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Troubleshooting Common Electrical Problems for Industrial Workers

Safe and effective troubleshooting of electrical systems is an essential skill for maintenance technicians in industrial, utility, or commercial settings. Locating faulty components, identifying power quality problems, and troubleshooting circuits are just a few of the issues the maintenance technician may be confronted with when repairing electrical malfunctions. The well-trained technician will be familiar with approaches that lead to resolving problems in the least amount of time, while using safe industry practices.

Here’s some practical information for technicians and their managers about troubleshooting common electrical problems they may encounter in industrial settings.

Analyzing Problems

Before you begin to track down the cause of any electrical issue, it’s a good idea to refer to equipment or operation manuals and drawings. Are equipment history records available? If so, review them so you’ll be aware of recurring problems. Look for work orders, notes, and reports. Also, try to get an idea of how equipment works before you embark on troubleshooting.

Once you begin your inspection of the equipment, look for signs of damage, including loose components, worn wires, or signs of impact. You should also examine wiring, printed circuit boards, and relay coils for signs of overheating. Use your senses: burnt insulation will give off a distinctive smell; listen to the equipment while it is operating to determine if something sounds off; and finally, check temperatures (with care!) to determine if components are hotter than they should be.

Locating Faults

Faults can occur for any number of reasons, so you will first need to observe the circuitry a section at a time, eliminating those parts of the circuit that seem to be working fine as your inspection progresses. A schematic diagram of the circuit can help you pinpoint the most likely areas where the fault is located. You might then make a list of possible causes.

Among the most common causes of electrical faults are these:

  • Components that burn out or wear out easily, such as fuses, relay contacts, light bulbs, and mechanical switches are a major cause of malfunctions. Fuses, by the way, tend to burn out because there is a problem so don’t just change the fuse without also resolving the problem.
  • Motors, transformers, coils, or any devices with windings generate heat so can malfunction in time.
  • Connections may loosen, causing higher resistance and leading to overheating. Connections on vibrating equipment may be prone to coming loose.
  • Defective or incorrect wiring is a prime source of faults. Look for places where the insulation on the wires may be damaged, which can led to short circuits.


Observation alone will not always be enough to determine the cause of a fault so you may have to test it to pinpoint the source of the malfunction. A technician will need to master the use of many types of instruments for testing. Multimeters, for instance, measure AC and DC voltages, current, and resistance. There are also voltmeters, continuity testers, capacity testers, and many more, including advanced computerized equipment.

Technicians in the electrical trades, by the way, are increasingly needing computer skills for troubleshooting in the field or in a plant. A laptop with communication and operating software, plus PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers) capability is one of the latest and most effective tools. A PLC is a more rigid type of computer, designed for an industrial setting, with programmable controllers that replace relays and timers.

After the fault is located and fixed, it’s good practice to test the entire circuit again for any additional faults before returning the equipment back into service.

Power Quality Problems

Power quality can be impacted from a number of directions. Technicians should familiarize themselves with some of the most common causes for interruption of power supply, such as these:

  • Electromagnetic and radio frequency interference
  • Electrostatic discharge
  • Harmonics
  • Transverse-mode noise and common-mode noise


Fatalities in the electrical trades do occur every year, but surprisingly, most of those deaths are caused from falls rather than electrocution. That means that in general, electricians tend to be respectful of electricity and to pay attention to safety procedures. Other hazards from working with electricity include flash burns from explosions, as well as environmental exposure to lead and asbestos.

Training for Effective Safety Procedures for Troubleshooting Common Electrical Problems

Whether you’re managing apprentices or electrical experts, one of the best means of obtaining a solid foundation for troubleshooting electrical problems while exercising safe practices is through an on-site work-force seminar. On-site seminars from NTT, presented by professional trainers with deep experience in the industry, offer a combination of classroom lectures and hands-on labs to address many of the most common electrical issues likely to be encountered. For more information, or to schedule an on-site seminar on this topic, connect with NTT today!

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