Maintenance Tips & Tricks

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 13th annual "Tips & Tricks" article. Details of this article were explained in the March issue.


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 13th annual "Tips & Tricks" article.

Details of this article were explained in the March issue. Readers were invited to submit shortcut maintenance methods or procedures 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.

Help pick the winners

Review the 20 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 48. 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 August 31, 2001.

Safety first

In all cases, even if not specifically mentioned in the write-ups, 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.

Key concepts

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

Use the special ballot located within this article to help select the "Maintenance Tip of the Year."

Return your ballot by August 31, 2001.

Getting the last drop out

Problem: Many products come in squeeze tubes, which are convenient to use but become messy when getting near the bottom. It is also difficult to get that last drop out of the tube to attain maximum value. Is there a way to avoid the mess and apply all the tube's contents?

Solution: As the tube empties, flatten the bottom for about 1 in, fold it over, and apply a bulldog paper clamp. Repeat this procedure as the contents of the tube are extracted. By following this procedure, the contents are squeezed out of the threaded opening at the top, instead of going back to the bottom of the tube.

Contributor: Les Lowman, Facility Coordinator, PerkinElmer Fluid Sciences, Belfab Products, Daytona Beach, FL; 904-947-5581;


Holding onto screws

Problem: Inserting screws into small or tight places on a wall or overhead is often a difficult, frustrating task if you don't have a magnetic screwdriver handy. There just isn't enough room for your fingers to hold onto small screws while trying to drive them home. Is there a way to get this job done?

Solution: Push the screw through a piece of paper; the threads hang onto it for you. Then hold the paper from the side and push the screw into place with the screwdriver. When the screw is safely in the hole, simply tear the paper away and finish tightening. This method works at any angle, or even upside down.

Contributor: Robert Hans, Instrument Mechanic, U.S. Paper Mills Corp., Menasha, WI;


Finding compressed air leaks

Problem: Compressed air leaks are very expensive. And in a noisy plant, it is often difficult to hear them. Consequently, small air leaks in hoses, pipes, and connections of various tooling go unnoticed until they get so large they can be heard. Is there a way to head this problem off early?

Solution: Use small squeeze bottles containing talcum powder. Whenever a new line is run, gauges are changed on compressed air systems, and routine maintenance is performed, a small squeeze of the bottle's powder quickly reveals if there is a leak, regardless how small it is.

This approach can be used safely on all compressed gas systems.

Contributor: Randy Haggerty, Engineering Manager, Clariant Corp., Albion, MI;


Heating removes flywheels

Problem: The ring gear on the flywheel of a lift truck has a broken tooth. The flywheel has been removed, but how do you get the ring gear off?

Solution: Set the flywheel on a large thrust bearing. Heat the ring gear with a torch as the flywheel is rotated about 5 rpm. As the ring gear heats, it expands off the flywheel and drops past the thrust bearing, leaving the cooler flywheel behind.

Contributor: Bill Bovee, Equipment Automator, Warn Industries, Inc., Milwaukie, OR; 503-659-8750


Pin striping the answer

Problem: Dry erase boards hanging in the maintenance department office contain a wealth of information, such as messages, jobs to be done, meeting times, etc. Unfortunately, and all too often, the board is unorganized and cluttered. Lines are drawn to divide the board into activities or functions, but are accidentally erased. Is there a better way to organize it?

Solution: Use black 1/4-in. wide auto pin striping to divide the areas and create message lines. When a job is complete and the item needs erasing, you don't have to worry about getting rid of the base lines.

Contributor: Dave Zwanetsky, Maintenance Department, Sandmeyer Steel Co., Philadelphia, PA; 215-464-7100


Carring cords and hoses

Problem: Hauling around extension cords, airlines, or hoses can be a problem since they often tangle or simply get in the way. Is there an easy way to carry the cords?

Solution: Coil them into a 5-gal. plastic bucket. They are much easier to manage and carry.

Contributor: Frank A. Coffey, Manufacturing Engineer, Ceramaspeed, Inc., Maryville, TN;

865-681-7070; FCoffey@


Retrieving nuts and bolts

Problem: Drill shavings, small nuts and bolts, and countless other items often fall into or behind machinery being repaired or undergoing routine maintenance. Is there an easy and safe way to retrieve items from these areas?

Solution: Place a piece of putty or chewing gum on the end of a threaded rod. The rod can be custom bent to reach around gears or corners to grab the dropped items.

