Use your senses to build a proactive approach to maintenance

When touring your plant floor, make sure to get close to your equipment, workers

By Scott Hoff, Life Cycle Engineering May 15, 2015

My former boss liked to say, “If you keep doing the same thing but expect different results, that’s insanity.” Doing ‘firefighting maintenance’ and hoping for a different outcome, that’s insane. The issue might be financial: “There’s no money in the budget to buy a vibration analyzer (or some other predictive tool).” Another common roadblock is: “I don’t have enough manpower to do proactive maintenance.”

Don’t let budget woes or limited manpower drive total insanity in your workplace. You can uncover a lot of problems or potential problems just by using your senses. Start by doing with the basics: look, listen, touch, and smell. Here are some examples from a recent visits to a client site.

Standing next to a furnace, I just happened to lay my hand on the control panel and I felt a vibration. I asked, “Do you know this piece of equipment has some vibration that doesn’t feel right?” The reply: “No, but I’ll have my guys check it out.” The guys discovered the fan cage had moved on the shaft, and the support bearings were not supporting much.

While walking around, I asked about a leaking gearbox. “What gearbox are you talking about?” the supervisor asked. We walked out to the line and I showed him. It felt a little warm, too. They took a temperature check and compared it to a similar gearbox on a very similar conveyor. The original gearbox temperature was almost 30 degrees F higher.

We looked at an assembly station, and I asked about the pile of dusty stuff on the base of a machine. The reply: “I’m not sure where it’s from.” I didn’t know either, but I would have someone look into it before it becomes an issue that relates to some unplanned downtime.

The site had installed some nice digital temperature and level indicators on a hydraulic unit because of an issue they had experienced. I asked what the temperature range should be. “I’m not sure,” was the response. We asked the line tech and he wasn’t sure either. At the same time, I inquired about the level indicator reading. The answer was the same. Someone had recently filled the unit, because the oil level was so high you couldn’t see it in the sight glass. Plus, the hydraulic unit was running. This might present an opportunity to improve training.

Walking the maintenance area, we observed at least seven large workpiece carriers lying in a pile on a cart. “Do you think the line needs these?” I asked. It turns out, the line was ordered with 30 workpiece carriers. Those carriers in the pile accounted for almost 25% of the carriers from the line. I was sure it had an impact on the output of the assembly line. The response: “We’ll get someone on it.”

You can begin a proactive maintenance approach by using your basic senses—look, listen, smell and touch. Act on what you discover, and improve what needs fixing. Small things can make a huge difference.

Scott Hoff is an asset management services technician with Life Cycle Engineering. He has more than 35 years of experience in roles including maintenance mechanic, engineering technician, and maintenance supervisor/planner. You can reach him at