How to Troubleshoot Obscure Electrical Issues in Industrial Buildings


Troubleshooting electrical issues in industrial buildings can be challenging, especially when the problems are obscure and difficult to diagnose. As an electrician working in industrial settings, I often encounter complex electrical systems and equipment that can develop faults that are not obvious at first glance. However, there are strategies and best practices I've learned over my career that help me methodically track down even the most elusive electrical gremlins.

In this guide, I will share my step-by-step process for troubleshooting obscure electrical issues in warehouses, factories, processing plants and other industrial facilities. Whether the problems involve power distribution, equipment malfunctions or flickering lights, these tips will help you pinpoint the root cause efficiently.

Preparation and Safety

Before troubleshooting any electrical issue, safety should always be the top priority. Dealing with industrial-scale electrical systems requires caution and preparation:

Conducting a Methodical Systematic Investigation

With the prep work and safety steps completed, you can now begin your detective work to track down the issue. I recommend following these best practices during your investigation:

1. Clearly Define the Problem

2. List Potential Causes

3. Divide the System into Sections

This allows you to narrow the focus of your investigation one section at a time.

4. Perform Targeted Testing

5. Record and Analyze Results

6. Isolate the Faulty Section

This troubleshooting methodology allows you to systematically hunt down the root cause by gathering data, analyzing evidence and isolating the issue through deduction.

Common Obscure Electrical Faults in Industrial Facilities

In addition to general defects like loose connections or overloaded circuits, here are some of the more obscure electrical faults I frequently encounter in industrial buildings along with tips for identifying them:

Intermittent Ground Faults

Faulty grounding connections that only act up under certain conditions can be incredibly difficult to capture. Telltale signs include:

Tip: Use a clamp meter to detect intermittent current imbalances between hot and neutral indicating ground faults. Monitor over an extended period if necessary to catch it.

Contactor Chatter or Rapid Cycling

When a magnetic contactor or relay chatters on/off rapidly, it indicates:

Tip: Measure voltage across the coil terminals and contact resistance to determine if they are within specifications.

Variable Frequency Drive Issues

VFDs can display faulty symptoms like irregular speeds, overheating, tripping and error codes. Potential causes include:

Tip: Check wiring, add line reactors or filters to mitigate noise, and verify parameter settings using manufacturer guidelines.

Unbalanced Voltages

One phase measuring significantly higher or lower than others often indicates:

Tip: Check connections at panel and equipment for defects. Verify neutral is properly sized for load.

By understanding common obscure electrical gremlins like these examples, you gain familiarity with the distinct signatures of each issue to recognize during your troubleshooting.

When to Call for External Support

For the most complex obscure problems that persist even after methodical troubleshooting, it may be appropriate to call in specialized external resources like:

Don't hesitate to seek outside help when needed - just be sure to first follow a structured troubleshooting methodology yourself to provide the external experts with the best data to pinpoint the root cause efficiently.


Troubleshooting electrical issues in an industrial environment requires skill, experience and a systematic investigative approach. By understanding the equipment, dividing the system into testable sections, methodically gathering data and isolating the problem through process of elimination, even obscure intermittent faults can be uncovered. Ensuring safety, seeking outside expertise when needed and continuing to grow your diagnostic expertise will serve you well in tracking down the trickiest electrical gremlins.