Something was wrong with our washing machine.  The wash cycle was longer than normal.  The problem seemed intermittent at first, but then it became persistent across all wash cycles.  Preliminary investigation revealed the cycle got stuck on spin.  Now, I am normally not allowed to operate the washer with real clothes; this is my wife’s realm.  But when she has a problem, I have a problem.  Her solution was to buy a new washer, even though this one was barely 3 years old.  I was hoping for a cheaper solution, but it would require investigative time and data collection. 

So I observed the washer.  When it got to the first spin cycle, it kept spinning, rather than advancing to the rinse cycle.  I marked the dial at the point of “failure” to see if it would repeat.  Thereafter when the washer was used, it regularly stopped at the same spot.  It seemed like the timer or stepper motor was defective.  I began to plan for repair.

One day, I happened to be within earshot of the washer as it chugged along on its cycle, when all of a sudden I heard some disturbing clanking and banging.  When I got to the washer, it was literally hopping mad about something.  While it is supposed to be self-balancing, there are some loads it just can’t balance.  This had happened before, probably more often than I’d like (or my wife would admit).  As I opened the lid to shuffle the clothes around, I saw that the timer dial was stuck on my mark.  This was my “Ah-ha” moment! 

Cause and effect?  I started to theorize that the occasional clanking, banging, and hopping of the washer had irritated the timer contacts or the stepper motor (these are in the same housing).  After replacing the timer - considerably less expensive than a new washer, joy was restored to our clothes-washing world.  While further inspecting the defective part, there was noticeable burning of a few switch contacts.  There was also slight misalignment or bending of some of the contact fingers.  It seemed very likely that the bouncing and vibration from an unbalanced spinning load was beyond the vibration limits for the timer housing.

The real source of the problem is not always in an obvious place.  Finding the root cause of a problem will prevent it from occurring in the future, therefore the value of observation and data collection should not be overlooked.  Short-sighted solutions will only last in the short term.  There are times when observation is so much more important than theoretical analysis.

Don’t forget to observe the operator and compare the activities with the operating procedures, including when an operator may or may not be present. 

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