Contributor: Paul Thurman, Lead Facility Technician, ITW Drawform, Zeeland, MI; 616-772-1910;


Reducing air compressor costs

Problem: A twin tower regenerative desiccant set-up is used for drying compressed air. The regenerative dryers are typically designed to use 15% of the compressed air system's capacity, and may cause a second compressor to start. Is there a way to control the energy costs associated with the air compressor operation?

Solution: Instrument standards specify a compressed air dew point 18-deg F below the lowest temperature the air will see. Consequently, we have started raising the dew point temperature of the operation. During the colder months, the dew point is set at -40 F, while the figure is raised to 0 F in the warmer months. This change reduces the need to dry air and substantially cuts the energy costs associated with running the compressors.

Contributor: William E. Jacobyansky, Plant Engineer, Temple Inland Forest Products Corp., Shippenville, PA; 814-226-8961;


Looking for shorts

Problem: It is difficult to find electrical short circuits when many wires are involved. Is there an easy way to sort through the many choices to find the right one?

Solution: Use a repeat cycle timer and 60-W light bulb. Connect them across the blown fuse, as shown in the drawing. Set the timer to turn on and off every 2 sec. The bulb acts as a load for the system. Use a clamp-on amp meter to find the pulsating wire.

To save time, you can gather a cluster of wires. If the amps change at the same 2-sec cycle as the timer, the shorted wire is one of them. The process of elimination easily finds the wire with the short.

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


No more weeping

Problem:Does a drain plug weep oil from a gear reducer housing, or from the sump of a bearing housing on an oil-lubricated centrifugal pump, or from an aluminum gear housing on a hoist? If so, how can the problem be eliminated?

Solution: Drain plugs are usually a standard tapered pipe plug in an NPT tapped hole. Maybe the threads are less than adequate from repeated tightening, or even cross-threaded.

If the threads are not adequate, throw away the standard pipe plug and use a Dryseal type. These threads have a 7/8-in./ft taper instead of the standard 3/4-in./ft and provide an extremely tight seal. Put Teflon tape on the plug for added insurance of a no-leak connection.

If the problem is cross threading, chase the threads using a straight thread tap instead of the taper type. Now you might be able to get a good seal just by using a standard tapered pipe plug along with Teflon tape.

Contributor: David H. Williams, Plant Engineer, Anvil Intl., Inc., Statesboro, GA; 912-587-6363;


Planning replacement ahead of time

Problem: When rubber liners in a pump need replacement, they often stick in the casing. The old liner must be pried out, and often shreds in the process. Is there an easy way to get it out?

Solution: Before installing the new rubber liner, spray the interior of the metal pump casing with an antiseize material. The next time the liner needs replacement, it comes out quickly and easily in one piece.

Contributor: Brian R. Thomas, Process Engineer, SF Phosphates Ltd. Co., Rock Springs, WY; 307-382-1524;


Tapping tees in air lines

Problem: Adding or moving pneumatic equipment often means spending additional time tapping into existing air lines. Is there a way to prepare for this situation?

Solution: When installing new pipe for lines, use a "T" fitting and plug to join sections, instead of a standard coupler. Removing the plug allows for a quick way to "tap" into the line when a new drop is needed or one must be removed.

Contributor: Nathan Brady; Engineer, Gateway, Sioux City, IA; 712-258-2021;


Grinding grooves in bolts

Problem: A threaded hole has rust in it or has been heat treated, and it is difficult to get a bolt started. Is there a way to drive the bolt home?

Solution: Take a bolt the same size as you are trying to put into the difficult hole and grind a slight groove into the threaded part to expose a sharp edge. Put lapping compound into the grooved area. Place the bolt with the groove and compound into the threaded hole giving you trouble. Work the bolt in and out of the tapped hole several times. This action should loosen up the threads enough to let you place a good bolt into the work piece.

Contributor: John Snyder, Design Engineer, Standard Register Co., Dayton, OH; 937-221-1107


Removing stripped studs

Problem: When working on a piece of equipment, a stud is stripped on the upper threads and cannot be removed with pliers. Is there a way to get it out?

Solution: Tig or arc weld a nut on top of the stud. It can then be removed with a wrench.

Contributor: James Wood, Lead Mechanic, Frontier Airlines, Brighton, CO; 303-280-2191; JWood@


Cleaning dirty air

Problem: When working in a dusty area or around sanding-type operations, dirt seems to be floating everywhere and settles on everything. Is there an economical way to capture the dust before it enters the plant environment?

