Engineering Management and Fault Finding in Electronics
Caveat; I don't do all that I say, Or say all that I do, And sometimes I only say what I wish I had done. Those who do what they say can be imposed on, this is stressful, take care. We see these things in each other and ourselves, they need to be kept in mind. In any case, stating the obvious so that everyone is clear is a good strategy - I may say that "I may be stating the obvious but............" Or "this sound's silly but imagine if A could do........" thread may go off on a tangent then someone perhaps of a different discipline will come back with a neat or at least a holding solution for now, and they may not have been going to say. This method is much more focussed and precise than "Brainstorming" which I find the latter uncomfortably forced and so is inhibiting.
This page is not about managing other people, but it is about managing your own
work and working with the team and using either a logical or a reasoned approach.
A new experimental computer in control turns a war exercise into seeing any spaceship or starship as a real threat and attacks them. The brilliant designer had woven his personality into the machine, the M5, but he still held anger and fear of being bullied, having been overlooked treated as a nerd when he was younger.
In 2001 A Space Odyssey, HAL is programmed with a conflicting primary directive to both lie and not lie to humans, leading to the computer killing of most of the astronauts. The basic story is not about HAL but about an alien visiting and guiding life on Earth and the eventual birth of the star child. In the sequel story the alien starts the process of sowing the seeds of life on Pluto, Discovery is visited two years later and brought back to functioning with HAL running again with the conflicting instruction removed. The term worm is used to root out the bad program conflict and the book explains that holographic memory was used, which were more examples of the science prediction being spot on then, if wrong now. With very accurate science prediction, as a documentary, the highest quality of production as you see in all films created by Stanley Kubrick.
In summary, humans will make bad design decisions if they try to appease conflicting instructions. Perhaps they will make wicked machines in a culture of fear, hate and cynicism. But engineers will create the finest work if they work with kindly, inspired people around them. People will also find excuses to be cynical and do work for profit regardless of ethics, or bully if there is a culture of not standing up to them. Whether that is wishful thinking I don't know the 1930s Soviet engineering was equal to any, but the professionals worked from camps in cold places. Slave labour may be productive, though a well researched documentary's theory was that the ancient pyramids in many parts of the world were not built by slaves, but that technology used was very advanced moulding concrete and using solar lenses to melt and moulding granite. Those ancient Egyptians knew maths often re-invented much later and the builders worked part of a year for a decade or so in comfort.
It is important that when we come up against a problem, we are honest with ourselves in our criticism. It does not help to avoid criticising our tools, or others either, or to be overly judgmental. Be constructively critical and work around a problem if necessary. The real world is of raw materials is not precise by comparison with purchased components and software, solutions come from out of a range of uncertainties. But you do have to make assumptions that many things are certain, then keep testing those assumptions, changing them as necessary.
Concentrate on one aspect for a while but periodically break off, reassess your priorities, and work on what becomes the new highest priority also work on some of the low-priority issues periodically rather than neglect them altogether. Reassess your priorities every two weeks or at a convenient breakpoint. This is called Pareto analysis, or more commonly summarised as the 70% of the costs of problems are caused by 30% of the problems - 70/30 rule, which fits all sorts of things. But do not break off to the point that it is prevarication, but do have breaks - you just have to keep your head down and resolve them often.
List and priorities;
When doing any task if something comes to mind writing it down. Creating a list of bullet points. At this stage do not analyse it but keep the list with the project (Circuit and PCB diagram or software)
As part of analysing your list later, you may choose to discount or add items, or make a more detailed note.
Choice of, What to do with the list;
1. Deal with each item in order they were listed, then put a line through the item or defer for now and skip to the next item. This is a good approach for managing the work within any project. Such as software writing or electronics design, and you can add things to the list as you review it.
2. Priorities items Pareto analysis. This is a strategy for managing your work priorities. Every two weeks or at a convenient time, create a list of things to do. Then priorities the items and switch to the most important item and work on that. Not forgetting to do some work on the low priority items sometimes.
3. Plan as far as you can see. That might mean your end point is very imprecise early on, but that will improve with as the project is developed.
The list (1) can get very long so that many items are not dealt with and are almost forgotten. That is fine, but occasionally you need to go right to the beginning of the list and review it.
Half-split fault-finding strategy -
A system with a fault is first splitting in half,
Each half is tested to see which half the fault exists in,
Then the half of the system with the fault is split again repeatedly until the fault is isolated.
Always keep an eye on the whole system, and back-track if necessary. This is a powerful technique in all decision-making, as well as a test and fault-finding strategy. The basics which should be done first; Inspect for visible faults, then in the case of electronics, check that the power supply voltages are within tolerance. One method of Analogue to Digital Conversion is called successive approximation, and that method works similarly, by halving the voltage range in each step in order to measure the input voltage quickly.
