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Tips Industrial Electrical Print Management - Maintenance Cruz

Updated on May 23, 2015

The Problem

It seems to be everywhere, each and every location has gaps or completely missing documentation. It is also common that personnel have a desire to have their material in order and complete. Another fairly common truth is that the same personnel do not know how to get and control their documents back to current and to stay that way.

It becomes frustrating to managers and workers alike. Nothing like looking into a piece of machinery that has been around for many years and there are no prints. Or, the prints you do find are useless due to major changes since manufacture and install. Or, a piece of equipment had been built in house and there never seems to be enough time to create prints or number wires for that matter.

This is found at different levels with low being complete lack of attention to document control to very well controlled documents, but with gaps none the less. In general, prints from the manufacturers are complete and adequate for end user maintenance, not all though, I have seen some poor documents delivered with machinery.

Time has a way of eroding prints, and not in the paper decay way, I mean that they become far askew from what is actually in your plant and running. Open an electrical cabinet, go through some electrical troubleshooting, everything going fine, then....what is that? You find a component or circuit that doesn't exist on the print, no wire numbers, labels, or any other source to explain it. Trace wires, look through old purchase requisitions, ask the old guy to try to figure it out. This is extremely frustrating and hugely time consuming for all involved.

The document storage area, the master copies, you go to the source you know will have the information you are looking for. What?! It's not there, how could it not be here, this place is where the data must be, but inexplicably, it is just not there, how did that happen, who took it and didn't put it back? Too late and the time is just ticking a way and the money is just fluttering out the window. Great, four techs standing around waiting for the information that is now in the wind.

And there are even more examples, the only copy has been in the machine cabinet, good, right? Oh, awesome, the cabinet has a leak and the rain has turned your only copy to a solid wad of indecipherable paper, don't balk, I've seen it. Flipping through the sheets, cool, the sheet number I need for the controls is gone, again, seen it. Time just slows down right there, okay regroup, where should I look for this info? Do I have enough time or is it faster to just start hand over hand wire tracing, oh ya, the line is down at this point and the money grinder just ramped up.

Does any of this sound familiar, if not you have been much luckier than I. If you have had this frustrating experience then you will know exactly what I am talking about. It's especially exciting when your work place examines downtime to the minute and anything over an hour becomes a corporate discussion, peachy.

You may sense the frustration I have just recounting these items, trust me its real and a real pet peeve. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I am as guilty as the next of not following through with documentation. I have let document follow up take a backseat on occasion to higher priority tasks at hand. I think that is one of the most common pit falls that lead documents down the path of uselessness.

Where does your company rate on document control?


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First Steps are Always the Hardest

Undoubtedly, getting the system back on track is a daunting task in most cases, depending on how far down the rabbit hole it has gone. The missing material, many times, is not available for download and manufacturers have to be contacted and even then it may not be available. "I'm sorry, that is a legacy product and we have ended support for that item some years back. I'll ask old Pete, he has been here forever, he should have something." again, don't be surprised, it has happened to me more than once.

Getting in this irritating position is easy, getting back to square is a hassle, but worth it and ultimately rewarding. We would hope our companies upgrade on a regular basis and that our machines are not so old that you have a conversation like the previous. The truth is, most companies try to squeeze everything they can out of an asset, you may end up looking at machines 20, 30, or 40 years or more old.

Case in point, textiles, I had an experience with specialized yarn bobbin winding equipment in a past employment life. These machines were from the 30's and like nothing I had ever seen, pretty cool actually. I had worked personally with the supplier who owned and operated these machines in a joint venture. I was just amazed at there age and how well they worked, asked a lot of questions because after install they would be my problem. He gave me a complete history which also amazed me. It seems that there were several attempts to create a modern version of these machines complete with servo control and all the bells and whistles, all failed.

I asked how do you get anything to repair or replace for these machines, his eyes rolled at this point. He has been the point man for these machines for 30+ years and spent countless hours working on that very problem. He said " As you can imagine, there really are no parts or information on this equipment, except what I have compiled.". He went on "The hardest parts are the helical cam in the back and the helical plate in the front. I actually found the original casting molds and was going to buy them, but they were destroyed in a fire just before."

