “obvious things first” approach can sometimes be offensive to the customer. Questions like “is it plugged in?” and “is the power switch on?” are good and realistic places to start, but it sometimes leaves the customer wondering if I think they are brain-dead.  Check the simple things first.

The problem of remote troubleshooting is compounded because it is over the phone. You can’t see it, touch it, smell it (yes, smell it – burnt parts have a unique and obvious scent). Often the customer is not an electronic technician, may not have the proper diagnostic equipment – or even know how to use a voltmeter.

There is a logical flow to troubleshooting in general, and this is even more important over the phone. Depending on the problem, the steps may be different, but they are all important. For example, if only one axis is ‘out’, then I would not suspect the power supply circuit – whereas if none of the motors were moving, the power supply is the first thing I would look into.  Regardless of the questions –  I need to know the answers in order to move to the next step.

“Yeah, I checked all those” is a too-typical answer to “what are the voltages at the 5V test point, the Fan Connector and the Input Connector?“. When I get real numbers as answers, it tells me A) things are good/not good and B) you really did check them.

The customer has to be my eyes and ears (and nose). Work has to be done to identify the failure. Read the troubleshooting steps (in the FAQs) and tell me the answers to each step. This will get us both to the solution, faster!

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