Tektronix Encore

How To Use Your Senses When Troubleshooting Test Equipment

November 27, 2013

Save time by analyzing broken equipment with nothing but your senses! 

When confronted with a piece of equipment that’s not working, lots of things will be running through your mind. Modern test equipment is, after all, very complex, and lots of things can go wrong with it. Oh, the dreaded equipment that needs repair, where to start?

You may already have some information. The repair ticket might say, “Won’t turn on” or “Display not working.” That’s a good start, but I would suggest that before you open the toolbox or break out the schematics, you gather some troubleshooting information using your senses.  Your senses--sight, hearing, touch, and even smell--can tell you a lot about what’s wrong with the gear and get you started in the right direction.

Sight: Before you even turn on a unit, look for signs of damage. Does the display come on? Is the case scratched or dented? Does it look like the unit has been dropped? Are there markings from previous repairs? The answers to these questions can all provide valuable clues. Once the covers are off, I look for things like charred or missing components, damaged fans, or cables that have become disconnected.

Hearing: Once I get to the point of actually turning the equipment on, I listen. Sounds are key. Do I hear any clicks or pops or other unusual noises? Do I hear the cooling fans turning? Is the unit beeping? Some units will beep when they power up successfully, and if it doesn’t, you know something is amiss. Other units might emit a series of beeps when the power-up diagnostics detect a problem. The actual sequence could be valuable troubleshooting information.

Touch: Touching equipment can also yield some valuable information. Be careful, though. Some surfaces might be hot. When touching a faulty unit, check for signs of over-heating, loose components or connectors that could cause intermittent problems. I also put my hand near the exhaust ports and feel for airflow. Low airflow could raise internal temperatures and cause failures or measurement errors. 

Smell: Smell may be the easiest way to detect that components got hot enough to burn. The smell of a burnt resistor is unmistakable. In addition, I smell for mold and the carbon smell that indicates that there’s been an insulation breakdown somewhere. By smelling you might even detect a dead animal! One TWT amplifier that I had to work on just reeked. When I took the covers off, I discovered a dead mouse in the far right corner of the amplifier.

Taste: I’d recommend you think twice before running any taste tests on equipment!


So, remember, when it’s time to get in the repair mode, use your common sense(s). I would say that about 1/3 of the time, maybe more, using my senses gets me going in the right direction and makes troubleshooting problems easier. How have you used your senses to troubleshoot problems? Please share any tips and / or suggestions on techniques that you use on our company Facebook page.

At Axiom Test Equipment, our job is to ensure that you get the most out of your test equipment. If you have any questions about test equipment repair or preventive maintenance, please feel free to contact us via our repair form, email us at or call us at 760.806.6600.

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It has been a pleasure doing business with Axiom.

Jim P.
New Mexico

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2610 Commerce Way Vista, CA 92081
(760) 806-6600