Step by Step to the Right Decision

Cornell Alschner is an expert in technical documentation at VON ARDENNE GmbH, a manufacturer of glass vacuum coating equipment in Dresden. Mr Alschner studied telecommunications specializing in documentation, at the Telekom Hochschule (College) in Leipzig. For over ten years he has focused on component content management systems and questions concerning structuring of texts. In this blog entry he tells us how decision trees can be created and used efficiently for troubleshooting in ST4.

Troubleshooting – Tips for Helping Yourself
When operating complex machines, problems often arise that are either caused in construction or by the user. This leads to downtime on the customer’s side, creating loss of production and thus unnecessary costs. On the producer’s side requests lead to support efforts and therefore create costs as well. So both sides are interested in enabling troubleshooting as soon as possible, i.e. already at the operator of the machine.
Together with one of our customers we at VON ARDENNE decided to set up an interactive platform with decision trees for key components of the plant. This platform is intended to facilitate quick error analysis and troubleshooting at the operator’s site. In order to do so, the platform must analyze the error pattern correctly and avoid ambiguity during failures.

Using Structure for Decisions
In order to model a decision tree four kinds of information are needed:
1. Error Description:
Here the error pattern is described. What can be observed? What sounds can be heard, which smells are noticed? Which effects are created?
2. Question:
The question is used for exact diagnosis of the error. It narrows down the possible causes.
3. Possibility:
This kind of information names a cause for the error.
4. Solution:
In the solution the user receives an instruction for troubleshooting.


By structuring it like this, a decision tree is created at the end of which the operator always receives a solution. The kinds of information are modeled in ST4 as standard nodes. This gives us the opportunity to enter graphics, videos and links and to use the content in other projects.

This is How it Looks on the User’s Side
The display at the user`s side is equally important as the modeling of the decision trees on the production side. Therefore we provide troubleshooting with a layout of its own. It can be created and managed in ST4.


As can be seen, we provided for a comment function. The users can thereby interactively complement the decision trees and adapt them to their needs. For this purpose we integrate a PHP server into the system.
Error tracking is not always linear, which means that from time to time the first possible solution might not be the one leading to success. The navigation concept must take this into consideration and offer appropriate opportunities for returning to previous steps.

What Remains to be Done?
The current system has worked well, it completed the test at the operator’s and makes troubleshooting easier. For the future we intend to make some modifications. Regarding display: we want to modify the layout and further increase usability. It is important for us to make the decision trees available for tablets as well.
We also intend to expand the system functionally. In the future several questions are to be allowed for an error description. Operators are to be able to add their own error descriptions. Moreover we intend to expand the comment function to include graphics into the comments. And we want to offer the users a search via taxonomies. And finally we plan to integrate the decision tree directly into the control.
Thus a system is created which can individually be adjusted to the customer and his needs on site. The user’s knowledge regarding typical problems and their solutions will be directly available and retrievable any time. It makes everybody’s life easier: operator, user and producer.

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