Whether you’re managing a fleet of delivery vans, a factory full of conveyors, or a sprawling construction site, troubleshooting is an essential skill. The more assets you manage, the more important troubleshooting becomes.

Troubleshooting generally answers the question: Why did this asset break down?  The larger goal of troubleshooting is identifying the root cause of asset failures and then making systematic improvements to the maintenance program. And these improvements translate into more uptime and lower maintenance costs. 

According to the McKinsey Institute, nearly 50% of current work activities are automatable, and it’s a trend that is set to continue. With more machines on the job, there is a growing calls for a well-designed approach to troubleshooting.

Companies are increasingly using enterprise asset management software (EAM) to standardize and improve their troubleshooting.

Why troubleshooting is important

Even with a comprehensive preventive maintenance program, unpredictable failures are going to happen, which means even the best asset managers can’t prevent unplanned downtime completely. But efficient troubleshooting can reduce production interruptions when they happen.

Troubleshooting typically comes into play when the reason for a breakdown isn’t immediately apparent or when the same type of breakdown keeps recurring. For example, if a cutting blade in a packing machine comes loose, it’s most likely because the blade wasn’t fastened properly. If a number of blades are routinely coming loose, perhaps there’s more to examine than just the fastener.

Finding the root cause with troubleshooting is key to both fixing the failure and preventing it from happening again.

Keep in mind that a technician’s first instinct may go straight to fixing rather than analyzing the breakdown. Creating enterprise-wide troubleshooting protocols can help technical teams apply your asset maintenance strategy in a more systematic, pro-active way.

Additionally, in some organizations, it’s not uncommon for priority work orders to be assigned to only the most experienced employees to troubleshoot. But that eventually leads to a knowledge gap across the company. All technicians should be able to troubleshoot and must be empowered to share their insights to build the collective knowledge of the entire enterprise.

A structured troubleshooting process backed by EAM software solves these challenges, and delivers plenty of other company-wide benefits.

  • Tracking the root causes of failures helps managers make future improvements to the maintenance program.
  • Standardizing step-by-step troubleshooting processes reduce confusion about how best to tackle priority repairs.
  • Safeguarding knowledge of an asset and its failure history boosts efficiency, cuts costs, and improves reliability.

Part art and part science, troubleshooting is made easier with comprehensive asset documentation. There’s no doubt troubleshooting is a valuable skill, and it’s a skill any technician can develop when given the right tools.

6 elements of troubleshooting with EAM software

Established maintenance procedures make it simple for technicians to respond when an asset goes down. With exact steps for addressing a problem, they’re able to make better decisions and complete work orders faster, with greater accountability.

Technicians who work on assets every day are just as responsible for participating in root cause analyses as asset managers. Their intimate knowledge of each asset is valuable in reducing equipment downtime as well as ensuring safety for operators. Don’t let their insider insights go undocumented.

No matter the industry or the equipment, EAM software helps with nearly every aspect of the troubleshooting process.

1. Understand the system

Before solving a problem, technicians must understand the asset and what happened when it malfunctioned. They need to assess the situation leading up to the failure in order to narrow down the list of possible root causes.

When they can, operators or technicians should note what was observed just before the incident. For instance, ask what the operators were doing, what the equipment was doing, and which processes were running. Obtain these details while they’re still fresh in people’s minds as the info helps troubleshooters paint a clear picture of the pre-breakdown situation.

With modern EAM software, technicians can capture notes on their phone or tablet and link it to a particular piece of equipment. Having incident details readily available on mobile devices means stakeholders across the enterprise can examine a problem without delay. And with mobile capabilities and the option to issue work orders using the work order software, asset managers can quickly cue technicians to respond.

2. Understand the problem and history

Putting a failure into context is part of troubleshooting. A complete asset history, including recent work orders, repairs, replacement parts, and inspections, helps a troubleshooter assess situations accurately.

