In reliability and maintenance, base-related vibration and alignment problems have been common issues encountered.

Problems such as:

  • Soft foot
  • Bearing misalignment within machines – such as motors, pumps, compressors, etc.
  • Seal and bearing failures – related to radial loading, due to tightening down the pump to a base that isn’t flat
  • Hold down bolts becoming loose
  • Resonance problems
  • Machine tool quality problem

Most of these problems are a direct result of a base not being installed flat. Let’s examine some of the reasons why bases are not installed to a flatness specification, or how they get out of spec.


Machine Base Specifications


1. Specifications

Many industrial machine bases are specified to be level AND flat. Pump installation instructions often state “pump shall be level.” What is often not stated is HOW level the pump will be. ANSI pump specs typically state that pump bases shall be level to 0.005” per foot. This is often measured with a precision machinist level.

Machinist level for machine base.

A typical precision machinist level might be 12” long. This means that the level can ONLY measure the degree of level across 12”.  A pump base could be 2 x 4 feet or more. Placing the level in only one or two places on the base plate is not sufficient to measure flatness across the entire base.

API610 specifications require a much tighter tolerance – 0.0018”/foot, or 0.15 mm/M.

The challenge is that while a level may be flat, it DOES NOT measure flatness. A base plate sitting horizontally may be considered level and flat, but rotate it vertically 45 degrees, and while it may still be flat, it will no longer be level.

A true measure of flatness can only be done with specialized transits, lasers, or precision jigs, which are designed to measure flatness and are what is specified.

A base plate only needs to be flat in the places where machinery is bolted down to it. These should all be flat relative to each other.


Machine Base Plates


2. Assumptions

Many machine base plates (often called sole plates) are typically carbon steel, stainless, or composites. Many times, they are either not machined for flatness or only machined in the locations where hold-down bolts are located.

Depending on the application, the location sole plates may be placed are:

  • On a concrete floor or foundation, which may not be flat
  • Over a dug-out location in the dirt
    • In this case, the sole plate is made flat by adjusting threaded lag anchors, which support the sole plate.
    • Once the plate is prepped, the hole is often filled with concrete or grout, which should be vibrated to remove any voids or empty spaces, yielding a solid foundation.

If flatness is critical, it should be rechecked after each of these operations, and adjusted as needed.

Another challenge to consider is, that while a base plate may be machined to within specification when it leaves the machine shop/manufacturer, the way it is transported, stored until use, or field machined (such as drilling, tapping, or welding) can change its degree of flatness.


Use of Grout with Machine Bases


3. Grout

Grout is a material used to fill voids underneath machine bases. It also should be designed to add mass to the base to minimize natural frequency problems in rotating machinery. Grout is specified and manufactured from many different types of materials, from something as simple as a cement mixture to modern non-shrink compounds. With any of these, the possibility of the grout foundation shrinking or expanding is possible. The material and the form for the material should be engineered to eliminate voids and to minimize the possibility of deforming the machine base as it cures. Also, sufficient time for curing should be allowed, and the machine base should be rechecked for flatness after curing time is complete.


Rechecking Machine Stability


4. Rechecking After Piping and Conduit is Connected

Adding other components to the machines, such as piping, conduit, ductwork, piping supports, and other accessory machine components can also have a negative effect on the degree of level of a machine base.

If your company, or contractor, does not have a precise method to measure flatness to the degree required, you are simply guessing as to whether this critical specification is achieved or not.


Reliability Tools with Flatness Measurement


The Acoem AT-400 can measure relative flatness across a machine base of almost any size to the degree of flatness needed. Using the T-21 laser transmitter, flatness can be measured to:

  • 60 feet (20 meters)
    • If placed in the center, this range can be doubled.
  • Accuracy: 0.2mm/meter, or 0.00024” per foot

The AT-400 is a quick and easy tool to:

  • Install and adjust machinery bases to the required specifications
  • Check for and correct soft foot problems
  • Perform a precise alignment of the machine shafts
  • Record and document the results


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