Many articles have been written on the value and necessity of documenting procedures for lubrication and other maintenance activities, and that’s great. However, I think it is equally important to define and document the processes by which lubrication decisions are made. This is an extremely important step in developing a world-class lubrication program.

Whether you are an individual tasked with revamping an existing lubrication program or you are creating a new program from scratch, one of the first steps should be to define the process. There are many different decisions to be made, such as specifying relubrication frequencies, determining which machines will be included in the oil analysis program and creating lubricant specifications. It is not only important to make the right decisions, but to make consistent decisions.

I suggest taking a critical look at how you arrive at decisions affecting lubrication activities. How do you determine how to establish relubrication intervals? How do decide what level of filter performance is appropriate for a hydraulic system? These decisions should not be made arbitrarily, but rather through a well thought out, reviewed and thoroughly documented process.

The first step is to define which elements of the program should be addressed. Next, review and assess the available methods that apply to each of the elements. And finally, select the most effective methods and document them.

A common and often problematic topic in lubrication is the regreasing of electric motor bearings. There are many methods used to determine when to lubricate and with how much grease. They can vary significantly. Some choose to lubricate more often with less grease, while others lubricate less often with more grease. Which is best? I’m not sure. What is important is that you choose a consistent and valid method and stick with it. This doesn’t mean that you can’t later revise the determined values; in fact, you should, but that should also be part of the documented process.

Another lubrication issue for which standards should certainly be established is contamination control. Contamination control is arguably the most important part of a good lubrication program, and should be a primary concern. Target particle counts should be established, if not on an individual machine basis, then certainly by different classes of equipment. Once the standards are established, it is not difficult to identify the measures that will be required to achieve those goals. Such measures may include things such as the use of desiccant breathers, offline filtration with portable filtration equipment or the use of vacuum dehydrators for water removal.

Of course, there is no concrete formula that works in every facility. What works well in one industry may not be suitable for another. At the end of the day, your strategies may have to conform to your budget, staffing constraints or production demands. When it comes to defining the amount of preventive maintenance work to be performed, it is essential that the program be executable. After all, what is the value of identifying the ideal PM schedule if you can only comply with 40 percent of the requirements?

In order to have the best possible program in your plant, begin by deciding what aspects of the program are important, then establish the guidelines by which the program is developed. Creating such a strategy generates a blueprint for a dynamic system that is completely sustainable no matter who is managing it.