I was all ears now because these are my problems now. He had to have machine shops try to fail and then eventually succeed at making parts for this abstract art type piece of machinery, said it was an uphill road all the way. I inquired about prints so I could have spare parts machined locally. To my amazement, he didn't actually have drawings in his possession, but the machine shop he used kept them. He would get a set of copies and get them to me, of course Murphy showed up just after he left and one of those real hard to get parts broke right off, time slowed down at this point, the wait began and so did my struggle to get a print to a shop.

Recognizing that there is a problem with your documentation takes one very key element, that is a very thorough and intimate knowledge of the system in question. So many changes, so many undocumented changes have been made, where do you start? First person to find is the one, either who works on the system the most or has been around the longest. Pick their brains and note everything they say. Next, gather all the documents you do have and start the check mark routine. Go through and check mark what you can establish to be true and current with your system, this shrinks the task to a manageable size very quickly.

You can now focus and prioritize the deficiencies and pick the most relevant starting point, I always verify the safety system first then move on to next highest priority. I have been mostly talking about electrical prints in mind, but part or assembly prints are another issue entirely.

Okay, good old machine has been tweeked and tuned for the last 15 years, many modification necessitated by production needs. These nifty little added parts and pieces have been attached for years and are now an integral part required to produce. Just peachy, the "one off" part broke at night on the weekend. The technician has looked everywhere for a spare, but everybody knows Joe built that three years ago on a "need it right now" basis and there is no spare. The tech either has to band-aid repair this equipment, if possible, or make a new one on the spot. This is a maintenance managers nightmare, the manager has only been there for 2 years and has no idea about the special modified part that went in so long ago. "We have a build print, right?" "Ahhhh, I don't think so."

The main moral of the story here is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Three years ago it was established that nothing is to be installed without a minimum of a hand drawn, usable, build print. An SOP strictly forcing follow up to spares built and legitimate prints created and stored in multiple locations, one location being a "do not remove" archive. The technician knows this because he is held to this standard. He is now able to retrieve the three year old document, copy, and proceed the shop to make the "on demand" part. Still not the optimum, but better than nowhere. After this close call, a spare is ordered to be produced and stored so this never happens again.

The archive is another delicate matter and requires some strict adherence. It sounds like you need to beat your people down and hold them under a thumbscrew all the time to make this happen, but they will buy into it with a good delivery and routine. The sacred archive needs to be viewed as such. Setting a specified place for master prints with multiple electronic back up is essential. Prints just get beat up, lost, ripped, or so dirty you are skiddish about touch them. The sacred archive is the place where you go to make a fresh clean copy and replace those vanishing or ugly prints. I like the "does not leave the room" setup. A room that has any print you could want about your plant and a copier at hand to make the copy right there, oh ya, no dirty hands allowed either.

Many factories have prints spread out in different departments, in machine cabinets only, or 1 set of originals in maintenance binder. Actually, none of these are good practices alone. The manufacturers original pristine manual should always be in the vault and copies distributed. You can almost always get multiple copies of manuals upon request, most the time for free, sometimes at a cost. Pay the extra, the time to disassemble a shop manual, make a copy, bind it, and distribute said manual is most definitely cost prohibitive.

That said, you may have to do just that to get your information secured and shop copies available. It is so much nicer when these protocols are established and enforced from the beginning. The modern shop has a much easier time of it with the availability of online literature, from user manuals to 3D part downloads, I love it. I enjoy designing machines now more than ever in my career because I can download spec models and just plop them in a print or a model, the time saving is priceless. What used to take me 2 months now takes a week or less.


The Big Red Edit in the Room

Great, This is coming around, have this system dissected into its manageable sections and time to correct. OK, there are 29 extra red wires, 18 blue, 4 relays that aren't on the prints. This is the tip of the ice burg generally, how far does it go. OK, all wires identified to there purpose and location, but they need to be numbered. That means they need to be incorporated in a print to follow the numbering schedule, oh and there are PLC changes that are also tied to these special uncharted circuits. It really starts to look like this is going to be massively time consuming and maybe impossible.

