Do you ever have this happen to you?
You’re doing your own thing, and someone asks you for help. Whatever it is they’re working on, a machine, a computer program or the computer itself, their car, whatever… it’s not doing what the person expected or wanted it to do.
When you ask them what they might have done, seen, or witnessed to help you figure out the root cause of the problem, the person opens with these two words…
- “It just stopped working.”
- “It just started making loud noises.”
- “It just went boom, and then a piston rod came flying through the hood in front of me.”
There is a sub-category of “It just” you see almost as often.
“I was just.”
- “I was just writing a report and the computer deleted all the files in the folder.”
- “I was just shooting the marked target and then I died! My computer must not have shown the graphics of the green fire under my feet.”
- “I was just standing there and the machine started belching fire and thick, oily smoke.”
- “The hard drive just formatted itself.”
If you’ve ever encountered these, or if you’ve ever used them, we all know what’s going on.
It’s a way to report a problem while, at the same time, making it clear that whatever happened, dude, it wasn’t my fault. You can’t blame me, it just happened.
No matter what happened, it wasn’t me, it just happened, I don’t know why, but I certainly wasn’t confused and hitting buttons at random hoping that I’d luck out and hit the right one.
Obviously, sometimes it’s used because the person is so lacking in training of what they are doing that they honestly have no idea how whatever it is happened. You’ve got to feel bad about that, when someone is tossed in the deep end and has no idea what they’re supposed to do.
At the same time, “It Just”… doesn’t that make you cringe?
Have you ever been called to help someone that knows nothing whatsoever about computers to help figure out over the phone why their email “stopped working”?
Or, God help you, their internet?
Or maybe to figure out where the computer “chose to save their files”?
Yeah, I know.
I’ve got one of the most advanced cases of “It Just” here at my plant that I’ve ever seen.
He’s amazing. Truly. No matter what has ever happened, it was never, ever his fault. He has never had anything to do with whatever happened.
This man has the most amazing relationship with equipment I’ve ever seen.
As far as I can tell, all computers and control cabinets, programs and PLCs hate his guts, and they decide, at random intervals, to just hose him.
Mysteriously, the only computers or machines that do so are ones that have some form of operator access, or have set points that can be adjusted by an operator.
Isn’t that wierd?
There is an extra symptom that is either related to the “It Just” virus and is only seen in the most advanced cases, or is particular to this one person, and that is the “Fault Lock.”
The “Fault Lock” is when the person sees something they think isn’t right, something they think has a fault, and therefore any problem on the equipment, any problem with it at all, must be caused by that one perceived fault.
“This sensor isn’t responding right. I think the sensor is bad. We need to replace this sensor.”
I fiddle with it for 10 seconds. The sensor is responding perfectly. “Nope, sensor is fine, see? Running perfect. On/off, on/off, just as regular as little bacon bits. Let’s see it run so I can figure out what else is going on.”
It’s no use, though. From that point on, no matter what I do, if I do not replace that sensor, every future problem WILL be attributed to the sensor being “just bad.”
But it won’t be said to me. After all, I’m the one that didn’t properly address his concerns.
So this is how it will work. When asked by upper management why the operator level setup is not done or is taking longer than normal, or how the machine is running, the answer will be “We’re having issues because this sensor is just not working right. I’ve made maintenance aware of it but they haven’t done anything about it. It’s not my fault, I told maintenance, but they wouldn’t do anything about it.”
Which of course is usually followed minutes later by the upper boss sending a rocket downstream to find out why maintenance hasn’t fixed this poor guy’s problem, and why is maintenance all screwed up. Those lazy bastards.
It will not matter how many times I try to train this person on how the sensor works, the voltage ranges, the response times, the trigger ratios, the opacity of materials, the set point adjustments, the PLC ladder logic or the sequence of operations. It will not matter that the core issue that I found originally was that something else completely unrelated to the sensor further upstream was wrong or out of alignment.
It’s obviously WORSE if I find something wrong with his setup that was the actual problem instead of the sensor.
It also does not matter how many other shifts ran the equipment perfectly fine with no defects and low scrap rate for a week after the repair. That, to someone with Fault Lock, is utterly irrelevant. The sensor was bad, he knows the sensor was bad, the sensor is still installed, and therefore no matter how well the machine may be running NOW, that sensor is just lying in wait, biding it’s time until it leaps out and BANG!
Or, and this is much more insidious, that sensor seems to be working… but every once in a while, just when you think everything is fine, WHOOPS! The person with fault Lock saw it do something wonky. “There was a bad pouch, did you see it fail to catch that? No? Well, it only happens every so often, if you stand here for only a few minutes you won’t see it, but I’ve seen it do it, and I know that sensor is still bad.”
What matters is, he’s got what he’s decided is a problem, and from then on out, until that part is actually replaced, anything wrong is forever related to that sensor.
Does any of this sound at all familiar? Do you know anyone like this?
I have since learned that, when he calls me out to a machine with a problem, the very first thing I do after having him repeat/demonstrate the problem, no matter what the problem may be or how wrong he is about what’s causing it, is to go to whatever he was blaming, and make a big show of taking it apart and testing the hell out of it. If at all possible, I have to remove it completely and take it back to the shop. Then, I can bring it back and put it back in place, and finally begin actually troubleshooting the problem.
Of course, I can’t say that. No, I’ll be “just looking around to see if there is anything else that could ALSO be contributing to the problem, now that we fixed that issue.”
I have learned to really dread hearing those two words. “It Just.”
I’ve also learned, years ago, that when something “just happened”, never, ever rule out that there was something, somewhere that a bored, lost, or clueless person could change in the controls to cause it. Don’t just automatically start an 8 hour teardown before you check ALL of the control panel setpoints or air cylinder pin valves or proximity switches first.
And never expect them to ever admit it later, because they are either afraid of looking stupid, are embarassed to have done it, or simply wanted to go on break for a half hour while you tried to figure it out.