One of the issues precision shaft alignment technicians face is whether a machine is alignable. There will be times that a machine cannot be aligned in its current condition.

A recent Fixturlaser GO Basic training class ran into this issue when performing alignment checks on 4 small centrifugal pumps.  All pumps had 10 HP electric motors, 2 operate at 3600 RPM and 2 at 1800 RPM.

The two alignment teams found all pumps to be slightly out of tolerance.  3 of the 4 pumps were aligned to tolerance within 1 hour total time, the 4th pump not so.

The 4th pump’s coupling values in the vertical plane where not repeating, the angular value was changing by almost 1 mil/1”, and the offset by approximately 8 mils (1.0 mil = .001”) Something had to be moving.

When it comes to precision shaft alignment 2 of the biggest culprits that affect repeatability are looseness and backlash (coupling looseness).  If it moves, the alignment system will see it. (Sometimes in the heat of battle folks forgot to tighten the sensor fixtures tightly! It happens more than you think).

In this case the looseness was not with the sensor fixtures or coupling backlash but within the electric motor. The class found the motor to have excessive play in the bearings.  So how did they find it?  By a simple lift check of the shafts using the displayed detector values of the GO Basic.

While in the measuring screen the sensors were rotated to the vertical plane, while looking at the S Sensor value they lifted or pulled up slightly on the pump shaft.  The S detector value changed by less than 1.0 mil, just a few 10ths actually.

When performing the same lift check on the motor shaft, while now viewing the M sensor the detector value, the displayed value changed by 5.0 mils.

This excessive play caused the motor’s rotational centerline to vary each time a set of alignment measurements are taken.  This movement is easily illustrated in the graph below. 

The red line represents the reference rotational centerline of the pump extended across the page. The green line is the electric motor rotational centerline from the first set of measurements. The blue dashed line shows how much the 5.0 mils of looseness in the motor shaft bearing affects the position of the rotational centerline. The vertical angular misalignment drops to almost 0 mil/1” while the vertical offset increases to 8.5 mils at the coupling center.

This machine will not be alignable to the tolerance specified for 1800 RPM, (max. allowable angle of +/- 0.7mil /1” and max. allowable offset of +/- 4.0 mil) until the motor is replaced. In its current condition the angular misalignment is within tolerance however the offset misalignment is almost 2 times tolerance.

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  1. Tom Shelton on June 24, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    That was well done and documented. Thanks for verbalizing this problem. It is a more common problem than most folks would think.

  2. welding platen on June 29, 2013 at 6:39 am

    Mechanical looseness and looseness from coupling backlash have negative effects on the measurement quality and the amount of time it takes to do a precision shaft alignment. Good information is shared here.

  3. Patrick Lawrence on July 16, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Brad, that’s awesome. A great example of using the lasers to help figure out what’s going on.

  4. Alan Lashley on June 30, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Shaft end play and runout and bearing looseness will doom a successful alignment. If not found during pre alignment, the mechanic will spend countless hours scratching his head trying to figure why machine is not acting right and he cant get to tolerance.

  5. Brad Case on June 30, 2014 at 11:33 pm

    Well put Alan, thanks for your comment!

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