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Teaching Troubleshooting And Problem Solving In Eet

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.495.1 - 4.495.3

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William F. Reeve

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2249

Teaching Troubleshooting and Problem Solving in EET

William F. Reeve Purdue University

A recent survey of more than 100 books in the local university library, dealing with troubleshooting, revealed that the overwhelming majority address electrical or electronic problems. Relatively few of them deal with problems in a mechanical, a chemical, a biological or any other system. Most of them approach troubleshooting as a specific task activity. That is, the goal is to troubleshoot an amplifier, a video cassette player or recorder, an electric motor, an analog circuit, a digital circuit, etc. A typical text repeats a large amount of basic fundamentals and provides tips on how to fix the item in question. These books describe various methods or strategies employed in troubleshooting, such as signal injection, signal tracing, the strategy of “split in half,” bridging, substitution, applying heat, applying cold, etc., and indicate the normal failure mode for specific devices and components. All but a few of the tests start at the unit level, progress to the board level, and end the process at the component level.

Since its inception in the mid 1960s, the Electrical Engineering Technology Department of Purdue University has had a sophomore-level course with “hands-on experience in electronic troubleshooting from the system level to the component level” as part of the EET curriculum1-4. In the mid 1980s, the faculty and staff developed an instrument called ALFRED, for Amplitude Linear Frequency Related Educational Device, that is essentially a one octave music synthesizer. It has served as a useful tool to teach troubleshooting for more than a decade. Hundreds of students have developed their troubleshooting skills to the point where they are able to locate and repair multiple faults at the component level in a complex electronic system5.

Tomal and Widmer state that, “troubleshooting is the process of problem solving”6. Problem solving in the broader sense involves the process of developing a systematic logical approach to the identification and solution of a problem, something that Fogler and LeBlanc refer to as a heuristic . The steps of identifying the problem, devising a hypothesis for its cause, 7

postulating a test strategy that will identify the source of the problem, implementing tests to determine if the hypothesis is correct, evaluating the results of the tests, and taking corrective measures in such a way that the problem does not recur are part of this heuristic. The nature and complexity of the problem, how often it occurs, and the resources influence the specific details and solutions on hand. The problem often goes beyond the point of fixing the immediate fault on a single unit to asking questions about the underlying causes for failures when several units are involved and proposing solutions that will prevent their recurrence. This aspect of problem solving is seldom stressed formally in troubleshooting texts, although the underlying principles may still be mentioned.

In an effort to address problems that arise in the manufacturing environment, lectures on problem solving that employ graphical analysis techniques, such as flowcharts, check sheets, run charts, Pareto charts, cause & effect (fishbone) diagrams, histograms, scatter diagrams and control charts have been presented in the troubleshooting course (EET 276) since 19975. They

Reeve, W. F. (1999, June), Teaching Troubleshooting And Problem Solving In Eet Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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