Certainly, hunting down historical records from isolated spreadsheets is frustrating and time consuming. But with the records stored in an EAM solution, the information is instantly accessible. Looking at the most recent repairs becomes an effortless part of the process.

And advanced EAM stores a complete picture of an asset’s life story. Other documents, such as user manuals and parts specifications, can also be included in the records.

Addressing issues means stepping back to see a larger view of the system. A thorough understanding helps put issues into context, letting the troubleshooter take an informed approach to the situation.

3. Eliminate the obvious

It’s tempting to jump straight to a solution. However, a better strategy is to systematically rule out possibilities, beginning with the most obvious. This process splits a problem into smaller and smaller pieces, making it easier and easier to find the ultimate cause of the failure.

For example, when a particular failure has been seen before, some technicians will try to fix it again the exact same way, which could be a mistake. Assuming a fix without taking the proper steps to verify the problem can lead to the wrong solution. It’s better to try a more analytical approach.

EAM software can generate checklists to help guide technicians when an asset breaks down. Combine that checklist with an operator’s experience, information captured at the time of failure, and the asset’s history, and troubleshooters are able to eliminate the obvious on their way to a solution.

Some obvious variables to eliminate might include incorrectly installed replacement parts, previously unreported damage, or operator error.

4. Archive possible causes and theories

Always consider multiple reasons for a failure. Troubleshooters should make a list of ideas, theories, and possible causes that might have led to a breakdown. This step can be quick—or sometimes frustrating— depending on the information available.

Asset management records that are easy to retrieve from an EAM platform help teams develop possible causes and theories for a failure. Especially if your asset management software allows for custom fields to collect data, there is a pool of historical knowledge to draw upon.

On top of this source, consider the Internet and industry publications for insight into possible causes of failures. The original equipment manufacturer can also be a valuable resource.

EAM software lets supervisors and technicians archive notes and attached them directly to an asset’s record. That way, when the equipment fails again, those insights are available across the entire organization.

5. Narrow down the probable causes

To narrow down the probable causes of failures, start with the most likely problems or those easiest to investigate. Using the process of elimination, technicians should be able to recognize and record the ultimate cause of the breakdown.

Some EAM platforms allow users to include failure codes so that technicians can further categorize breakdowns. Failure codes offer a consistent way to describe why an asset failed. This helps zero in on the most common causes of malfunction and also lets managers identify any ongoing failure trends.

6. Validate and document the solution

Once the cause of a breakdown is found and the asset is repaired, the equipment can be put back online. But troubleshooting doesn’t end at solving the problem—the last step is documentation. Information about the solution must be added to the asset record.

Failure and repair information creates the foundation for an effective preventive maintenance program. When technicians capture solution details, their insights support continuous improvement and with a system to store asset records, it ensures that the next time the asset fails, it can be fixed faster.

With an EAM solution, asset history is always accessible across the enterprise. And that includes the history of repair solutions. In other words, the EAM acts as the collective braintrust for your best technicians. Now when senior technicians move on or retire, the organization does not lose their experience. And there is less hand-holding  when junior technicians join the department. Instead of tying up senior technicians with questions, they can find answers by reviewing the asset notes in the software. 

EAM is vital to equipment maintenance

Unscheduled downtime is inevitable. However, with systematic troubleshooting practices, an organization can reduce unexpected equipment failures. And your EAM software is the ideal platform to transform hit-or-miss troubleshooting into an intelligent process that supports your comprehensive maintenance strategy.

With advanced EAM software, every manager, technician, and staff member can play a part in troubleshooting. The software lets employees contribute their valuable knowledge and makes it simple to draw on that insight right when the department needs it.

To see how ManagerPlus supports troubleshooting, contact us today for a free personalized demo of ManagerPlus Lightning.

About the author


ManagerPlus is the preferred solution across the most asset-intensive industries, including Fortune 500 companies, to improve reliability and minimize downtime.
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