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June 10, 2021

An Old Maintenance Mechanic’s Look at the Next Generation

By Stan Riddle

This grainy photo was from my last day at a Weyerhaeuser mill in 1987.  I was a 26 year old millwright.  If you look closely, you’ll see an IBM computer in the storeroom.  We had another one we used for running Palomar Microlog vibration data collection.  We had a first generation laser alignment tool, but were still using dials to align.

Why do I bring this up?  Is this the swansong remembrance of days gone by? Not at all – but a look forward into how maintenance may look well into the 21st century.

Today, this 60 year old maintenance guy has 2 laptops, an iPad, an Android tablet, and a smartphone.  Nowadays we can remotely monitor machinery vibration instantaneously. We can even use “smart” software to diagnose many machinery vibration problems, without having to look through all of the squiggly lines. Laser alignment tools have become quick and easy.  Infrared, ultrasonic, oil analysis, motor circuit analysis, motion amplification, and so on, have become commonplace in industry.  There’s a whole generation of mechanics who may have never aligned machines with dial indicators.

The technology is great, but SOMEBODY still has to:

  • Tighten the loose bolt
  • Change the bad bearing
  • Replace the worn belts
  • Make a midnight repair to a cut shaft
  • Weld a broken bracket
  • Replace the leaking seal
  • THINK!

The modern computerized technology, cloud based data systems, and high tech devices give us much better information than a generation ago – or even just a couple of years ago.

But computers still can’t swing an 8 pound sledgehammer.

The next generation will need the 21st century technology for early warning, for information, and for methods to make the job easier, better, and increase machinery life.  But the classical skills of machinists, millwrights, welders, pipefitters, sheet metal mechanics, and so on, will continue.

The union halls, community colleges, training centers, and even companies like the one I work for, are going to need mechanics who can do both-old school know-how, and modern information dissemination. To close, remember this.  All of these advanced reliability tools are measuring devices.  They measure stuff.  Somebody still has to ACT on the information to FIX the problem.

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