Operator Condition Checking of Machinery is a Total Productive Maintenance (TPM) Activity the Equipment Operator needs to Learn to do Well

It is the intentional involvement of operators with the workplace skills to identify significant factors affecting machinery health that let them positively contribute to a truly effective total productive maintenance program in an operation.

Abstract: Operator Condition Checking Machinery is a Vital TPM Activity. This operator driven reliability procedure offers enormous potential but is frequently neglected or not recognised for what it offers. This is where plant operators, or others who visit and are close to plant on a regular basis, observe and report upon what they See, Hear and Feel in relation to the plant.

Keywords: operator driven reliability, operator maintenance

Under maintenance regimes such as Total Pproductive Maintenance, plant operators and maintainers are formed into teams and the operator is trained and expected to carry out the basic routines of preventative maintenance and inspections, with support from the maintenance staff. This concept of teamwork, or partnership, has been reported to work very effectively when all the elements an operator needs in order to contribute effectively are in place, and are used (rather than given lip service). Increasingly this concept of operator involvement in driving reliability is being used more widely, although not necessarily under a TPM regime.

Truly effective maintenance operations are few and far between. What is it that separates those organisations with truly effective maintenance programs from those who do not? Regardless of the policies and programmes put forward from management, plant reliability will always be linked to the effectiveness of the care provided by the operators and trades who work on the plant.

Typically, the detection of the need for maintenance has been by one or more of these methods:

  • From a perceived change in observed condition or performance—Condition Checking
  • Let it draw attention to itself—effectively Breakdown Maintenance
  • From routine or periodic inspections—Planned Preventive Maintenance
  • From a measured and trended change in the condition or performance—Condition Based Maintenance

Operator Condition Checking is a role that makes the plant operators the first line condition monitoring personnel. They may in some situations use some rudimentary instrumentation to assist in this.

On plants where this role is formally recognised and feedback from operators is expected and is acted upon there is a very significant lift in the reliability of the plant.

Note the three essential elements here;

  • The monitoring and observation role is formally recognised; this may involve some appropriate training,
  • Advice or feedback from the operator is expected and a process exists for this to be done,
  • The information is acknowledged and is acted upon in a timely manner. The outcome is fed back to the operator to prove their contribution is valued.

Condition checking will not be so effective if plant housekeeping is not good. It is not possible to observe fluid leaks, coupling or belt debris, or witness marks of machine movement if the machine is dirty. If a machine runs roughly or noisily it will not be possible to detect an increase in roughness—a relatively subtle change from smooth to rough is very readily identified with the human touch. Some modification in guarding may be needed to permit safe access for feeling bearings or observing debris from couplings.

Operators require training to become skilled at interpreting the condition and health of their machinery. The level of observation and diagnostic skills they need is matched to the ‘look, listen, feel’ requirements of their machinery.

Enlist your operators in the continual observation for operating machinery degradation and production process variation. Give them low-cost investigative and diagnostic tools, such as those shown below, and let them experience process variations and equipment condition variations for themselves. They will learn to identify changes from normal operation and recognise impending problems.

Providing operators with simple, hands-on diagnostic tools gives them the opportunity and responsibility to spot problems and to fix them before failure stops the plant. It hands ownership of plant and equipment operation and well-being to them—the people ideally placed to get the best from their equipment.


Give plant operators simple condition monitoring toold to observe the machinery and equipment


The most successful maintenance operations in the world are those that employ the production operators to observe their plant and equipment and report back to maintenance any discrepancies they observe.

Please contact us if you wish more information on any questions you may have from this article.  I can be contacted on the email address found in the ‘Contact Us‘ page.

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My best regards to you,

Mike Sondalini
Managing Director
Lifetime Reliability Solutions HQ