System Error…..or User Error?

Shawn Wallace, Applications Engineer, EDAX

Over the past week, I have been helping our engineering department test some new hardware setups.  As the new(ish) guy, this was a pretty different aspect of the job for me. I expected to run in to some issues and I did. A conversation I had while troubleshooting one of these issues made me think of troubleshooting, not just for our systems but the process as a whole. It made me realize that even the most seemingly difficult issues often are not. They are just more difficult because of assumptions or lack of complete information.

I shall start this with the backstory that started me thinking about this blog post. I turned on a newly installed system and prepared to run through the new system calibration procedure, but something was not right. I was getting some counts, but not enough. I checked firmware. I checked cable connections. I checked microscope settings. I turned on the IR camera. All of these should have given me a signal. Something to help me troubleshoot, but I was getting nowhere.

At this point, I could have spent another hour fiddling, but there are people here who know more about things than I do and I could save myself time and grief by asking them for help. The first person I asked was Jens, our EDS expert. He knows the ins and outs of these systems. Maybe, there was something obvious I was missing.

He looked at the cables, checked the microscope settings, turned on the IR camera. Basically, he did everything I did. He was following the same troubleshooting steps I was. He was trying to isolate the problem and understand the root cause of why we were not getting a signal and just like me he was not getting anywhere.  At this point, we could have spent another hour fiddling with things, but just like before, we know there are people here who know more than we do and we could save ourselves time and grief by asking for help.

We brought over one of the engineers, a gentleman with over 23 years of experience at EDAX. One of the many people here, who have decades of experience on all aspects of our operations. He looked at the cables, checked the microscope settings, turned on the IR camera. He did basically everything we did. It was pretty validating to see someone with his experience going step by step through the same processes to understand the problem. At this point, he was semi-stumped too. Our conclusion seemed to be that a part was malfunctioning, but he had just tested it before it was mounted on our microscope.

It was the end of the road. He did not really have anyone else to turn to. So he checked his assumptions.

He started with the cables. He knew both the detector and the box had cables to them. One end in the detector, the other in the box. Right? He followed the cable from the detector backwards and much to my chagrin, the end of that cable was not connected to anything. I took the cable from the box and followed it to its obvious conclusion… it was not plugged in. We had two cables going nowhere when there should have been one cable. At this point, I may have muttered something under my breath. How did I miss that? I had just wasted two people’s valuable time on something simple. What slipped through the cracks?

That night I evaluated myself. I had started with the assumption that the system was installed correctly. It wasn’t. I had checked thoroughly enough I thought, but not closely enough. I had assumed that since both ends of a cable were in the right spots, it was connected correctly. I was wrong.

Then I started to think about what I could learn from this and how it relates to how I deal with both issues and customers. It made me realize that I often start with knowing that my customers are starting with their own assumptions. We often ask the most obvious questions at the start. Is it plugged in and turned on? I challenge those assumptions with the customer and I know often they are ignore or glossed over with a terse “yes”. Of course it is on and plugged in!

Of course, it was plugged in. I checked it myself. Words I had said to myself earlier that day. And yet, here it was not plugged in. It took the wisdom of experience for our engineer to challenge his own assumptions and double check. One day I hope to be that wise.

The problem is not the problem

Steve Sopko, Customer Service Manager

“The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?” – Captain Jack Sparrow

The first week of April 2014 saw the first worldwide service meeting for EDAX, Inc. Service representatives from China, Japan, Europe and the United States joined together for training, product updates, business updates, innovation presentations, and team building. It was a very exciting and productive week.

Worldwide, we have a common theme and common challenge. That being, providing solutions for the customers we serve, both internal and external. The methods of service delivery may differ around the world, however, at the end of the day, when you boil it all down, “Service” exists to solve problems and to add value.

Do the problems differ in different parts of the world? Not really. A customer has a system that is not fully functional. That customer is losing valuable research time or production output. Time is always the main issue.

Teamwork. The Field Service Engineer (FSE) may respond first with a phone call, to define and diagnose the issue. Many times issues are resolved in this manner. At times our Support teams are involved as a first line service, from technical support to applications, engineering, and production. Team Viewer sessions are very useful and save a great amount of time, as this allows EDAX to look inside of the system with the user to see the issue and collect needed data for determining a next step. When these groups need hands on help from the site, the FSE is sent.

Traveling for the FSE does present its challenges. In the USA, the engineer will travel state to state, not in a vehicle from block to block, but airport to airport. Effective planning and time utilization is key to reduce the time it takes to provide the solution. The USA FSEs are now an internal Customer. He relies on the engineering drawing to be on site, or that needed part, software application or newly released version that solves the current issue for the customer. The internal customer shifts, the feedback the FSE provides is crucial for continuous improvement. This feedback can lead to engineering changes, applications solutions, and quality improvements in production. It can also contribute to future innovation EDAX develops in order to meet its customers’ needs not of today, but in the future.

The FSEs from Europe, China, and Japan travel internationally. Borders must be crossed requiring passports, import/export issues, communication and language challenges, and of course time. The opportunity to provide solutions is the same all over the world. Only the method used to deliver that service differs and has different challenges.

The Field Service Group solves problems. It’s why we exist. We also add value and provide information the improves quality on all of our products based on the user experience. The testing and findings we document improve our support documentation and methods or processes used. We communicate valuable customer feedback, which contributes to meeting the customers’ needs with product offerings of today, with a thought as to what their needs will be tomorrow.

It was refreshing to be part of a group, coming together from all over the world with a common mindset of simply solving problems. One group’s needs are not greater than the others, but a common mindset, to solve problems together for ourselves and our customers.