Zen and the Art of Machine Maintenance

Photo by Natasia Causse

There’s a passage from Mark Epstein’s book Psychotherapy Without the Self that sets up this post on machine maintenance and repair quite nicely. Epstein asks a renowned Zen Master named Achaan Chah if he could summarize Buddha’s teachings.

This is the Zen Master’s reply:

He motioned to a glass sitting to one side of him. “Do you see this glass?” he asked us. “I love this glass. It holds water admirably. When the sun shines on it, it reflects the light beautifully. When I tap it, it has a lovely ring. Yet for me, this glass is already broken. When the wind knocks it over or my elbow knocks it off the shelf and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course’. But when I understand that this glass is already broken, every minute with it is precious.”

Obviously, it’s never a good thing when machines in production have a fault or break down, but it’s an irrevocable law of the universe. What goes up, must come down (so to speak).

Since machine downtime is inevitable, it’s worth reviewing the following tips to avoid potential accidents when working around equipment.

Whenever you’re engaged on any type of machinery, first disconnect the machines from the power sources. Once power has been shut off, ensure that you lock it out with a maintenance tag so that all persons will need to check with you and the maintenance team before touching the switch.

While working on Gyrol fluid drives, rotary air preheaters or any other heavy duty industrial equipment, it’s important that you keep a clean, hazard-free space in which to work. If there’s water or oil on the ground, this can be a slipping hazard. Ensure you’ve got unrestricted access to the equipment.

Make sure you’re wearing all necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) before you begin work. Safety goggles and work gloves are useful protecting gear as are steel-toed boots to avoid foot injuries. Hard hats could also be needed, particularly if you are in an area where you may be subject to falling items.

Keep track of all components and parts when disassembling machines. Each part incorporates a purpose and a function, just as Yin and Yang interact to form a dynamic system in which the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Should any components or parts be left over, it’s an indication someone forgot to place something back; and if you are attempting to order new components, it always helps to know the correct name of the part you are ordering.

The Zen Master’s perspective on the impermance of this world could benefit anyone fixated on the material world, but to maintenance engineers, it’s “the law”.


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