Fault Finding in Electronics; Applied to engineering management methods.
Be aware of your uncertainties
- An absolute certain repair would be ideal.
- But absolute certainty is not possible, does not mean to be less than thorough.
In any case, it is good practice to avoid dismantling and unsoldering anything in order to minimise potential damage. That is, until you are confident that this is the best step.
Signal injector; screwdriver that you can touch circuit part to inject mains hum into the audio frequency sections of a circuit. And a crystal earpiece; To listen to the audio sound at various point in the circuit. I also used oscillators, but the most useful tools are an oscilloscope and a multimeter.
You only need to touch the circuit nodes with the tip of the earpiece, the 0V need not be connected.
Do some basic functional tests and inspect for obvious damage or common failure such as; heat stressed components, power supply voltages incorrect, cables connectors and other mechanical damage.
Collect information and make judgements about accuracy and likelihood of the information collected, verbal told or personal observation being accurate or significant.
Analyse and theorise the cause.
Based on the theory reasoned; Test some parameters and measure the consequences of changing some parameters or conditions. Such as apply heat or cold to a specific parts whilst monitoring relevant parameters.
Grabbing at straws (a hunch) is not unreasonable, but can lead to highly enlightening discoveries. But you do need to sit down in reason and test things.
Repeat until the problem is resolved. Use strategies such as Pareto analysis to keep track of your priorities.
Identify the correct document.
Follow the procedure until a conclusion.
Outcome will be the fault is resolved or the item at fault will be identified for other action.
This method is used more now with modules replaced, and then the replaced module may be discarded or returned to the manufacturer for repair.
Work through everything, testing and repairing everything found.
This approach may seem like the last resort, but it is worthwhile in all cases where the problem is not clear-cut at first.
Disadvantage is that it is slow can be wasteful but on the way you collect more evidence and discover more possibilities. See the video above from a science fiction BBC TV series Blake's 7 above.
Ultimately, the fault is resolved, but the key reason is not discovered. This is a simple, logical solution. But you will have a list of components that may have been fine but were out of spec. So were replaced or replaced because a nearby faulty part had had a knock on effect.
You can (should) always start with this approach, then abandon the approach when a theory becomes apparent that can be tested, giving you a quick resolution of the fault.
Use a form of the procedural or methodical approach to check expediently for common things. But try to avoid doing things that you can not discover if they were the cause or that will make the problem seemed to go away - this is always a problem but particularly with a methodical approach.
Then proceed with a reasoned approach.
Get a second opinion or talk it through as necessary And switch between strategies.
Another person's approach may be different, depending very much on their temperament. Consequently, one person can go through a complex set of faults and fix them and another can go down a simple list of solutions in a pressurised situation a deal with that efficiently.
BBC TV Series Blake's 7 (other side of the coin to Star Trek doing good view of the militaristic hierarchical Federation)
Auto-repair simply goes through everything, in the system, replacing things that are not to spec it does not take any shortcuts, repairing each damaged circuit panel sequentially taking a minute each.
Understand what motivates ourselves. If a human is starving that human may most likely kill for food, the next priority is to find shelter and warmth, then sex, Ultimately to when we feel very safe; have empathy. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow's_hierarchy_of_needs
Sustainability - In the "Garden of Eden" people mainly live on raw fruit, veg and some insects without harming fish and animals or each other, And in any case nature is abundant and therefore all-for-giving. Most of us don't live this way and our ethics and ways of life have changed to reflect that, but compassion and fairness in the way we work is good.
This can be applied where a problem arises, Ask for any of these to be considered, they apply even if you are talking to yourself;
Concession in the requirement,
Reassessment of the requirement,
Or reassessment of the system,
Opportunity for improvement arises,
Opportunity for saving arises.
In conclusion make up any list you like but importantly, talk and listen don't just struggle on potentially digging a bigger hole for yourself, you might just need another pair of eyes to look at it. It is necessary to follow a false direction, back track to another course then back track again occasionally, but now you know better why you are taking this line of development leading to a better final solution. Later in the development cycle, the cost of making a big change of direction is higher and the decision to pursue such a course of action including abandoning the project needs to be taken at a higher level of management. It is worthwhile prevaricating and so being more sure of your facts and asking for time before presenting your case. Still, don't know, and, not sure, could be parts of a reasoned case for change.
My strategy is not always popular, but alternatively can be very much liked. Once a reasonable cause of action is agreed (keep checking those points) then push until it is carried out. That is, to make it is easier for the others to do what is reasonable and agreed than be obstructive. Similar to giving children clear boundary's - adults are different to children, and they can obstruct even after being reasoned with.
Problem-solving by reasoning - Avoid dismantling things but instead test and reason, primarily, to avoid introducing other changes.
Reasoning still involves as a thought process splitting the system, prioritising and testing. Which includes considering probabilities and theorising.
