Lab Equipment Maintenance

Go into any large O&P facility and you will see several
official-looking things hanging on the walls of the lab. You will see fire
extinguishers in half a dozen places or more, a handful of first aid kits
scattered here and there, some governmentally approved posters, an absurdly
bright yellow area containing the
material safety data sheet book, hazardous material storage
and emergency information. You will also see one or more logs showing what
equipment has been serviced, cleaned and/or maintained and when it was done.
This is the equipment management plan and, because of facility accreditation
put in place by CMS, your lab should have an appropriately sized counterpart.

Equipment management

There are several aspects of equipment management that need to be
addressed in the average O&P lab. You will need to consider some of them
only once, such as equipment selection and placement, and others you will need
to address regularly, such as maintenance and repair. Equipment selection and
placement are better left as part of a larger discussion on lab set-up so we
will leave those concepts for later.

Repairing equipment is something that we try to avoid by putting our
tools of the trade through a rigorous maintenance schedule. Therefore, in this
article we will deal primarily with maintenance.

Maintenance logs

Most of what is required for an equipment management plan you are
already doing. What you may not be doing is documenting this maintenance or
completing it on a regular schedule. Failing to document these things can
result in your facility being denied accreditation and, potentially, having
your Medicare billing number suspended or revoked. Needless to say, no one
wants that. Documentation is every bit as important as actually doing the work.

First thing you want to do is to make an inventory of all of the
equipment in your lab that requires any amount of care. Be sure to include
anything that runs on electricity or air and anything that has moving parts.
Also include anything that uses filters or needs sharpening. As you can see,
this list will soon become fairly long.

  Image: © 2011
iStockphoto/John Kounadeas

Once you have your list, refer to the owner’s manuals for
maintenance information and make a note of it on your list. You did save the
owner manuals, right? If not, try to get the information online or by calling
the company that produced the equipment. Sometimes with older equipment, none
of these options may be possible and you just have to make comparative studies
of similar equipment. If all else fails, it is better to make an educated guess
than to do nothing.

Assign the tasks

Now arrange the equipment in an orderly checklist and assign each a date
and a task: inspect, oil, sharpen, clean, and so on. These checklists, or logs,
should be set up so that it makes sense for you in your lab. Although there are
several standard forms you can acquire, it is best to make your own list as it
pertains to your lab and your specific needs. Designate an area where the log
can be stored and can be accessed easily and will not get lost.

Now comes the hard part. Use it. Assign a person whose job it is to
maintain the equipment. That person should refer to this log when servicing
equipment and record the actions.

Electric components

When considering the maintenance of grinders, sanders, drill presses and
routers, remember that each of these tools uses electricity and so therefore
their plugs and cords must be inspected on a regular basis. You would be
surprised at the ability for a machine that vibrates to slowly wear through an
electrical connection. Be sure to examine all power cords and plugs for wear.
Make sure that they are not crossing a walking path or interfering with other
equipment and that there are not too many plugs in a single outlet.


Some of these machines may use belts to transfer motion from the motor
to the tool head. Almost all drill presses use belts and most sanders do too.
These belts can wear out and break while in use. Not only is this a situation
that can result in loss of work time but it is also dangerous and can
potentially injure the technician. Replace these belts when you see deep cracks
or other signs of wear. They are usually inexpensive and tend to last a long
time. You might consider a plan that allows for regular replacement. Belt wear
can be hard to measure and so a regular replacement regimen seems to be the
best choice.


Drum sanders have an inflatable diaphragm inside them that provides a
softer backing surface against which we sand. They are more forgiving and allow
us greater leeway in the shapes that we create but it comes at a price. Those
drums not only wear out in time but they are notorious for slow air leaks. When
they are refilled, great care should be taken not to overinflate them. While
they might appear at first to be within tolerances, a little use – and the
resultant heat from sanding – will cause the air to expand just a bit more
and then it can pop. Now is a good time to remind you that eye protection is a
must in the shop.

Most, if not all of these tools and many of the ones that will follow,
should be bolted to the floor. Some of them can vibrate and pressure may loosen
their anchors. Check to see if there is an unreasonable amount of play while
using the machine and then tighten the bolts and inspect that the anchor has
not worn its hole too big. Repair as needed.

Air compressors

Air compressors and air tools bring their own stream of problems. Air
compressor tanks need to be drained daily in most labs. Water is the annoying
byproduct that results from the way that air, which is often times full of
humidity, is drawn into the air storage tank and compressed there. Water
collects at the bottom of the tank and must be drained regularly.

Some of the smaller labs can get away with the home model, oil less-type
of compressors. Most labs, however, will have large air compressors that need
to be oiled regularly. It is important to check the manual on this one because
you can ruin your compressor if it runs without clean oil for long. The oil
usually needs to be changed according to the number of hours it has run, the
same as with electrical generators.

The tools used with air compressors also need to be oiled. Not only do
they have moving parts that spin at high rates but the air that comes out of
most compressors can be kind of moist, even with regular tank draining. This
moisture can corrode the internals of air tools quickly. Air tools can be oiled
directly each day or an automatic oiler can be installed in-line at the
compressor. If this is the case remember two things. First, the automatic oiler
will need its reservoir refilled regularly, probably once a week. Second, you
might find small oil particles being emitted from the air hose when cooling off
hot molds or blowing off dirty surfaces. It probably will not hurt the hot
molds too much but if you find yourself blowing oil laden air across some nice
dry leather, the resulting, permanent spots will not much improve the
leather’s appearance.

Cutting tools

Cutting tools should be sharpened or replaced as needed. Some obvious
cutting tools include drill bits, band saw blades and circular saw blades.
Other cutting tools not always considered will include: sandpaper, cast saw
blades and files. Replace those dull tools if they cannot be sharpened.
Investing in a drill bit sharpening tool can save you a lot of money in drill
bit replacements.


The subject of cleaning also seems an obvious maintenance issue that is
probably dealt with on a daily basis. The tools are put away and the benches
are cleaned off. Machines are vacuumed and floors are swept. But how often do
you clean air filters? All of the ventilation equipment will have at least one
filter that must be cleaned often.

O&P labs generate an inordinate amount of dust, fumes and dirt. Some
of these materials are hazardous and can build up quickly. Most filters only
require a weekly cleaning but some may become clogged on a daily basis. And
there will be times when the filter has gone past the point of being cleaned
and must be replaced. Have a few of each kind of filter on hand for these

Some other kinds of filters include the air compressors, air and oil
filters, the vacuum pumps water and oil filters and air conditioner filters.
Even some of your air tools will have small filters. Also, different labs will
have different equipment with various other requirements so, again, check the
owner manuals to see if your equipment has filters of which you were not aware.

Develop a plan

How much time do you spend looking for a sharp drill bit, trying one
after another until you finally have to sharpen one? And I do not have to tell
you how much time and money you would waste if your air compressor motor seized

Developing and using an equipment management plan takes a bit of time to
set up, but once it has been instituted, it should take far less time to keep
your equipment up to operational standards than it takes to repair it after it
has broken.

Steve Hill Steve Hill, CO is secretary and co-founder of
the Orthotic Prosthetic Technological Association and president of Delphi
Ortho, an orthotic consulting firm based in Asheville, N.C. He serves on the
American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association Assembly Planning Committee and is
a Board of Certification/Accreditation, International Facility Accreditation

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