Applying Simple Solutions To Common Maintenance Problems

The annual Plant Engineering "Tips & Tricks" article, last published in September 1997, has been the magazine's "best read" every year of its existence.


The annual Plant Engineering "Tips & Tricks" article, last published in September 1997, has been the magazine's "best read" every year of its existence. In fact, the only real complaint ever heard about the presentation over its 9-yr life was "How about more?"

In light of this request, we have come up with another batch of simple solutions to maintenance problems often encountered in the plant. These are suggestions provided by our readers, for our readers.

To maintain the idea-exchange dialogue, if you have any time-conserving, money-saving, aggravation-avoiding approaches such as these, send them to Ron Holzhauer, Managing Editor, Plant Engineering, 1350 E. Touhy Ave., Des Plaines, IL 60018; The suggestions will be considered for future presentations of "Tips & Tricks" and "Simple Solutions."

Brush problem shuts down motor

An important piece of machinery is down, and an inspection reveals that the drive motor brushes are not making contact with the armature. A quick brush replacement gets you back online -- if you have one available.

But if the right brush is not in stock, a quick fix approach can keep the equipment going until a spare is purchased. Shim a piece of noncombustible material between the brush and retainer spring that holds the brush in place. The machine keeps producing until the new brush arrives.

-- Robert Dillman, Maintenance Mechanic,

Solidstate Controls, Inc., Worthington, OH

Looping now prepares for later

Additions or changes are common in many plant electrical systems. When originally preparing electrical joints within boxes or gutters, consider the feeder size installed and prepare now for additions later, without having to disturb the main connections.

Install closed loops in the line. With proper skill and equipment, the connections to the new requirement can be made live, while avoiding the loss of power to the other loads.

-- J. Michael Stone, Electrical/Mechanical Technician, Jefferson Smurfit Corp., Greensboro, NC

Figure eight cleans ball bearings

A towel and open-end wrench can combine to quickly and easily clean small ball bearings or spherical check valves.

Place a shop towel or cloth on a flat surface and wrap the ball between the folds (layer above and below). Trap the ball with the open-end wrench, and then move the tool in a large figure-eight pattern with a sliding motion. The ball is cleaned over its entire surface.

-- Ralph Dewey, Instrument Maintenance Specialist, Solvay Polymers, Deer Park, TX

Pin aids alignment, but hard to remove

Motors and gearboxes often use pins to assure proper alignment with the base structure. These lineup pins are often hard to remove after equipment placement, if preplanning was not done.

Put a tapped hole in the pin before installation to facilitate removal. A slide hammer made from threaded rod, six washers of assorted sizes, two nuts to fit the rod, and anything with some weight and a hole through it allows the pin to be simply pulled out.

-- Deon Hohl, Engineering Technician, Ferro Corp., Evansville, IN

Looking into dark places

Trying to see a problem in a dark sewer manhole or pipe in bright sunlight is beyond the capability of most flashlights. However, using the power of the sun to do the job brightens the area much greater than any artificial light.

Take a mirror or other shiny surface and direct the sun's rays into the dark spot. The lighted area can then be checked for problems.

-- Gordon R. Watson, PE, Mechanical Facilities Engineer, Fluor Daniel,

San Jose, CA

A glance gives the answer

Checking liquid levels and sight gauges is not always easy because of location or lighting problems.

Take automotive pin striping and mark high/low or min/max locations on the indicators. A glance shows if the equipment is operating within acceptable parameters.

-- Brett Sampson, Maintenance Mechanic, AlliedSignal, Clearfield, UT

Tape protects integrity of seals

When installing new seals around shafts with threads or keyways, there is always the danger of a tear.

Using electrical tape will prevent cutting of the new seal. Place the tape around the threads and along the length of the keyway slot.

-- Michael Williams, Maintenance Mechanic, Simon Candy Co., Elizabethtown, PA

Key concepts

Suggestions are provided for:

- Keeping motors running

- Cleaning ball bearings

- Checking liquid levels

- Saving seals.

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