Solution: A simple dust collection system can be made for less than $20. Get a 20-in. x 20-in. box fan, 20-in. x 20-in. furnace filter, and four pieces of tape. Tape the filter on the suction side of the fan and position it near the dust-generating source or in the dusty area to capture the particulate. This filter position allows you to see when it needs cleaning or replacing, and the airflow helps hold it in place.

Contributor: Brian Berg, Machine Design Engineer, Kolbe & Kolbe Millwork Co., Inc., Wausau, WI; 715-842-5666


Snaring elevated objects

Problem:It is not uncommon to find the work overhead while you are at ground level, without a ladder. Certain types of tasks, such as grabbing wires or stringing cable over joists, can be done without leaving the ground. How do you do it?

Solution: Make a grab-o-matic. Obtain a length of 1/2-in. EMT conduit cut to the needed length, and a piece of 14 or 16-ga stranded THHN electrical wire. Twist a loop at one end of the wire, as close as possible to the end of the conduit, run the wire through the conduit, and make a loop at the second end. When one of the loops is pulled out of the EMT, the loop at the other end is pulled inside to snare the object to be retrieved.

The EMT is well suited to the task because it is inexpensive, lightweight, and can be bent to allow the device to reach around obstacles. The THHN should be stranded since it is flexible and retracts more easily into the conduit than solid wire.

Contributor: Bill Leonard, Senior Facilities Maintenance Technician, Plasmon LMS, Colorado Springs, CO; 719-593-4203; bill.leonard@


Locating vacuum leaks

Problem: How can you locate a vacuum leak in a noisy area?

Solution: If sound amplifying devices are not practical because of the ambient noise level or simply not available, use shaving cream. Spread a small amount around flanges, seals, fittings, etc. The cream will be sucked into the vacuum leak and leave a hole that is usually visible.

Contributor: Jerry Kohutek, Maintenance Manager, Rich-Seapak, Brownsville, TX; 956-504-4412; jkohutek@seapak. com


Flashing clock provides answer

Problem: It seems like a 115-V circuit is losing power intermittently, but you can never catch it in the act to be sure. Is there a quick and simple way to find out if there is a problem?

Solution: Plug a cheap digital clock into the circuit. If the power goes out and comes back on (or even flickers depending on the sensitivity of the clock), it will be flashing. In the circuit ilustrated, it is suspected that T 1 is momentarily opening up and reclosing during the night. Connect the digital clock across the circuit, with its neutral connected to terminal 5 and the hot lead to terminal 2. If the clock is flashing the next morning, but T 1 is closed, you know that it opened and closed during the night. An hour meter can be connected with the clock if you need to know how long the outage lasted.

Contributor: Monte Hyler, Manager-Plant Engineering, ABB Automation, Analytical Div., Lewisburg, WV;


Determining half a fraction

Problem: It is often necessary to determine half of a linear measurement. If the measurement is an even number of inches and a fraction, the solution is to take half of each number. When the number of inches is odd, a remainder of 1/2 exists. For example, half of 193/8 in. is 91/2 plus half of 3/8, or 3/16. Converting the 91/2 to 98/16 and adding the 3/16 makes the final answer 911/16. Can you save some time by going directly to the 911/16 answer and avoiding the middle calculations?

Solution: Note that half of 19 is 9 plus a remainder of 1/2. When the remainder is 1/2, simply add the 3 and 8 from the original 3/8 fraction to get 11. Since we already know the answer will be expressed in 16ths, the final answer is 911/16.

Contributor: Randall R. Geib, Product Design & Development Manager, Fenner Drives, Manheim, PA; 717-664-8230;


Checking the draw

Problem: When using a clamp-on ammeter to check the current draw of electrical devices that plug into receptacles (120/240/480 Vac), a cover must be removed to gain access to a power wire. Can the time frame for this job be minimized?

Solution: Make a short pigtail about 12-in. long and remove the center insulation to expose the three conductors. (Do not cut the insulation on the three wires.) Place the pigtail between the power source and electrical device. You now have immediate access to the power wire. An unused appliance cord works fine for 120-V circuits. The check is completed in just minutes. If the current draw is too low to read, wrap the black wire around the clamp-on meter jaw and divide by the number of turns.

Contributor: Rick Frost, Senior Plant Engineer, General Motors Truck Group, Moraine Assembly Plant, Dayton, OH; 937-455-2871;


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