When a machine breaks down in a plant or factory, not only is the machine idle, but raw materials and human resources are wasted. It is the industrial machinery repairer's job to prevent these costly breakdowns and to make repairs and quickly as possible.
Industrial machinery repairers--often called maintenance mechanics--spend much of their time doing preventive maintenance. This includes keeping machines well oiled and greased, and periodically cleaning parts. Repairers regularly inspect machinery and check performance. They use tools such as micrometers, calipers, and depth gauges to measure and align all parts. For example, forearms on industrial robots in motor vehicle manufacturing plants need frequent adjustment, and gears, bearings, and other mechanical parts have to be aligned and lubricated. By keeping complete and up-to-date records, mechanics try to anticipate trouble and service the machinery before factory production is interrupted.
When repairs become necessary, the maintenance mechanic must first locate the specific cause of the problem. This requires knowledge reinforced by experience. For example, after hearing a vibration from a machine, the mechanic must decide whether it is due to worn belts, weak motor bearings, or any number of other possibilities. New industrial machinery often is equipped with computer control panels that indicate the source of mechanical problems.
After the problem has been diagnosed, the maintenance mechanic disassembles the equipment and repairs or replaces the necessary parts. A wide range of tools may be used. For example, repairers may use a screwdriver and wrench to adjust an engine, or a hoist to lift a printing press off the ground. Repairers use catalogs to order replacements for broken or defective parts. When parts are not readily available, or when a machine must be quickly returned to production, repairers may sketch a part that can be fabricated by the plant's machine shop. Repairers often follow blueprints and engineering specifications in maintaining and fixing equipment. After the equipment has been serviced, the repairer reassembles and tests it.
Some of the industrial machinery repairer's duties may be performed by millwrights.
Repairers may work in stooped or cramped positions, to reach the underside of a generator, for example. They also may work from the top of a ladder when repairing a large machine. These workers are subject to common shop injuries such as cuts and bruises. Because factories and other organizations cannot afford breakdowns in industrial machinery, industrial machinery repairers may be called to the plant at night or on weekends for emergency repairs.
Industrial machinery repairers held about 465,000 jobs in 1990. Repairers work in every industry in which a great deal of machinery is used. Six of every ten work in manufacturing industries, primarily in machine shops, printing plants, oil refineries, garment shops, automobile and aircraft companies, and food processing plants. Others work for government agencies and for service firms that maintain equipment for a fee.
Because industrial machinery repairers work in a wide variety of plants, they are employed in every section of the country. Employment is concentrated, however, in heavily industrialized areas.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most workers who become industrial machinery repairers start as helpers and pick up the skills of the trade informally and by taking courses offered by machine manufacturers. Some learn the trade through apprenticeship programs sponsored by the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers. This training usually lasts 4 years and consists of on-the-job training and related classroom instruction. Apprentices learn how to operate, disassemble, and repair machinery from experienced repairers. Classroom instruction focuses on subjects such as shop mathematics, shop theory, blueprint reading, welding, and safety. Electronics training is offered as a part of the apprenticeship program but is not required. However, a growing number of employers prefer this background.
Graduation from high school is preferred, but not always required, for entry into this occupation. However, participants in apprenticeship programs must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. High school courses in mechanical drawing, mathematics, blueprint reading, physics, and electronics are useful.
Mechanical aptitude and manual dexterity are important qualifications for workers in this trade. Good physical condition and agility are also necessary because repairers sometimes have to lift heavy objects or climb to reach equipment located high above the floor.
Opportunities for advancement are limited. Industrial machinery repairers advance either by working with more complicated equipment or by becoming a supervisor.
Examinations may be administered periodically by employers to determine the repairer's ability to maintain more advanced machinery. Some of the most highly skilled repairers can be promoted to master mechanics or become machinists or tool-and-die makers.
Employment of industrial machinery repairers is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. U.S. firms, to remain competitive in world markets, are expected to introduce more automated production equipment. These machines which require much preventive maintenance, will stimulate demand for repairers to keep them in good working condition. Many additional job openings will result from the need to replace repairers who transfer to other occupation or retire.
Industrial machinery repairers are not usually affected by seasonal changes in production. During slack periods, when some plant workers are laid off, repairers often are retained to do major overhaul jobs. Although these workers may face layoff or a reduced workweek when economic conditions are particularly severe, they generally are less affected than other workers because machines have to be maintained regardless of the level of production.
According to the available data, industrial machinery repairers had average hourly wages of $11.68 in 1990, the middle 50 percent earned between $8.89 and $14.64 per hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.23 and the top 10 percent earned more than $18.04. This is in sharp contrast to the average hourly wage for all non supervisory workers in private industry, except farming, which was $9.66.
Labor unions to which most industrial machinery repairers belong include the United Steelworkers of America; the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America; the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers; and the International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers.
Other occupations which involve repairing machinery include aircraft mechanics and engine specialists, automotive and motorcycle mechanics, bowling-pin-machine mechanics, diesel mechanics, farm equipment mechanics, machinists, millwrights, tool-and-die makers, and vending machine mechanics.
Sources of Additional Information
Information about employment and apprenticeship opportunities in this field may be available from local offices of the State employment service and from:
International Union of Electronic, Electrical, Technical, Salaried and Machine Workers, 1126 16th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20036.