Keeping your world up and running.®

It just makes sense…

To use all of your senses as you go about your daily maintenance activities

January 2014

By Chuck Newcombe

What do I mean by that? Let me illustrate.

It was in the early 1970s, as I sat talking with my father-in-law (Ted) about a problem with his 1962 car. It seems the car wasn’t charging the battery fully. He put the battery on a charger in his garage and tested it after a day of charge. The battery seemed to be in good shape.

Since he and I both worked with electronics, and since solid-state voltage regulators (replacing mechanical relay versions) had been introduced in his model car, we discussed how that might be the problem and how we might test it. We started the car several times and measured the voltage at the battery, the alternator, and the connection points on the regulator. The charging voltage seemed low, but we couldn’t seem to pinpoint the problem.

At his favorite mechanic

After much discussion, we gave up trying to reverse engineer the regulator circuit, jumped in the car and went to see Ted’s favorite mechanic. After reviewing the problem, in more detail than the mechanic wanted to hear I’m sure, he led us out to the car and asked Ted to start it. After listening for a moment, and with a thoughtful look, the mechanic told us to shut off the engine and open the hood. He then disappeared back into his shop. When he came back out, he had a tire iron and a wrench in hand.

He proceeded to adjust the tension on the fan belt driving the alternator, and then asked Ted to start the car again. Viola! The problem was solved.

Focusing on what you think the answer is

Ted and I felt a little silly. How could we have missed the squeal of the fan belt slipping during our repeat startups of the car? Turns out, it’s easy, if you’re focused on what you think the answer is before you begin your troubleshooting procedure.

It’s all about being aware of your surroundings and using all your senses. We were guilty of failing to use what our ears were telling us.

How many of you have ever been in a similar situation?

With an experienced electrician

While job shadowing in my career at Fluke, I was once with an experienced electrician when we walked into an equipment room where he noted that a distribution transformer seemed to be humming louder than usual. Before digging into a bag of test tools, the electrician next walked up to the transformer and put his hand on the cabinet. As I recall, his comment was, “Hmm. Everyone on floor three must be at their computers today.”

When I asked why floor three, and not the production floor, the response was, “Hear that high-pitched whine? That’s the harmonic current from the computer power supplies, not the 60 Hz that runs the production equipment. The harmonic current is where the extra heat is coming from, too.”

Concern addressed, and no tool bag opened. His ears and sense of touch gave him his answer.

How a blind man can see - echolocation

I just read an amazing story about a man named Daniel Kish, who lost his eyesight as a 13-month-old child. It seems that he now, at age 47, walks everywhere, or rides his bicycle for longer trips, and, he plays soccer too. How? It turns out he makes clicking noises with his tongue 2 to 4 times a second, and has developed his hearing abilities and trained himself to image his surroundings in his mind by analyzing the echoes of those clicks.

You can read all about the research triggered by Daniel’s success. And, he now heads an organization that trains the blind to see with their ears.

That’s an extreme case of using available senses to make up for deficiencies in others.

It never occurred to me to make clicking sounds to hone my listening skills to help me visualize the space around me, but I did notice, and experiment with, the idea of hearing the presence of a wall or large object in my path as I attempted to navigate in the dark. As I think about it, I must have used the sounds of my breathing, or my footsteps, as the source for my attempts at sonar.

I also learned to feel the presence or absence of heat from my environment after an experience walking through an enclosed corridor between two buildings at the Anchorage, Alaska airport one cold November night. I could easily have navigated that corridor without bumping into walls just by sensing the heat loss as I strayed from the center and neared the cold walls.

Maybe it’s time to hone your skills as a troubleshooter. And, if you want to review my comparisons of how Fluke tools perform, sensing like bats, spiders, and snakes, you might check out my thoughts.