Six Steps of Troubleshooting Methodology and Why It’s Important

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Issue #12250 - May 2020 | Page #64
By Brian Zengel

As technology advances year after year and Alpine equipment becomes more sophisticated, it’s critical to understand some best practices when troubleshooting equipment.

In a perfect world, equipment would never break down and therefore never be a need to troubleshoot. Unfortunately, we still live in a world that has equipment breakdowns that require troubleshooting. Some troubleshooting is scheduled, but the majority of troubleshooting is performed during unscheduled breakdowns.

Unscheduled downtime creates a cascading effect that disrupts the entire production workflow. The more efficient the troubleshooting, the less impact the downtime will have on the production workflow. Alpine Equipment Support has been utilizing a Six Step process as part of our Troubleshooting Methodology. The process flow gives Alpine and our customer’s maintenance team a way to find and fix problems faster, reduce downtime, track reoccurring problems, and reduce labor.

Six Steps of Troubleshooting

Step #1 – Problem Identification

In most cases, what you witness first as the “problem” is just a symptom of the root cause. The first step in the troubleshooting process is to identify the problem area. As you start to determine the problem area, you need to ask A LOT of questions. Example: Did the problem show up during start up? Was there a crash/damage to the equipment before the problem? How about PM or service part replacement work prior to the problem? Only work on one problem at a time. Start with the biggest pain point and work on it until it’s resolved, then start on the next problem. In some cases, you may think there are multiple problems, but once you fix the root cause, the others might be symptoms.

Step #2 – Establish Theory of Probable Cause

The second step in the process is to create a list of probable causes. It is good to document this list on paper (or electronically). The list allows you to document ideas from your head, so you don’t miss anything. It also allows you to segment the ideas from highest to lowest probable cause.

Step #3 – Establish Plan of Action

Once a list of probable causes has been created, it’s now time for an action plan. The third step in the process is to create the action plan. There are some areas to think about when creating the action plan. First, you want to review the probable causes and determine if you need different personnel working on the plan. Do you need an IT specialist or maybe an electrician? Testing equipment/tools are needed in a lot of troubleshooting action plans. Determine what type of tools you might need and make sure they are available. Incorporating new or used parts into the equipment while troubleshooting can create unexpected results. If possible, it’s best to exchange known working parts with suspected parts. The last part of this step is to document the plan. It’s important to know the plan before, during, and after you act.

Step #4 – Implement the Plan

Now, it’s go time! The fourth step in the process is to implement the plan. The most important tip to remember in this step is to only make ONE change at a time. Testing the results after every change is required. Making more than one change at a time can result in unexpected results, more time back tracking, and replacing good parts (when not needed). If a change is made and you have unexpected results, you might need to reverse steps. It seems counter intuitive to the troubleshooting process, but it could create a bigger problem. Another important tip that can create a scenario of unexpected results is when used or repaired parts are installed without being tested first. Any used or repaired parts must be tested (tagged with test date and results) prior to being stocked in spare parts inventory.

Step #5 – Verify Full Functionality

At this stage of the process, the initial problem has been solved. In the fifth step of the process, you need to verify full functionality of the equipment. All aspects of the equipment operation need to be tested to validate there were no new or different problems introduced during the troubleshooting. You might need to reverse the troubleshooting steps if a new problem is introduced. The new problem will need to be reviewed first before making the decision to reverse work that was already completed. If everything is operational, you will need to go back over the work performed and clean up or finish installing what was replaced during step #4.

Step #6 – Document Findings, Actions, and Outcomes

Having a knowledge base of information to access is extremely important. The sixth and final step in the process is documenting the findings, actions, and outcomes. The document can be a hard copy or electronic version. The key to either method is making sure it’s easy to access for everyone that might need the information. Documenting this information can significantly reduce any future downtime, resulting in less disruption to the production workflow.

Over the last few years, Alpine has transitioned away from a reactive strategy to equipment support and moved to a proactive strategy. The biggest change in this strategy is creating an environment around education. We are utilizing on-line training content (webinars), technical support (phone), and on-site service as tools for this strategy. Please contact Alpine Support if you would like to learn more about our services (

You're reading an article from the May 2020 issue.

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