Lost in Translation

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Most people have mixed experiences when dealing with some form of troubleshooting and support. Whether it’s a company IT department asking the important questions like “Have you turned it off and back on again?” or a patient (if a bit patronizing) customer support representative attempting to guide you to the right menu all while you protest “No, the button isn’t showing up there, so where am I supposed to click again? OH THERE it is” (rinse and repeat).

At the end of it all, generally the issue ends up being resolved, but not without some struggle to ensure that the important information isn’t lost in translation. Even seemingly simple things can easily be missed or confused in this sort of troubleshooting environment.

When you add the complications of an industry like metrology, machine space, coordinate systems, and alignments all contribute (add was already used earlier)add a layer of complexity that make traditional phone support nearly impossible. Tools like Teamviewer exist, giving us at Wenzel the ability to take control of a customer’s computer and environment directly, eliminating the likelihood of translation errors. But what happens if that’s still not enough? What happens if there’s an actual language barrier involved as well?

Where is it now?”
“It’s moved…. maybe like ten metres”
“TEN METRES? That’s not right, where is your ‘0’ again?”
“It’s right here by the part”
“Are you completely sure?”
“Yes of course! Everything is designed the same way!!”

That’s an excerpt from conversations I’ve had with one of our design solutions’ customers who had a problem getting their CAD/Fixture/Mill locations to line up correctly in the milling environment.

After spending some long hours with video conferences, screen sharing, and good old-fashioned phone calls, we still hadn’t been able to find the resolution for their discrepancy between their CAD model and machine location. I made the decision that a visit would be the best way to resolve the situation.

Luckily enough, shortly after arriving, it was clear to me that this customer’s problem boiled down to three issues all with a strangely similar theme:

  • The ‘on the phone’ troubleshooting and explanations allowed small, important details to fall through the cracks (I completely missed ensuring the use of a necessary coordinate system for alignment)
  • The CAD data created by a laser scan and then used for milling had a different ‘0’ (origin) than the CAD used for the fixture coordinates.
    (This was illustrated by importing both CAD models into the software using the same alignment translation; they were about a metre apart)
  • Cultural, language, and time-zone differences during training and troubleshooting also contributed

Anyone spot what those three things have in common? Translation… or maybe getting ‘lost in’. All in all, these issues, while individually minor, while individually minor issues added up to create a frustrating “We don’t know what we don’t know” circumstance for the customer, and myself, during the ‘traditional’ troubleshooting process.

Simple turned complicated quickly. I’m grateful for the opportunity to go on-site and provide hands-on support. With all the information easily available for interaction, and the customer’s full cooperation, we were able to turn complicated back to simple and resolve the issues.

So, what are the takeaways from this experience? Upon reflection, I was a little surprised that they aren’t so different as the takeaways from some major troubleshooting I’ve completed during my previous career in aerospace.

  1. The simplest explanation usually is the right one.
  2. Always pay attention to even seemingly minor details, both as a customer explaining the problem and most importantly as the personnel is providing support. Nothing can slow down a process more than unexpected and unreported
    change and it’s always best to troubleshoot within an unchanged or predictable environment.
  3. Good training, documentation, and implementation are critical to success.
  4. Always check and re-check to ensure you have all the right information…. and that CAD ‘0’, really is CAD ‘0’. (Or maybe just that your ground wires are connected!)

I’d like to personally thank this particular customer, and all of our customers for their continued support.

Stuart Nichols
Applications Manager