So You've Got a Lubrication Program... Now What?

Noria Corporation
Tags: industrial lubricants

Have you ever built a deck? If so, it's likely you went to a big-box hardware store and sat down with an associate who used deck-design software to help layout the deck and generate a bill of materials. You ordered the materials as prescribed, and they appeared on your driveway a few days later. Then the unavoidable question pops up, "Now what do I do?"

In situations that appear to be overwhelming, people struggle with deciding where, exactly, to start. The same is true for lubrication excellence programs. At Noria, our approach to lubrication excellence is a holistic and phased approach. We start a program with a benchmark and GAP analysis. The strengths and weaknesses of what is currently in place is determined, and we build upon the opportunities. The program continues with a specific, engineered assessment and calculation of every lubrication point in the client's facility. The next installment is the delivery of thousands of lube point-specific procedures relating to lubrication, oil analysis and contamination control, along with modification procedures to support the former.

Implementing the Program
The next step, and potentially the most difficult, is the implementation. Even though the client is coached through the many phases of the lubrication program design, when it comes down to implementation and execution, we are often asked, "Now what do I do?"

Answering this question usually warrants a similar answer for all plants that have collected lube point data on lubricated assets. Additionally, these plants have likely engineered the appropriate lubricant type, volume and interval as well as designed the concepts for the modifications to perform the tasks associated with each lube point. A stepwise approach to implementation is often the most appropriate way to ensure a metered and controlled (and successful) execution.

The steps associated with a successful implementation of a highly defined and specific lubrication program include:

  • Lubricant receiving and storage design

  • Equipment minor modifications

  • Lubrication handling and portable filtration

  • Route creation and work leveling

  • Major modifications and equipment redesign

  • Continuous improvement and benchmarking

Receiving and Storage
Lubricant receiving and storage can often be one of the biggest milestones that will be met in the success of a lubrication program. We, as reliability professionals, depend on our equipment to operate at capacity for unlimited periods of time in harsh conditions and neglected environments. Therefore, our equipment relies on clean, dry lubricants to operate efficiently. The lubricant should also meet the criteria (physical and chemical properties) that have been specified.

In most cases, we are aware that the lubricants we bring into the plant are not clean, nor are they free of water. In some cases the viscosity or the additive packages can even be mislabeled. Therefore, it is necessary to be skeptical of each drum of oil that comes into the plant. We must develop a procedure for verifying the quality of oil and have a remedy for oil that does not meet our standards. Once we're satisfied with the cleanliness and the amount of water contamination in the oil, it is time to develop a method for storing the oil until use. Once we have appropriate receiving procedures and a storage facility in place, the remaining steps toward implementation are within reach. Leaving this step uncompleted will compromise the remaining steps.

Modifying the Equipment
Minor equipment modifications are the largest and most difficult step to complete. Many modifications require planning and procurement of hardware, and the installations require the equipment to be off-line for a period of time. This poses a challenge to even the most gifted planner. Generally, modifications can be performed during a shutdown. In other cases, modifications can drag on for months trying to plan around scheduled downtimes. At the root of the lubrication program, the modifications must be installed before the prescribed maintenance tasks can be performed. A holdup on modifications results in a standstill of the entire program.

Handling and Filtration
Lubrication handling and portable filtration is a result of the installed modifications. Level gauges indicate when a top-up is needed. Sample ports help identify the need for filtration with a portable filter cart, or will indicate the need for an oil change. Without adequate handling and filtration available, the reliability of the component is compromised.

Lubrication Routes
Once these steps have been completed, we can attempt to execute procedures as lubrication routes and level the work in a way that allows for efficiency and flexibility. Without the completion of the previous steps, the required tasks can take place as anticipated. Samples can be taken using installed sample ports, filtration can occur with quick couplers and filtration units, top-ups can be performed using sight glasses and appropriate transfer containers and bearings can be greased via grease point extensions.

Modify and Redesign
As the program gains momentum and work is performed according to best practice, it is important to consider major modifications and perhaps the redesign of certain equipment trains. Our goal is to build in some reliability from a lubrication and proactive maintenance perspective. This may mean drilling and tapping ports in components for necessary modifications, the design and installation of permanent offline filtration on particular systems, or adding a centralized lubrication system to a cluster of lube points on sophisticated machinery.

The End?
The goal encourages us toward continuous improvement. Our lubrication programs should be growing to match the dynamics of our plants. New technologies must be investigated, new methods should be tested and new ideas and best practice should be brought to the table. We should always be in a position to adopt new efficiencies into our program, putting our company in a position to benchmark our program, identify the gaps and go through the process again. In other words, there may be a definitive start to the implementation of a lubrication program, but there really is no end. You will find that much like life, a successful lubrication and reliability program is a journey, not a destination.