Troubleshooting Thursdays: Electrical Faults (Tip 9)

Posted on: September 27, 2015 by in RSSMasher
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A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting: from the leaders in simulation training.

Welcome back! So far on Troubleshooting Thursdays, we have been learning systematic troubleshooting, which is essential for safely and efficiently replacing a defective component within a malfunctioning circuit.  But what actually makes an electrical circuit malfunction? Today on TsT, we will be discussing the abnormalities found in electric circuits. In other words, we will be talking about electrical faults.

What exactly is a fault? What causes an electric fault? What type of faults are there? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, don’t worry. Today, we’re going to develop our “Troubleshooting 101” course a little further by learning the basics of abnormalities found in electrical circuits.

WARNING: Working with electrical equipment can be hazardous. The electrical energy contained in many circuits can be enough to injure or kill. Make sure you follow all of your company’s safety precautions, rules, and procedures while troubleshooting.

What is a fault?

In an electric power system, a fault or fault current is any abnormal electric current. It may cause current to bypass the normal load or may interrupt the current flow entirely.

Types of faults

Equipment can fail for two basic reasons: (1) the equipment may not get the proper electrical signal it needs in order to operate, or (2) it fails to work even though it gets the proper electrical signal. Additionally, there are many types of mechanical faults that could cause the equipment to fail or operate improperly. A mechanism could be out of adjustment or jammed, bearings could be seized, linkages could be broken, etc. In many cases, an inspection of the equipment will reveal the cause of the failure.

Today we’re discussing electrical faults. Electrical faults can generally be categorized as either open circuits or short circuits.

Open circuits occur when there is a break in the circuitry, preventing current from flowing. This could be a broken wire, loose connection, burned out component, etc. 

Short circuits occur when two or more components, which should be isolated, come in contact with one another. For example, the insulation of wiring could decay, causing the conductors to short together or short to ground (we will be discussing the causes of short circuits in a future post).

Faults can also be a combination of the above.  For example, if a wire were to short to ground, the resulting current flow to ground could cause the wire to melt, causing the wire to open while still touching the ground.

To locate the cause of an electrical fault, you will need to use a test instrument such as a multimeter.  Next week, we will show you how to find electrical faults consisting of components that have become open or components that have shorted to ground.

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