TROUBLESHOOTING: A Complex Programming Loop


In a chemical process industry, the skill of troubleshooting can be mastered through critically analyzing plant and field operations, understanding the relationship between the process and its equipment, and having in-depth knowledge of engineering fundamentals.

Consider Troubleshooting as a Programming Loop

Troubleshooting can be thought of as a programming loop where the server, i.e. engineer, needs to go back to a previous step if the result is not desirable. The loop of troubleshooting is based on the following three main concepts:

  1. Technical Knowledge
  2. Interpretation of data
  3. Interactive and speculative learning

Follow Instructions to Get Desired Output

The first and the most important instruction is to secure the area and alert the personnel regarding the process malfunction in order to gain some time for the troubleshooting process.

Then the engineer starts by listing all the variables and equations that play a key role in the process. He performs calculations, make models and, if necessary, devise experiments to understand the working principle of the system and also the equipment. He compares his theoretical results out of the calculations with the actual data.

To discover the cause of deviations, he challenges his mental model and tries to imagine the system at a microscopic level. He makes a note of all the possible scenarios that might have caused the system to not perform properly. To further support his reasoning and assumptions, he talks to different groups of people involved in the project such as plant operators. All kinds of views and statements are considered even the contrary before he implements a testing strategy. He also investigates other process issues around the plant and reviews case studies which helps him develop a better understanding of the process and conduct’s experiments accordingly.

At the testing stage, he begins with the strategy that is easy to either prove or disprove. If the results from the testing stage fail to meet the specification, he will go back to performing the calculation or discussing the issue with other experienced individuals.