I've had a number of people over the years ask me what my secret to success is for effective problem solving. My answer is always the same--learning and understanding. Your primary objective needs to be to understand how the part or process is supposed to work--explained through physics, engineering, science, or logical thinking. Years ago, I was working on a problem involving light bulbs burning out prematurely. In my first team meeting, I asked a simple question "How does a light bulb work?" I received generic answers about current passing through a filament, heat, and light; there was clearly no deep understanding. I responded "If you can't explain to me how a light bulb works, how are we possibly going to determine why it's not working?" This led me to my own research for learning and understanding. When the tungsten filament is energized, the electrons in the tungsten atoms become excited and travel away from the nucleus to a more outer orbital ring. The electrons eventually cannot hold that state and the nucleus pulls the electrons back in. The release of excess energy from the electrons is in the form of heat and light. That is how a light bulb works. With this knowledge and observation of parts, I can explain why a light bulb stops working. When most light bulbs burn out, the filament is broken and the inside of the bulb is black. That black substance is tungsten. See, when the tungsten electrons get too much energy, they escape the pull of the nucleus--essentially evaporating the tungsten filament. The filament eventually necks down and breaks through brittle failure. The excess energy can come from several forms--electrical (voltage), mechanical (vibration), or chemical (oxygen stealing electrons). This led to a designed experiment that showed excessive voltage was the culprit. Our measurements confirmed that the voltage in the system was too high. Could have we reached the same conclusion without this understanding? Eventually, but not efficiently!
Scott C. Sterbenz, P.E.
ASQ Six Sigma Forum