Truth is, it is massively time consuming, but there are short cuts that get you in the ball park and eventually square again. So, same scenario, label those wires as you trace them with a number scheme of your own choosing and hand draw a schematic as you go. When you are finished you will have a print, granted not inline with what ever existing print you have, but a print that can be troubleshot and incorporated correctly later. Yes, you would have to number the wires twice when the real print is done, but it's a choice. If you have the luxury of doing a correct print and wiring numbers on the spot, consider yourself extremely blessed with time. For most situations you will have a limited amount of time to get this down on paper and ID'ed, kind of a pick your poison situation.

You have successfully filled the first requirement, in this fashion, and have gotten a missing piece documented in some fashion. Also granted, it is much more preferable to create the new print in cad, correct to the old drawing scheme, and number once, but generaly is more work then time will allow. Most of the time, this project is a piece meal task that falls at the whim of available downtime, the truly only time a system can be thoroughly traced, verified, or measured.

There are other methods as well, you can hire an outside contractor to come and go from your work site picking up pieces each time there is schedule time for them to look at the system and take notes, normally cost prohibitive. In many cases, there is an engineer or someone who this responsibility falls to and is expected to handle this in house.

Red line, what? This is the simplest, but most neglected part of the whole problem. Some technicians have given me the blank stare when asked "Did you red line the change?" I ask if they know what I mean by red line and it is obvious that they do not. The best tool for first step document control is noting changes and in more than one place. Instituting strict adherence to a "red line every time" policy is crucial. The person who performed the work doesn't have to be a drafter or even know how to draw a schematic, he has to write down clearly the change in complete detail. I did say complete detail, this too, must be strictly adhered to. A clearly hand written note stating everything that was done, why it was done, and specifics on locations is as good as any schematic ever drawn up.

I prefer function block diagrams for this reason, they are super easy to create and give the information required to understand the circuit. A technician with limited or even poor skills with schematics can be taught function block in a snap. All the tech needs to do is draw a square or a rectangle, label it as a device, and draw short lines representing wires. At the end of the wires label were they go from there. Draw another square or rectangle, label it as the next device, draw short wires and label from where they come. Extra information. like the location of the device, device description, wire colors, and best of all pin locations. Oh, this out going wire from master control relay, pin 4 goes to device C, VFD 1, pin 11, got it, its the enable circuit. Then, of course, later those helpful function block diagrams are your easy way to get a schematic updated.

Manual Maintain

Weather you have your prints and manuals totally up to date or are in the process of sorting it all out. Whatever you have that is correct and true to the process, that needs to be maintained and protected. Who checks that this is always updated at your work site? Does it actually happen or are updates made and irregular intervals with interesting surprises popping up.

"I had no idea that was rewired, when did that happen?" "We built an in house machine in December, first I heard of it? These situations can be labeled and passed off as a "lack of communications" issue, but its not. Procedures solve these types of issues. "Boss, I have a great idea to improve that piece of junk we have to babysit all the time." "Great idea, we are gonna get that done, right after we initiate the major or mini project packet." "No problem Boss man, I know I can't build or install something without that." nice.

Everybody cringes when you mention more paper work, including me, but a project packet can be as ridiculously complicated or as utterly simple and straight forward as you want to make it. Its first and most important function is to alert all that are required to know that change is coming. People can get in and get the information they need from the beginning to update information at that point. A project sign-off at the end covers the many or few requirements to call it closed, one being updated documentation. This includes those, especially the one off, parts from the maintenance shop.

I explain it like this, you had to measure and cut all those pieces when you were building this new contraption. You can take the extra second to write down the quantities and dimensions on a sheet of paper as you go, viol ah, a part BOM. At a minimum a detailed explanation of the build with dims and preferably a drawing or sketch with dims. The same is true with the ordered parts for the new build, you had to look them up once to create the purchase requisition, extra second to copy/paste on a BOM form. Print, explanation of the build, and a BOM, I am good to go with that information.

You get the information when the information is available and as fresh as possible. The procrastination on getting this info down on paper is where the train derails and gaps bite you later. Once this is the known and a "must be followed" standard is created, it will be passed automatically to new hires, this is how we do it here.

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