Troubleshooting Electronic Circuits

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I have been working in the electronic field for more than 15 years. I have worked in the Manufacture, Communication, and Avionic field.

I hope the following tips help you solve the problems you will encounter in the electronic field:

Visual Inspection

Perform a visual inspection of the unit. Look for any sign of damage (nicks, bent corners) or any indication that the unit was drop or hit.

Foreign Objects

Open the unit and look for loose screws, washers, nuts, etc.

Burn Components

Look for damage components due to heat ( IC, Microprocessors, memories, resistors, etc ).

Burn Boards

Sometimes is very obvious to see the burn marks on a board, but sometimes it can be very difficult, specially when working with a double layer board. If you are working with one of this board look for any sign of discoloration on the board. It can be an indication of burn.

Solder Bridge

Solder bridge can happen with any kind of electronic circuits, but they are more common with Surface Mount circuits. In most cases you will need the aid of a magnify lamp to find it.

Missing Components

I have seen this happen only with Surface Mount circuits, specially units use in avionics ( Airplane, Helicopter, etc ) due to vibration, unit been drop, boards been drop, etc. So look carefully.

Corrosion

Corrosion can happen on a board due to lack of humiseal. Humiseal is use to protect the board again humidity and is more notorious in units use in the avionic field. Look very carefully because sometimes corrosion develops under multi pin connectors which make it very difficult to find.

Cold Solder Joints

Solder Joints are shiny and smooth. If you see any dull solder joint in the section of the board you are working with check it.

Blown Fuse

Look for blown fuses. Remember diodes can be use as fuses.

Crystal Oscillators

Crystal Oscillators provide timing for the circuit. So it is a good idea to check the output frequency of it.

Fracture Solder Joints

Fracture solder joints usually happens with time, specially on boards use in the avionics field due to vibration.

Open Traces

Look for this defect. It can save you a lot of time. It happens anytime you have water damage, due to humidity.

Overheating Components

Apply power to the unit and touch the top of the component ( IC, Microprocessor, Memories, etc ) to see if it is overheating.

Wrong Part

It happens a lot in the Manufacture field.

Reverse Polarity

Very common in the Manufacture field.

Wires

Look for wires making intermittent contact.

Components Mount on the Board

You will find components mount on the board using screws, washers, etc like SCR's, Heatsink specially in Power Supplies. Check them carefully. They can get loose.

Software

Make sure the unit you are working with has the right software. Sometimes reloading the software can solve the problem.

 

Now the fun part begins

You will need the following:

Example #1

Symptom - Power Supply is inop.

Let say you have a Power Supply that does not power up. First thing you check is to make sure the power cord is in good condition. Go over the theory of operation so you know how it work. Then you want to place the negative cable from your multimeter to ground and take readings with the positive cable. If the power cord is in good condition, I will start by taking voltage readings from the output back to the input. Check for open diodes. Check the voltage regulator's input and output voltage. Look for open fuse. Damage wires, loose connections. Check the input and output of the bridge rectifier. Look for overheating components.

Example #2

Symptom - Amplifier output is low.

If you have an amplifier where the output is suppose to be 20VAC and you have 5VAC, start from the output to the input. Usually one or more of the power transistors can be open or short. Check for open or short diodes. Check the supply voltage. Check for overheating components.

Example #3

Symptom - Unit does not power up.

Check the power cord, fuse, and any damage components due to heat. If all that checks OK, try reloading the software if it applies.

Example #4

Symptom - Unit works intermittently

Check inputs and outputs signals. Check voltage levels. Usually if the voltage is low you will have a leakage capacitor. If the voltage reads 0V, you probably have a bad relay or a short component.

Example #5

Symptom - Unit is erratic

Usually when you have this problem the Crystal Oscillator is not putting out the right frequency. Also the CPU could cause this kind of problem.

Example #6

Symptom - Battery works for few days. It gets really hot.

When the battery gets hot you have a short in the circuit. Check the diodes. 98% of the time that is causing the problem.

 

It is good to have a spare unit when troubleshooting to compare readings. Sometimes the schematic does not have enough information on it.

Software can also cause problems. Make sure you have the correct software install.

Another thing to do is to test the unit under hot and cold conditions.

Also it is a good idea to reset the boards by pulling them out of the unit.

 

Well, I hope these tips will help you solve some of the problems you will encounter as an electronic technician.