Maintenance Tips & Tricks

Key concepts Apply these suggestions to save time, money, and aggravation. Use the special ballot to help select the "Maintenance Tip of the Year.
By Ron Holzhauer, Managing Editor, Plant Engineering Magazine August 1, 2000

Key concepts

Apply these suggestions to save time, money, and aggravation.

Use the special ballot to help select the “Maintenance Tip of the Year.”

Send your ballot in by September 29, 2000.

Time-conserving, money-saving, aggravation-avoiding ideas for solving typical maintenance problems should be shared with others in the plant engineering profession. This idea-exchange concept serves as the basic philosophy for Plant Engineering magazine’s 12th annual “Tips & Tricks” article.

Details of this article were explained in the March issue. Readers were invited to submit shortcut maintenance methods or procedures that they have used over the years for solving commonly encountered problems. A review panel examined the submittals and selected those appearing on the following pages.

All items not selected for this article will be considered for future appearance in Plant Engineering’s monthly “Simple Solutions” department. A $35 honorarium is paid for each tip published.

Pick the winners

Review the suggestions offered by others in the plant engineering profession, and vote for the five you believe are the most useful by writing the tip numbers on the special ballot located next to p 50. The item receiving the most votes will win the “Plant Engineering Maintenance Tip of the Year Award.” The submitter will receive $1000 for the suggestion. The two runners-up will each receive $250.

Please return all ballots by September 29, 2000.

Safety first

In all cases, even if not specifically mentioned in the writeups, verify that the tip does not violate any relevant code, standard, or practice. Always use the appropriate safety equipment and procedures when applying the maintenance tips.

Wiping grease

Problem: Cleaning/repairing a grease encrusted item might take hours of soaking in a solvent to soften the mess before the work can begin. Is there a quick fix?

Solution: Squirt on a commercial oven cleaner. After a few minutes, the grease mess can be wiped away. Be sure to wear gloves when working with the cleaner.

Contributor: Chet White, Liebert Corp., Columbus, OH; 614-841-8142

To vote, write 221 on ballot

Getting to the bottom

Problem: Using a standard barrel pump to transfer oil into a 55-gal. drum from a 330-gal. tote typically comes up short. Manual dumping of the tote is often required since the pump just doesn’t get to the bottom. Is there a way to remove all the oil without resorting to push power?

Solution: Add an appropriate length of 2-in. wire braided hydraulic hose to the end of the pump and attach it with clamps. The hose extension extends the pump reach 6-12 in. and sucks up all the oil from the bottom of the tote.

Contributor: Larry DuVall, Rolling Operations Engineer, Alcan Aluminum Corp., Terre Haute, IN; 812-462-2353;

To vote, write 223 on ballot

Cutting conduit

Problem: How can you make a neat, straight cut through metallic flexible conduit without getting ragged edges or ruining it during the process?

Solution: Cut a piece of 2 3 4 about 8-in long and put a slot down the middle a little larger than the conduit you are going to work on. Screw a piece of 1/4-in. plywood over the slot the entire length. Put a sawcut down the middle of the 2 3 4, making sure not to go through the plywood. Use a C-clamp to attach the board to a workbench or other flat surface.

Mark the flexible conduit and push it through the slot until the line is visible in the opening. Use a hacksaw and cut the conduit through the sawcut, making sure to stop at the plywood. Pull out the pieces and you have a nice straight end without damage.

Contributor: John Damasiewicz, Ford Motor Co., Avon Lake, OH; 440-988-3102

To vote, write 222 on ballot

Reusing rollers

Problem: Cleaning and squeezing that last drop of paint from a roller so it can be reused is hard to do. Is there a way to remove it all?

Solution: After an initial, thorough cleaning, submerge the roller in a container of water. After sitting overnight, all the paint pigments settle out of the roller’s nap.

Remove the roller from the container gently without disturbing the water. (For superior cleaning, a second soak may be required.) Cleaning the roller this way assures that no paint remains and settles out when then roller is propped up to dry.

Even the thickest and darkest latex paints can be removed from plastic core rollers by this method. However, it is not appropriate with paperboard core rollers or with oil-based paints.

Contributor: JoLynda Myers, Project Engineer, J-M Farms, Inc., Miami, OK; 918-540-1567; jolyndam@

To vote, write 224 on ballot

Prefiltering air

Problem: Keeping fans and coils in machine tools and other equipment clean improves their operating efficiency and reduces maintenance expenses. Filters are typically installed by the original equipment manufacturer to remove dirt and other contaminants before they hit the fan or coil. Can more be done?

Solution: Add a second layer of protection to prefilter incoming air. Take rolls or pieces of polyester filter material and apply them to the outside perimeter of the air intake of the OEM muffinfan, coils, etc. Equipment operators can replace the material when it gets dirty, which is obvious because the filter material is available in light blue or white. Use Velcro (hook portion only) with an adhesive backing and apply it around the outside perimeter of the OEM filter or fan to hold the polyester material.

