The Importance of Operator’s Manuals
A metalworking machine manual is somewhat more important than the instruction book that came with your alarm clock. You might be able to experiment with the clock and figure out how to program it correctly. Try that same technique with a press brake or a lathe and you might just lose a finger—or worse.
Besides telling you how to properly run your equipment, your machine manual will usually also provide other essential information, such as:
- Machine installation instructions, including proper electrical connections
- Ongoing maintenance information, such as lubrication directions
- Long-term maintenance, cleaning and repair instructions
- Troubleshooting techniques
- Critical safety guidelines and warnings
- Hydraulic and electrical schematics
- A replacement parts list to help with reordering
- A foundation plan (for larger pieces of equipment)
- Information about the machine’s warranty
Manuals for metalworking machines can sometimes provide additional helpful information, including:
- Machine specifications
- Noise levels of the machine
- How to properly transport the machine
- How to set up the work area for proper use of the machine
- How to store the machine
- How to dismantle or decommission the machine
Part and Parcel
No matter how sturdy a machine you buy, at some point it is going to require replacement parts. A vital function of the machine manual is to provide parts lists, drawings and diagrams. No matter how bright and talented your operators are in running and maintaining your machines, they still won’t know every single relay and bolt that makes up a particular piece of equipment. If for no other reason, the need to reference parts is justification for keeping your machine manuals safe and accessible.
The parts diagrams will help your staff identify the needed parts by shape and location. Each part shown on a diagram will have a callout number—which is not the part number—next to it. The callout number will correlate with the parts list, which in turn will indicate the name, description and part number of the corresponding part next to the callout number. Having an accurate part number will make ordering replacements a breeze. (It is also recommended that you make a copy of the pertinent pages of the manual and circle the parts in question and attach a photo of the marked-up pages with your parts order to avoid any confusion.)
Even if you have a machine that is no longer being built, knowing the correct part number will help you find a suitable replacement. Blind guesswork will waste time and money you can’t afford to lose.
Maintenance and Service
It cannot be stressed enough that you need to provide the proper maintenance for each machine tool and piece of metal fabrication equipment you own. Two nearly identical machines may have drastically different maintenance requirements due to being slightly different sizes or having different manufacturers. Your operators and service staff need to follow the maintenance schedule listed in each machine manual to the letter.
When outside service technicians come to work on your machines, one of the first things they will need to check is the electrical or other schematics in the operations manual. Keeping a copy of the manual always with the machine will cut down on wasted time or mistakes when service and maintenance issues arise.
“Roger, Copy That”
Make a copy of your machine manuals. Always.
Here are some things you can do to make sure you always have copies of your manuals available:
- If your manual comes in digital format, print out a copy to keep with the machine (operators and repair technicians will usually need immediate access to it).
- If a paper manual comes with your machine, photocopy it so that you have a spare.
- It is probably better to scan a physical manual as a PDF so that you can print out copies as needed.
- If you have a physical copy, contact the manufacturer to see if they can provide you with a digital version so you don’t have to scan yours.
- If you buy a used machine that doesn’t have a manual, contact the manufacturer to get a replacement.
- If you have a used machine that is out of production, you can often find copies of old manuals for sale online. They usually aren’t cheap, but it is essential that you have the one that exactly matches your model if at all possible.
- If a manual just doesn’t exist, have your operators and service technicians make their own as best they can as they observe the operation of the machine and compare it to similar models. Some documentation that is kept on hand for future reference is better than each new operator or technician having to guess at it when they come along.
- Always keep two paper copies of each manual available at all times, should one wind up being misplaced.
- Keep a digital copy of each manual in cloud storage (or otherwise stored offsite).
Make Your Own Manuals
Even if you have a highly detailed manual that came with your machine, consider having your operators make their own supplemental manuals that list the techniques they’ve found that work with the machine in question. Having notes that can be shared with future operators can take some of the guesswork out of running the particular jobs that your shop performs on a regular basis.
Shop-specific manuals could also be created that list all maintenance for every machine in the shop (updated as needed) under one cover in a chronological format so that staff can perform similar tasks together on different machines and no piece of equipment is overlooked. General safety manuals for the shop indicating different cautions to be aware of for each machine could also be written up.
Keeping your manuals safe won’t do much good if your operators and related staff don’t read, learn and follow them. From operating procedures to productivity tips, from necessary maintenance to critical safety measures, the manuals that come with your metalworking machines have the time-tested instructions to keep your machines—and your shop—running at peak efficiency. Require that all operators and staff that work with your machines read, reread and carefully follow the information in the manuals. The manuals are just as critical as any other tool in your shop, and just as essential for the success and longevity of your business.