A Case for Laboratory Operators Using a Technical Support Contact as the First Step in Troubleshooting

Many, if not most autoanalyzer and many other flow based instrument issues can be averted by operators utilizing a technical support contact at the very first sign of trouble. This recent case study clearly demonstrates the importance of why following a well-structured path of troubleshooting that involves a tech support contact early on in the process will solve problems quicker, reduce downtime, increase productivity and decrease operating overhead costs.

In this situation, the operator was experiencing difficulty in getting usable results for daily samples taken directly from their ongoing industrial process.  The instrument they were using delivers cyanide numbers that are important for operational effectiveness, cost and regulatory limits. Too little cyanide reduces the effectiveness of the equipment and too much means money is wasted in uselessly high concentrations. The longer the instrument is NOT working the greater the monetary loss over time.  Another unfortunate consequence can be an exceeded legal limit where occurrence, daily and weekly fines can become astronomical.

At the outset of the problem, the first thing the operator did was to assume the main control circuit board must be bad, ordered a new one and waited. Over a week later it arrived, but didn’t solve the initial issue. The operator then began to dig into the instrument by changing connections, fittings and other critical aspects of the instrument in an attempt to get it up and running. After a few more days, the unit was now leaking fluids in addition to its original problems.

By the middle of the second week, a service and support technician was called.  At this point, there was no way to trouble shoot via phone, email, or Skype since the unit was completely nonfunctional and a service call was necessary. The service technician arrived and replaced all the major components on the unit (except for the main controller board) and had the unit running within minutes.

All of the components from the client’s system were set up, run and found to have no problems associated with them. During the visit, errors were found to be primarily associated with a lack of training. If the operator had called the service tech before the main board was ordered and a week and a half of down time had elapsed, the issue could have been resolved readily by implementing a highly effective, solution-oriented troubleshooting process.

In my experience, contacting technical support service as a habit early in a problem’s lifespan can save money, decrease downtime and increase productivity. This practice also frees up the operator to focus on other things when the instrument is running predictably and more often with less effort.  Effective technical support service can diagnose problems immediately through a series of targeted question and answer sessions with the operator via phone, email, texting, Skype and web based troubleshooting videos therefore alleviating the need and expense of a service visit.