The prefilter keeps the OEM filter cleaner, extends its life dramatically, and reduces maintenance costs.

Contributor: Dick Evans, Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Utica Corp., Whitesboro, NY; 315-768-8754

To vote, write 225 on ballot

Finding faults

Problem: Is there an easy way to locate a ground circuit fault in electrical wiring for a 120-V circuit?

Solution: Install a pig-tail lamp holder with an inserted bulb in series with the faulted wiring to quickly isolate the ground fault.

1. Turn off the circuit breaker and remove the load wire and connect it to one of the pig-tail wires. The second pig-tail wire is connected to the breaker.

2. Turn the breaker back on and the bulb should light, which indicates a suspected ground fault.

3. If possible, start by disconnecting half of the entire circuit at an accessible outlet box. If the light stays on, the fault is in the part of the circuit that is still energized. If the light shuts off, the fault is downstream from the energized portion and should be reconnected to proceed with the test.

4. Continue to disconnect circuit wiring until the ground fault is pinpointed and subsequently isolated for repair.

5. Repair the wiring and reinstall the load wire on the circuit breaker.

This procedure can be undertaken by one electrician, but works best with two equipped with radios. One electrician remains at the breaker panel to watch the test light and turn off the breaker as required, and the other works on the faulted field wiring.

Contributor: Warren Moulaison, Central Campus Maintenance Supervisor, Department of Facilities Management, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada; 902-494-3891;

To vote, write 226 on ballot

Removing covers

Problem: The most difficult part of an internal tank inspection is unbolting and manhandling the heavy and cumbersome access cover out of the way in order to gain entry, and then jockeying it back into position afterward. Can this task be simplified?

Solution: Weld a lifting eye to the cover and attach it to a simple swing-away boom that is permanently affixed to the tank. The access cover can then be easily swung out of the way for the inspection.

Contributor: Darrin A. Lawton, Plant Energy Engineer, Bethlehem Steel Corp., Burns Harbor Div., Chesterton, IN

To vote, write 227 on ballot

Terminating wires

Problem: Devices such as switches and receptacles are usually daisy chained to one another to serve multiple locations via a single circuit. What practices are approved to terminate wiring and device connections?

Solution: There are three approaches available to perform this task.

Approach A uses both terminals of a standard receptacle. Failure of this device can affect other loads downstream on the circuit. The device’s terminals and the removable tab between them carry the full circuit’s ampere load. Making two connections adds time to complete and provides an additional point of possible future failure.

Approach B incorporates a wirenut to create a pig-tail jumper. Wirenuts add a possible point of failure and their cost could be significant on very large jobs. The devices only carry their connected load.

Approach C is the best practice. The conductor’s integrity is not altered. Additional components, such as wirenuts, are not required.

A failure (not internally shorted) within the device should not affect the overall circuit. A full wrap beneath the terminal screw provides a proper connection.

Contributor: J. Michael Stone, Maintenance Coordinator, Smurfit-Stone Container Corp., Greensboro, NC; 336-273-8201;

To vote, write 228 on ballot

Leveling answer

Problem: New machinery must be leveled. This action typically requires two levels positioned on the “x” and “y” axes. Since a level is a precise measuring tool, subjecting it to a machine shock load could cause damage. Many times, the two levels must be removed and reset after each subsequent change in position and resulting measurement. Can these recalibration steps be eliminated to speed up the leveling process?

Solution: Perform a “rough” balance before using the two levels for final adjustments. Take an empty plastic soft drink container and fill it with water to a “mark” placed on the circumference. Put the container in the center of the machine to be balanced. As adjustments are made and the machine becomes level, the water will be equal around the mark on the container. Final precise leveling is then quickly performed.

Contributor: Kent E. Koederitz, Plant Engineer, Siemens Energy & Automation, Inc., Johnson City, TN; 423-461-2219; Kent.Koederitz@

To vote, write 229 on ballot

Identifying asbestos

Problem: There are hundreds of pipes running through the plant, and some have asbestos insulation. How can just these few be identified at a glance?

Solution: Color code the insulation banding that goes over the jacketing. All pipes with the aluminum banding are free of asbestos.

Contributor: Mike Recker, Clark Refining, Lima Refinery, Lima, OH; 419-226-2384

To vote, write 230 on ballot

Finding leaks

Problem: You are pretty sure that a flange in gas service is leaking. How can you prove it?

Solution: Take a piece of 2-in.-wide masking tape and wrap it around the flange connection. Poke a pinhole in the center of the tape. If the flange is leaking, gas can only escape through that point.

Apply a soap and water solution to the pinhole. If bubbles or foam appear, the flange is leaking.

Contributor: Ralph Dewey, Solvay Polymers, Deer Park, TX; 713-307-3784

To vote, write 231 on ballot

Wrenching nuts

Problem: All too often, conventional muscle power can’t loosen a tight nut or bolt. How can I increase my wrenching power?

