Fault-Finding: It’s All About Prevention, not Blame


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There are thousands of things that can go wrong during the design and manufacture of a PCB assembly. One might say that it is an absolute miracle when a PCB goes through all of its phases—design, fabrication and assembly—and operates successfully!

But what happens when something goes wrong? The flow of an entire project can be disrupted when a problem is discovered on the PCB. What happens when a short or an open circuit is discovered; a part lead won’t fit into a hole or an entire connector pattern is designed backward? Murphy’s Law ensures us that PCB issues are discovered at the most critical periods of a PCB’s design and manufacturing cycles.

So, it is not a question of if a problem might be found, but when. A designer must be aware that their management and their customers may be less in tune with the technical aspects of the why their design is running late or doesn’t work. But like the Queen of Hearts in “Alice in Wonderland,” there are some management and customer cultures out there who naively attempt to resolve problems by seeking out the culprits and shouting “Off with their heads!”

Seasoned PCB designers have learned that jumping to a conclusion without carefully examining all of the possibilities is not only a waste of time, but can be devastating to the carefully cultivated relationships. A quick read of almost any psychology article on “fault” or “blame” will coax the reader away from adding to a problem by placing fault or blame on others. It is far more productive to examine yourself first before shining forth as part of a solution. Focus on process rather than personalities.

Companies in the PCB industry have adapted a widely accepted methodology for sleuthing out the source of problems which might occur during a product development cycle: root cause analysis. Root cause analysis (RCA) began in the 1950s as a study by NASA and had its origins in rocket design. RCA methods are used to methodically identify root causes of events, rather than to simply address the symptomatic result.

To read this entire article, which appeared in the August 2017 issue of The PCB Design Magazine, click here.

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