Line ‘Em Up

Shaft alignment vital aboard Navy ships

Maintenance priorities aren’t limited to a single dimension of the industry. When it comes to the U.S. Navy, sailors deal with some of the very same obstacles as shop employees, and must be on alert for similar red flags. Aboard any Navy vessel, pumps are clearly of great importance, and thus, the motors needed to run them are too. Hence, shaft alignment is something naval maintenance teams are on the lookout for everyday.

According to data from the Navy’s SERMC (Southeast Regional Maintenance Center), thousands of motors and their accompanying pumps are utilized on every class of ship on a daily basis. These are used for a variety of applications such as displacing seawater, hauling fuel, the conversion of potable water (drinking water), removal of bilge water, as well pumps for other fluids and air. Shaft alignment is thereby a crucial part of any mate’s checkup routine. As many EA readers know by second nature, misalignment will cause vibration, jeopardizing overall efficiency and ultimately causing pump failure. Failed bearings, damaged seals and couplings, and other expensive machine components can occur. These are expenses that the Navy can ill-afford when it comes to strictly timed operations and seafaring schedules. Our guardians of the sea stay on top of this with disciplined maintenance schedules reflective of their everyday naval service, and advanced technology that includes laser alignment tools.

“Because machine downtime is so costly to the Fleet, high-tech tools like laser alignment tools allow Sailors here to quickly, easily and accurately keep pumps in the fleet running smoothly, adding years to their service life,” writes Scott Curtis of SERMC public affairs, “In an average calendar year, SERMC’s pump shop repairs more than 60 pumps. Before returning them to the Fleet, all pumps and motors are calibrated using a precision laser alignment tool. The laser ensures the shaft of the motor and pump are properly aligned along horizontal and vertical planes, or “co-linear.””

As described to Curtis by Brittany Alldredge, a Machinists Mate 3rd Class, laser alignment cuts valuable downtime. Mounted lasers and sensors on the pump and motor shafts are rotated to measure hundreds of points in a very short time period, “essentially eliminating math errors and other common mistakes”. These data points are compiled and sent to a handheld computer, which provides quick corrections scaled for the machinists convenience.

Naval machinists contend that this method, though seemingly pricey at first look, is more cost-efficient in the long term, because it eliminates rebuild or replacement needs that ships on the move just don’t have the time for. In a motor repair shop where repair is the specialty, your best option for price and time would be to let an expert make the proper repairs without overpricing or trying to sell you on new technology, but for the Navy, it makes sense to use tools like laser alignment and go this route.

As Curtis concludes, Navy-specified training is also a valuable skill derived from these practices. Sailors assigned to SERMC return to the fleet at the end of their tour with vital skills and Navy Afloat Maintenance Training Strategy (NAMTS) qualifications. The NAMTS program provides Sailors in electricians mate, engineman, gas turbine machinist, hull technician, and machinist mate ratings with on-the-job, rating-specific training.

Their command motto is “Customer Service is Job One.”

Roger that…something we can all salute to.


  1. Docked & Loaded | Electrical Apparatus Magazine - December 15, 2016

    […] how important the basic elements of training and maintenance are aboard Naval ships, as everything is […]

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