The majority of my time is spent teaching people how to improve reliability with world-class lubrication practices. Most of these professionals desire a world-class program but are simply overwhelmed by the task of transforming an average program to an exceptional status. To be honest, in many cases, I would feel the same way.
If you find yourself in this situation, remember that program improvement cannot be accomplished in a single day, or even a year. Start with the easy tasks, identify where the greatest opportunities lie, then go down the list. As the former NFL coach Lou Holtz once said, "Success is a journey, not a destination." Keeping this in mind, here are five easy steps to get the process in motion. As always, most of these items focus on contamination control.
Filter New Oil
In the majority of cases, new oil is not suitably clean for most applications. Whether tote tanks, drums or bulk tanks are used, it is usually simple and inexpensive to install high-quality filters at the dispensing station to achieve a desirable cleanliness for the new oil. Many lubricated components have no permanent means to remove contamination; therefore, the best method of contamination control is prevention, which can be controlled by working to keep the new oil clean.
Use High-quality Lubricant Transfer Equipment
Get rid of those open metal oil cans that contribute to the contamination of new oil. Even if new oil is initially clean, it will immediately be contaminated if it is dispensed into a dirty container or applied through a dirty funnel (wiping oil cans or funnels with a rag does not make them clean). Using good-quality, sealable, plastic containers is an excellent way to deliver clean oil to machines.
It is also important to remember that containers must be cleaned periodically if they are going to be reused. For larger oil reservoirs, it is even better to use portable filtration equipment to transfer oil to the machines. This not only provides a higher degree of cleanliness, but makes the task easier, safer and less time-consuming.
Use Better Filters
Arguably, the worst way for a maintenance program to save money is to purchase cheap filters. Once the appropriate cleanliness targets have been identified for each machine, upgrades may need to be made to existing filtration systems or additional systems must be installed to meet these goals. Of course, the first step should be to install the best-performing filters that will fit the existing filter's housings. This may allow goals to be met without adding additional systems.
Practice Good Head Space Management
Head space refers to the air in an oil reservoir above the oil level. Most sumps breathe, to some degree, unless positive pressure is maintained on the system. For many machines, this is the primary source of contamination. Fortunately, this type of contamination ingression is largely preventable by using high-quality breathers that exclude particles and moisture. Remember, if it costs $1 to prevent a unit of contamination, it costs $10 to remove it.
Develop a Lubricant Identification Tagging System
People are often shocked when they discover how many components are being lubricated by a mixture of different lubricants. In many cases, the damage caused by cross-contamination of lubricants is negligible; however, it can lead to catastrophic failure. Mixing incompatible greases is a common problem. A typical result of such a mixture is a significant loss of grease consistency, which thins out the grease and causes lubricant starvation.
Although this is a common lubrication problem, it is easily preventable. By tagging lubricated sumps and even grease-lubricated components with a color-coding system, the specified lubricant for each machine can easily be identified. This tagging process can normally be carried out while performing routine lubrication routes and requires little time to execute.
There are quite a few lubrication program improvements that can be made without requiring too much money or effort. These five items are just examples for which I encourage you to review and identify the so-called low-hanging fruit. After prioritizing the opportunities in the plant, it is important to set goals for completion of these improvements.
Afterward, the whole initiative becomes more attainable and less intimidating. By making these simple changes and measuring the results, it can open up a focus for tackling larger issues in the lubrication program.