Precision Shaft Alignment Training – Should You Learn Dials First?

Proper training is a critical component to success when using precision shaft alignment tools. This is true regardless of the measurement methodology. I often hear people say that it is important to learn dial indicator shaft alignment first to gain a better understanding of the alignment process.


Really? After all, you don’t need to learn to drive a vehicle with a manual transmission before you learn to drive one with an automatic!

manual-shifter auto shifter

button 1
The issue that I have seen is that traditional shaft alignment training typically focuses on the “buttonology” of the measurement and not the overall alignment process.

Laser Alignment Process,
Dial Indicator Alignment Process

It can leave the impression that the measurement tool does the alignment when in fact we know that isn’t true at all and that a properly trained technician is the key to success.

Proper training doesn’t just focus on the shaft alignment tool but on the overall job.

  • What needs to happen before I even measure the alignment condition?
  • What do I do when the alignment doesn’t go smoothly?
  • What do the numbers really mean?
  • Can I picture what the machine I am aligning is telling me?

This can and should be done with both lasers and dials. You can graph the dial indicator values to better “see” the misaligned machines and can also graph the laser values if you feel it helps.

While precision shaft alignment isn’t a one size fits all discipline, my belief is that if you are using dial indicators train on dial indicators and if you are using lasers train on lasers. If you are using both you should certainly learn both but make sure that the connection is made between the dial measurement and the laser measurement.

There are more similarities than differences and the end result will be the same.

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  1. Joaquin Urrutia on December 26, 2018 at 3:11 pm

    This is an older blog, August 2015, but I have to speak up and say that comparing the application of laser alignment to indicators as driving automatic to manual transmissions is not the best analogy. The process of laser alignment uses a computer and using indicators is the application of math and understanding the movement ratios.
    What is has becoming an issue in industry is forgetting the fundamentals, conventional machining is essential in the maintenance field, CNCs have there applications in production but knowing the fundamentals is essential to understand how to troubleshoot issues when they occur.

    Sorry, your premise on the shaft alignment and driving cars is not strong.
    I provide training on industrial mechanics and shaft alignment is one of my subjects and backgrounds.

    Thank you,

  2. Michael Keohane on January 3, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    Joaquin – Thank you for reading the blog and your reply. We can and do teach dial indicators and I do appreciate your perspective.

    Forgetting the fundamentals is a problem in the maintenance field. Understanding dial indicators and basic concepts is important in many areas. Certainly, using a laser does not negate the need to understand what is going on during the alignment process. Like a dial, it just measures.

    I am not suggesting that learning dial indicators for shaft alignment is a waste of time. It isn’t if you are going to use them. It would be great if maintenance people were skilled in multiple approaches. What I am suggesting, and the purpose of the analogy, is that you don’t necessarily need to learn how to measure with dials first in order to have a firm grasp as to what is happening during the precision alignment process. I hear that a lot and I just don’t agree with that statement. Lasers and dials are both just measuring devices. Graphing, math and movement ratios can be taught using either method. The final result should be the same.

    Thanks for reading the blog! We both see training as the key to success. If you have suggestions for other blog posts or would like to submit a post please let us know.

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