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I bet an operator can do this!

The paper industry is well aware of the impact of preventive maintenance. With downward cost and price pressure and aging equipment, many plants can barely keep fixing what breaks--let alone perform simple equipment inspections with overtime-maxed maintenance people. The solution is clear. Break the vicious circle of reactive maintenance.

An obvious resource is to use early detection of problems by an operator. Who can better detect subtle equipment changes? Think about your automobile. Except scheduled maintenance, the automobile operator initiates 98% of shop visits. Most automobile operators also understand that finding problems early equals major savings.

When recommending the concept of operator inspections, a wall of objections and obstacles arises. Unions may claim this will eliminate work for their maintenance members although operators will be doing nothing more than inspections and what many union agreements already allow.

Another common objection from maintenance people, management personnel, and operators is that operators do not know how to do this. The tasks operators should perform are simple, common-sense checks. Many operators can do such inspection without training. The fact that many operators maintain their vehicles and homes means they are clearly capable of learning and performing complex maintenance tasks.

For example, ask an operator to inspect the AC motors in his area according to pre-set frequency and order as Fig. 1 shows. If the temperature is high near the front, a bearing problem probably exists. If the temperature is high in the middle, the difficulty is undoubtedly a winding problem or overload. If the temperature is high at the back, airflow or bearing problems may exist. I bet an operator can do this!

Many operators are already recording operating parameters such as temperature and pressure. Typically, they file these. Perhaps a supervisor may examine them another day. This is often mere "busy work." Teaching the "recorder" to interpret what he sees and then initiate action will provide many valuable front line observers, save uptime, and direct maintenance to the "hot spots" before they turn catastrophic. Marking gauges with the normal operating range and using graphical, eighth-grade level instructions showing the "recorder" why, what, and how to inspect makes the job of an operator more interesting and truly empower him to impact plant performance. I bet an operator can do this!


Stock thickeners of the disk type shown in Fig. 2 are common in paper mills. An accumulation of stock on disks due to cleaning showers losing their aim or being plugged can force disks off track. This malfunction can cause 10% capacity loss and a US$ 3000 disk replacement.


The drip oil system for the trunnion also plugs occasionally, causing metal grinding with subsequent repairs. A safe, 15-minute daily inspection, cleaning, and adjusting of showers--plus verification that the drip oil system works--could potentially save US$ 10,000-25,000 annually. I bet an operator can do this!

Managers need to decide if operator inspections are the proper action. If so, do not allow attitudes and objections to stand in the way. Forge ahead, make the plans, use pictorial training and reference material, train the operators, and institute the procedures. This will definitely be a win-win situation for the operators, maintenance personnel, and the plant. I bet you can do this!


About the authors: Tor Idhammar (left) is a partner and vice president with IDCON Inc., with responsibilities in training and implementation support for preventive maintenance and condition monitoring, planning and scheduling of maintenance work, and root cause problem elimination. Michael Lipping (right) is business development manager and consultant for IDCON, Inc. He has more than 20 years of diverse experience in manufacturing and processing on three continents as an operator, mechanic, engineer and manager. Email the authors at: or

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Title Annotation:Maintenance & Reliability
Author:Lippig, Michael
Publication:Solutions - for People, Processes and Paper
Date:Nov 1, 2003
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