This process produces a vast number of degrees of grey (suppositions) but the outcome will be a nice feel, robust solution.
This approach is also necessary when there are many faults or many partially working systems and the half split method does not do it, But you can get you bogged down, so test even the easy to see seemingly apparent things again. This applies to management or to tangible objects.
People have to be given the freedom to learn their own lessons by making their own mistakes. Up to a point, of course. Dog sometimes survive after chasing seagulls at Beachy Head in East Sussex. It is said that the seagulls stand at the edge of the cliff but fly off just at the last moment when dogs run at them. Some dogs go over the cliff.
The Seven Sisters, East Sussex.
More cliffs are behind me and more are ahead, the last one is Beachy Head before Eastbourne. This is Cookmere Haven.
Self-management & Inspired working
Three examples of understanding of motivation are; The last two examples are systems where workers are self-managed. The first two examples are from my time a college studying Diploma in Engineering Management.
The Hawthorn experiment in the 1920s USA, - After running many experiments changing the environmental conditions in a factory for a selected group versus the control, the factory. Whatever was done hot/cold/comfortable, good/poor lighting which cost a few million dollars investigating it was found that the group selected always preformed better, against the control. The conclusion being that the selected group considered themselves special.
In 2014 (Radio 4) this assessment was reviewed and questioned because the methods at the time were more subjective. I think the original conclusion is reasonable, although I appreciate that not all the evidence may be recorded - it is not possible to be absolutely objective and subjectivity is also necessary to get to a conclusion [The question of cause should be asked, how will modern era Ideology change the conclusion? That is, is the present assumptions based on 1980s there is the no such thing as society, everything is individuals and family]
Or gang working in National Coal Board, which was very productive. Workers were organised into gangs in charge with cutting coal and bringing it to the surface. The lesson learnt was copied by Japanese quality circles, Volvo and others. The small gangs self regulated carrying workers for a while but not carrying laziness, a sort of Karma.
And I have been told of another example called Sixes combined with job and go in British Rail. Six blokes would work on six sleepers at a time, moving up six sleeper lengths together. A new worker would be carried for a week, then after that if he got behind, eventually catching up with the gang as they finished their break and moved on. Thereby, the gangs are Self-managing. They went home when the job was done, hence either home early or late but hence no cost overrun.
Although we are in a post-industrial era, banks and creation of money (credit + interest) have superseded manufacturing in the UK. My hope is for industry and self-worth will return to the UK.
Sadly, it is also true that being horrible as a style of management also works, people keep their head down to distract themselves by working harder. Of course, this is very demanding on health and the state of mind, so I'd say it is not efficient looking at the bigger picture. An American term, Suck and Push, sums up another similar approach - I have not heard this term since the 1980s.
Malhamdale Holiday Fellowship 1995 - Nikon EM with Sigma 35-70mm f3.5 zoom lens.
Inspiring people to make things that they are proud of:
When I was a young Design Engineer I found that identifying and borrowing people with particular skills from other departments, means that products are made with enthusiasm subsequently because the people who make them had a hand in designing them. Whether I could do it better myself is not the point. An additional benefit is that people tell you things, so you discover informal workaround's, which as the designer being aware of I can design out or formalise.
Answer technical problems promptly avoid "I am busy now", of course if you are really busy and can't break off say so but come back to the enquirer. Don't avoid the question, but if necessary say I don't know, and pass it on or share the problem, invariably it needs to be, and can be resolved.
What may be necessary is to discuss how together the matter can be answered, even if the answer is a work around rather than a proper fix.
Leading quietly by example, then enjoy seeing others copy and claim it themselves. This is much more effective than complaining or swearing. But a good swear and moan can help you, just be careful such is rarely productive or ultimately as pleasing as the first, setting a positive example. Actually moaning just lets a bully know they got under your skin, when that happens they can rarely stop themselves doing it again.
Remember that it is only work, don't take any of it personally, express your concerns at the appropriate time, and do as required in good faith. Take responsibility for excepting another's concerns and for your own mistakes. Sometimes taking blame, tong in cheek perhaps, for things that go wrong makes everyone else happy, and it gets the job done and defuses situations.
I worked for a company that cultivated quality and inspired the Boffin types like you will see Professor Quatemass in those 1950s films and like those films he always came through so knowing that the government gave him everything he needed knowing he would again. I was fortunate to be in that position and aspired to do what others who worked for the company did the job correctly and efficiently. The Instrument maker I worked for, for a long time understood Boffin or modern term nerd our expectations are high and a bit variable, but we came through with very good outcomes, when I was working at Bellingham and Stanley Ltd.
TV series Quatemass and the Pit, 1958
In the original version, the government committee meeting hears Professor Quatemass states the problem and what he needs, and the committee agrees on his past record to give him everything he has asked for. He would be called a Boffin not a nerd and be highly regarded