Solution: Use two wrenches. Put the box end of one wrench on the stubborn nut or bolt. Then take the box end of the second wrench (rotated 90 deg) and put it over the open side of the first wrench. Leverage, and pushing or pulling power, is substantially increased.

Contributor: Michael D. Beck, Olathe, KS

To vote, write 232 on ballot

Cleaning mixers

Problem: Cleaning the inside of a power cement or mortar mixer after a job is always a pain, especially when working with epoxy-based cements and grouts. Is there a cleaning solution for this tough job?

Solution: Fill the mixer half full of water and toss in 8-10 empty paper cement bags. Run the mixer while you clean up the other tools. After 20 min, pour the contents out and scoop up the paper pulp. The mixer is clean, maybe even better than before you started the job.

Contributor: Michael A. Middleton, Maintenance Engineer, Equistar Chemicals L.P., Tuscola, IL; 217-253-3311; Michael.Middleton

To vote, write 233 on ballot

Replacing lamps

Problem: Incandescent panel indicator lamps burn out frequently, and operators and technicians do not know the status of the equipment. Unplanned maintenance work is necessary to replace indicator lights, exit sign lamps, and beacon lamps. Can this problem be minimized?

Solution: Replace the incandescent lamps with LEDs, which are available in several bases, voltages, and colors. LED lamps last more than 10 yr and withstand shock, vibration, extreme temperatures, and frequent switching.

Contributor: Wayne Walters, Reliability Engineer, Eli Lilly and Co., Indianapolis, IN; 317-433-5838;

To vote, write 234 on ballot

Pumping pins

Problem: A pin has seized in a flywheel and no amount of work will pull it out. How do I remove the pin?

Solution: Drill a #3 hole from the opposite side of the flywheel and tap 1/4-28 thd. Insert a grease zerk and “pump” the pin out safely and quickly. The grease gun generates 2500 psi.

Contributor: Tom Goodman, Maintenance Superintendent, Champion Laboratories, Inc., Albion, IL; Tom_Goodman@

To vote, write 235 on ballot

Protecting eyes

Problem: When grinding or cutting metal, employees would occasionally get particles in their eyes, even when wearing the proper personal protective equipment. Is there a way to prevent this potentially serious problem?

Solution: Place a small, inexpensive magnetic strip (about 1 in. 3 1 in.) on the bill of the worker’s hardhat. Metal flakes are drawn to the magnet, instead of hitting the worker in the eye.

Contributor: Frederick J. Goodall, Site Manager, Kellogg Brown & Root Maintenance, ExxonMobil Houston Olefins Plant, Houston, TX; 713-740-6063;

To vote, write 236 on ballot

Draining battery

Problem: A lift truck battery (or any other) has a component causing a slow power drain. How can I find the problem?

Solution: Put a test light with the same voltage rating as the battery in series. The light will come on, then pull fuses out until the light goes off. This circuit is causing the slow drain.

Contributor: Steve Handley, Manufacturing Engineering Specialist, Fisher Controls Intl., Inc., Marshalltown, IA; 515-754-2637;

To vote, write 237 on ballot

Loosening bolts

Problem: Loosening hard-to-unscrew bolts and screws is a challenging chore. Is there an easy way to get the stuck bolts moving?

Solution: Place a properly sized drive punch in the center of the bolt head (or cup if SHCS bolt) and use hard tapping with a hammer. The “shock” created unsettles the stubborn bolt and removal is almost certain.

Contributor: Luc Raeckelboom Curing Engineer, Michelin Tire Co., Greenville, SC; 864-458-1212

To vote, write 239 on ballot

Calculating bits

Problem: Is there an easy method for figuring out what size drill bit to use for tapping a metric hole?

Solution: Simply subtract the thread pitch from the metric screw size and you have the answer. For example, to tap an 8-mm hole with a thread pitch of 1.25, the proper drill bit is 6.75 mm.

Contributor: Fred Hoefer, Electronics Mechanic, CIBA Vision Corp., Duluth, GA; fred.hoefer@

To vote, write 238 on ballot

Stopping gas

Problem: Most floor drains not actively used tend to dry out. Sewer gases can escape when this occurs. Can the gases be stopped from escaping?

Solution: Pour 1/4 cup of cooking oil in the floor drain. The oil floats to the top of the water and prevents it from evaporating.

Contributor: Paul Salvo, Eaton Corp. TCC, East Lake, OH

To vote, write 240 on ballot

About Tips & Tricks

Plant Engineering considers “Tips & Tricks” an ongoing editorial project. If you come up with a maintenance idea that meets the time-conserving, money-saving, aggravation-avoiding criteria, send it along immediately while the thought and intent to share are fresh. The submittal will be considered for future presentations. Submit suggestions to Plant Engineering “Tips & Tricks,” 2000 Clearwater Drive, Oak Brook, IL 60523; e-mail: