In the Shop
As a farm machinery mechanic and writer, Dan brings a hands-on approach that only a pro can muster. Along with his In the Shop blog, Dan writes a column by the same name as well as the Shop Series for Farm Journal magazine. Always providing practical information, he is a master at tackling technical topics and making them easy for all of our readers to understand. He and his wife, Becky, live near Bouton, Iowa.
The Most Important Tool for Field Repairs
May 06, 2012
I'd rather spend 10 minutes talking with the operator of a broken machine than have a toolbox full of fancy wrenches. Because a few minutes of intelligent conversation with the guy who runs a machine dramatically reduces diagnostic time and saves the machine's owner a lot of money.
I say "intelligent conversation" because I want useful information from the operator. I don't want sarcastic or belligerant accusations that it's my fault or my dealership's fault the machine broke. We can determine fault after we get it fixed. I want a calm explanation of how the machine was being operated when it developed problems. I want detailed information of any warning lights, warning codes or unusual mechanical behaviors that preceded the problem. My normal two opening questions when diagnosing a breakdown are, "What were you doing when it broke?" and/or, "What changed?"
Warning lights and buzzers or warning codes give me a specific place to start looking. Sure, a belt may have broke, or a bearing may have failed, but there may be another problem on the machine that caused the belt or bearing to fail. Warning lights and codes are a machine's way to, "tell me where it hurts." For that reason, I'm fond of customers who keep a notepad in their machine and write down any warning or fault codes as soon as they appear.
After that, I appreciate if customers have calmed down, collected their thoughts, and can give me a detailed, chronological explanation of what led to the breakdown. If they just changed fields after transporting down a road, that can influence where and how I look for causes. If they just crossed a waterway and were raising or lowering the machine, that can be important. If the malfunction only occurs when going up a hill, or turning a corner, or when the operator is on his cell phone...all those little clues can lead to a quicker diagnosis and eventual repair.
Operators can use the same technique when diagnosing and making their own repairs. Mentally step away from the machine and systematically identify the events that led to the breakdown. Sometimes machines just break and there's no explanation. But sometimes remembering things like that the operator left the planter's vacuum fans running while it was folded during transport can help identify a pinched return-side hose that caused the vacuum drive motor to mysteriously blow its seals while, "just running down the road."