Despite the good intentions of many organizations, real improvements in contamination control often remain an elusive concept. They know that invisible particles are one of the largest single contributors to progressive wear of machinery. Yet with each passing year, no significant enhancements in maintenance practices resulting in greater fluid cleanliness are implemented.

After all, being "generally clean" does not result in incremental reliability improvements. Only higher levels of cleanliness accomplish this. No improvement in contamination control means no reduction in particle-induced machine wear and failure. Unlike invisible particles, a failed machine in need of repair is a tangible task with an immediate tangible result; that is, the machine returns to operation. Yet, most of us have been taught that problem solving (reactive maintenance) should always be subordinate to problem prevention (proactive maintenance). It's amazing how knowing is often not doing.

So why do we fail at "planned and executed" fluid cleanliness? As I recently wrote in a column in Machinery Lubrication magazine, applied tribology is largely a behavior science. This general theme holds true with contamination control. Success depends mainly on changes in behavior and attitude. Lots of evidence confirms this (Table 1).

Keep-it-Clean-Stupid
Perhaps one reason for putting off planned cleanliness is the perception that execution is too difficult and expensive. Of course, there are many wasteful ways to throw money at contamination problems or excessively complicate the improvement process. Now it's time to "kick" a few bad habits by applying the Keep-it-Clean-Stupid principle, which we can shorten to KICS (pronounced "kicks"). After all, the likelihood of successfully executing any new idea is probably closely associated with the perception of cost and simplicity.

Table 1

Tying this principle back to contamination control, the following are behavior-based strategies on how to keep KICS simple and affordable:

  1. Educate your organization about the virtues of cleanliness and the tactics for achieving it. This puts everyone on the same page, aligned with a single objective.

  2. Keep target cleanliness levels of your machines front and center ... the more conspicuous, the better. Make ISO Codes a part of your company's reliability language. Put highly visible cleanliness targets on each machine. Explain why it's good for the company and for staff as its stakeholders.

  3. Invest in an onsite particle counter and the installation of live-zone sampling ports. Monitor machine cleanliness vigorously. People work the metric, so make particle counting an important one. Talk it up at every opportunity.

  4. Post green, yellow and red tags on all program machines to enunciate cleanliness status. Any fluid that is noncompliant gets a yellow or red flag (depends on severity) tagged on the machine until the aberrant condition is remedied. Take immediate action to correct noncompliant machines.

  5. Pursue every reasonable opportunity to exclude the ingression of contaminants. Upgrade filtration prudently. For noncirculating fluids, provide portable filter carts.

  6. Put oil suppliers, workshops, parts suppliers and rebuild contractors on notice regarding cleanliness. Develop inspection procedures and follow through for all nonconforming oils or equipment.

  7. Instigate an awards or incentive program, then celebrate sustained contamination control successes.

  8. Keep track of program costs and savings.

We've heard that problems are opportunities in work clothes. The ravage of contamination on our systems' internal surfaces is a problem, and no fluid-dependent system is immune. But it's a wonderful opportunity. Is there a knock at your door?