Thorough preparation and the right alignment method are critical.
by Peter Carlisle, John Crane
June 20, 2012

Successful alignment of rotating machinery depends significantly on how much emphasis is put on the alignment preparation and planning stages. Proper machinery alignment reduces the chance of an equipment failure, helping end users avoid unnecessary downtime and excessive maintenance time and costs. Preparing thoroughly and choosing an appropriate alignment method can help ensure a smooth process.

Prepare for Alignment

Before starting the alignment process, follow these steps:

  • Make sure that the mounting faces of the bedplate and the rotating machine are free from paint, rust, weld spatters, burrs or other debris.
  • Throw away any shims used during previous alignments that are rusty, painted or damaged.
  • Check to see if the holes for the holding-down bolts are large enough to allow adequate movement for alignment. This helps avoid unnecessary delays later in the process.
  • Check the distance between the shaft ends and align the machines approximately. You can do this by laying a straight edge against the machines and ensuring that the hub faces are parallel.

One issue that end users often overlook during alignment is the presence of a soft foot, where the machine is not sitting evenly on the bedplate. This can twist the machine frame, putting an unexpected load on the bearings and, ultimately, causing the frame to fracture.

End users can detect a soft foot by mounting a bracket carrying a dial indicator on one shaft and placing the plunger on the second shaft, with all the holding-down bolts lightly tightened. Next, work around the machine, fully tightening the bolts and then slackening them one at a time. Any excessive movement on the indicator signifies the presence of a soft foot, which will require that the end user fit shims to the machine before starting the alignment. Modern laser alignment equipment also often contains a program that can check for soft foot without undergoing this manual procedure.


Preparation Checklists

The following checklists can help end users prepare thoroughly for alignment. The lists can be adjusted as needed to suit specific machinery and the chosen alignment method.


Off-Site Checklist

  • Safety regulations
  • Working permits
  • Time limits for stopping production
  • Alignment tolerances
  • Thermal offsets
  • Available space
  • Shaft rotation
  • Shim sizes
  • Alignment system
  • Batteries, if required for laser equipment
  • Specifications for the machine setup


On-Site Checklist

  • Machine serial numbers
  • Safety conditions
  • Available space
  • Foundation condition
  • Bedplate condition
  • Bolt condition
  • Adjustment capacity
  • Shim condition
  • Presence of leaks


Pre-Alignment Checklist

  • Machine temperature
  • Gross soft foot check
  • Replacement of old shims
  • Coupling assembly
  • Adjustment of any mechanical looseness
  • Run-out conditions
  • Pipe strain
  • Final soft foot check to adjust small errors after removing gross soft foot
  • Repeatability test to ensure that tightening and loosening the feet bolts gives consistent results; this test also checks the condition of any shims or binding of bolts


Choose an Alignment Method

After preparing for alignment, end users must choose an alignment method appropriate for their machinery. Many alignment methods require brackets and arms for mounting the measuring equipment. As the length of the arms increases, the arms become more susceptible to sagging, which can cause significant measuring errors if end users do not take the sagging into account. Figure 1 illustrates the typical method to check for sagging arms. End users should add the values they record to the readings they take during alignment. The major methods for checking alignment are discussed in this section.

Figure 1. Check bracket and arm sag






Method 1—Face and Periphery

The face and periphery method is the oldest and most widely used dial indicator method. Figure 2 illustrates the correct setup for this method, which is good for large-diameter hubs with a short distance between shaft ends.


Figure 2. Open lineshaft, product-lubricated




  • The end user only needs to rotate one shaft.
  • Visualizing shaft positions is easier compared to other methods.