I was touring a plant with a client today to get a look at a system we were about to perform a RCM Blitz™ on and as stopped to look at a piece of equipment  I noticed one of their tradespeople who was in the process of replacing a rather large gearbox digging through his toolbox.  The box was a handmade gem, envision a large metal box, 4 feet long, 2.5 feet wide, and 2.5 feet deep with a heavy hinged top, on wheels with handle made from 1-1/4” pipe that was welded to the side and a tee handle so he could push or pull this gem around the plant.  He was on his knees digging through his treasure chest apparently looking for a specific tool; I say this because as he would dig he had pulled out a rather large pile of tools he had set on the floor beside him.  After a minute or two he gave up looking and picked up a 14” pipe wrench and a rather large 3 pound hammer from the pile on the floor, walked to the gearbox put the pipe wrench on a 1-1/4” nut and began hitting the handle of the wrench with his big hammer.  As he wacked away at the pipe wrench I could see its jaws digging into the nut making large gouges in its surface.  I must have looked like I was staring at a car accident because the guy I was touring with asked me what I was looking at.  It was right at that moment when I first became worried because apparently he saw nothing wrong with Hammering Hank and his all-purpose pipe wrench.


I looked at him and asked, “Why is that guy using a pipe wrench and hammer to loosen a ¾” bolt?”

“Well apparently he can’t find or doesn’t have the right wrench to take it apart.”

I began to wonder what the chances were that this company would actually implement the tasks we were about to develop as part of their RCM analysis.  As we continued our tour my host apparently couldn’t help but notice what I had just observed was bothering me.  He looked at me and asked “You look like you’re in deep thought, is something wrong?”

I stopped, looked at him and said, “If you’re not bothered by what we just saw that guy doing apparently a lot is wrong.  The guy was ruining a nut, wrecking his own tools, pounding that hammer on his wrench like he was driving in a railroad spike all because he didn’t have the right tool which by the way if he did have the right tools he would have had all of those nuts and bolts out before we even walked up.”

We stopped walking again and my host looked at me and said, “Well I didn’t hire him, but those are the tools he started here with and tools are expensive so I doubt he’s going to go out and get what he needs so he does what he can to get by.”



Later that night in my hotel room I was thinking I wish we could have taken the time to observe the tools old Hammering Hank decided to use to perform the precision alignment on the gearbox.  I’m guessing it was a 6” straight edge, his big hammer to hit the coupling face this way and that, some washers for shims the largest screwdriver he could find in his rolling treasure chest for precision prying and of course his trusty pipe wrench for tightening things up.  I wonder if before he started if he rolled the treasure chest to the maintenance shop and picked up the laser alignment tool so he could roll it back out the job, set out on the floor by his pile of tools and have it observe his handy work while at the same time giving his boss the impression he actually knows how to use it.  I no longer wonder why this client is having some major issues with equipment reliability.

Below is part of an article I wrote a while back on precision maintenance, it applies to every company who has a few Hammering Hanks with their fleet of rolling treasure chests.

Precision Maintenance

You can’t begin to build your foundation for maintenance excellence without the right tools.  Precision maintenance requires a proper set of tools and if your tradespeople don’t have the tools needed to perform precision maintenance they will use what they have on hand to complete any given task.  While assessing a company’s maintenance organization typically starts with an assessment survey, my first on-site assessment of a company’s maintenance organization starts right at the tradespeople’s tool boxes.  While many claim to be utilizing precision maintenance techniques the truth becomes evident when you discover that a maintenance shop that employs thirty trades people only has one torque wrench and “we’re not sure which one of the guys has it today”.

Precision tools require good care and handling.  Each trades person should have a required minimum set of tools required to perform the tasks presented by their respective trade.  Without these tools your level of craftsmanship will be reduced and in the end the reliability of your assets will suffer.  Your company will need to assess the tools required for each trade to perform their job and make a required tool list for each trades person.  Along with this, each trades persons tool box should be inspected to ensure they are neat, orderly and contain the complete list of tools.  Remember precision tools require good care and handling, this can’t be accomplished in what looks like a gigantic rolling junk drawer!

To help complete this piece of our foundation remember as maintenance professionals it’s up to us to build a business case for reliability.  Each time I discuss the topic of a minimum required precision tool set I get the push back of “Who should be responsible for purchasing these tools?”  My answer here is consistent, your company should buy it the first time, and the employee is responsible if it is lost or broken.  Your business case for the purchase of these tools is simple, precision maintenance delivers improved reliability.  Improved reliability results in lower unit cost of product and lower maintenance costs.  While companies rarely balk at spending thousands of dollars to repair or replace failed components, they stuff their hands in their pockets when it comes to buying tools that could have prevented the failure to begin with.

Consider the following Maintenance Tool scenarios:

  • How may torque wrenches and sockets could be purchased to equal the cost of one reportable spill or one crashed robot?
  • How many sets of precision shims could you purchase to equal the cost of one three hundred horse electrical motor?
  • What is the cost of the downtime and parts when your company loses the main drive gearbox on a critical manufacturing asset?
  • Would the cost of that one single failure purchase and pay for training of a laser alignment unit?
  • Use your past failure history and maintenance costs to build a business case for setting your people up with the tools needed to achieve world-class maintenance.  Some recommendations regarding a precision maintenance tool set:
  1. Work with your trades people and develop a minimum list of tools needed for each trade.
  2. Develop a list of precision tools that can be shared by the group (Each mechanic does not need their own laser alignment tool)
  3. Have each person provide a list of tools they need to satisfy the minimum requirement
  4. Purchase the tools needed along with standard and secure box for each trade
  5. Have trades people develop a standard tool layout for each trade box
  6. Set up tool audits to ensure each person maintains their minimum set (Similar to a 5-S inspection)  Once the tradespeople have a good set of tools, insist they use them, and let them know Vice Grips, Channellock’s and adjustable wrenches are for amateurs, they ruin and strip nuts and bolts and they take longer to use.  Throw those things away and enjoy your professional tool set!

2 Responses to Hammerin Hank and His Incomplete Toolset!!

  1. Mark O'Brien says:

    A retired union millwright told me of WWWTP up-grades he worked on where his co-workers would use scrap lumber and sledge hammers to install and align parts and apparatus rather than walk a particular distance to get the right tools from the gang box or tool crib.
    The tools were on-site but too much work for these guys to go after.
    P.S. If you are not upset by this sub-standard work ethic, you are definitely not ready for Weibull Analysis.

  2. Henk says:

    I have started working at an International crate and pallet packaging/manufacturing company called ‘Packsolve’.. about 6 months ago and I was recently offered a Maintenance Manager position. Only problem is that I do not have years of experience in this position and I am not sure what I can do to ensure that the entire factory’s and sites’ Maintenance and equipment is according to standards and that I’m doing the right job… please if possible some advise would be much appreciated

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