By Pat Flippen

Portable machining equipment is a very effective method to produce high-quality field machining results.

Personnel safety on the job site is the highest-ranking factor when determining the ultimate success or failure of an individual project’s final performance metrics. Jobsite hazards should be identified and quantified for every phase of the project, then addressed with compensatory or mitigation planning.

Most owners, prime contractors, and specialty contractors implement specific and detailed planning to address every hazard associated with the overall work scope and create a job safety analysis or task safety analysis to identify hazards and document mitigation planning. A common hazard found on many heavy industrial projects is the human interface element when using “rotating equipment.” Because of this requirement, special consideration and expertise should be utilized when developing and implementing hazard mitigation plans.

Portable machining/pipe beveling equipment use is becoming more widespread, as every industry searches for ways to improve productivity and quality. Essentially, this type of portable rotating equipment brings the machine shop to the field and allows the end-user a multitude of advantages to performing machining operations that once were limited to a shop setting. The increased use of the portable machining tools, in and of itself, has enhanced job site safety, by replacing methods that create more potential for personnel injury and property damage.

Portable machining equipment has unique hazards associated with its use in the field environment. Personnel operating or in the vicinity of the portable machining equipment are subjected to hazards similar to the machine shop floor, but in most cases hazard mitigation techniques used in the shop environment are impractical due to circumstances found only in the field. Below are a few specific, key focus areas that differentiate the field environment/conditions to those of a shop environment. 

Safe equipment handling


Shop machining equipment is stationary and typically, the workpiece is brought to the stationary machine. Conversely, portable machining equipment is typically transported and mounted to the workpiece in the field. This specific attribute creates several additional hazards or risks that must be considered in compensatory measures and risk mitigation planning.

Feasibility of providing machine guarding


In most cases, portable machining equipment is used in a physically congested area with limited physical space that renders guarding somewhat impractical. Guarding options are available to prevent improper operator technique, which can provide compensatory measures where practical.

Component restraint/position retention


When using portable machining equipment in the field environment, it is important to plan with the mindset that system components may have stored energy due to “cold spring” imposed during initial installation. If present and without planning or restraints in place, the potential stored energy could cause abrupt component movement. The potential for system component movement to its neutral position must be considered due to the risk of injury to personnel or damage to other equipment in the area.

Trained, qualified personnel


The safe and effective use of portable machining equipment requires operational training and practical experience. The operational training curriculum for portable machining equipment is the most important attribute to the safe and effective use of this equipment. As with all training programs, continuity and frequent use is key to the continued retention of the knowledge base. It is highly recommended retraining and requalification be implemented if personnel have not used the specific portable machining equipment within the previous 12 months.

Regardless of the industry or application, combined with effective personnel training, portable machining equipment is a very safe and effective method to produce accurate, repeatable, high-quality field machining results.

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