Why Proactive Maintenance is Key for a World-Class Lubrication Program

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation
Tags: contamination control

It is no surprise that those who enter the maintenance field are mechanics at heart. These are people who possess a native love for machinery and the thrill that comes from making broken things run again. Those of us who lack mechanical aptitude have great appreciation for the craftsman who instinctively knows just where the problem is and how to fix it.

Yet today’s reliability-conscious world is changing the maintenance persona, taking it in a direction away from the macho image of the past. It’s no longer politically correct to yearn for the meltdown or the perfect storm. Fading too is the sense of pride that came with going into battle, wrench in hand, to press the limits of one’s mechanical proficiency. Perhaps a sad reality to some, but a reality nonetheless.

Today we see many organizations that have already gone through the transformation, while others have yet to begin. Understandably, there has been resistance to tinkering with past routines and practices. It’s a behemoth task to deprogram and then reprogram the DNA of the corporate maintenance culture, including that of management.

What does this really mean and why should you care? Let me rephrase my main point.

If what you want most is to avoid machine failure, then what you need most are maintenance skills that foster intrinsic machine reliability.

Have you heard of proactive maintenance? Plainly stated, the approach supplants the maintenance philosophy of “failure reactive” with “failure proactive” by avoiding, or eradicating, the underlying conditions that lead to machine faults and degradation. Unlike predictive/preventive maintenance, proactive maintenance commissions actions aimed at failure root causes, not just symptoms. Its central theme is to extend the life of mechanical machinery as opposed to making repairs or inspections when often nothing is broken, accommodating failure as routine and normal, or preempting crises failure maintenance in favor of scheduled failure maintenance.

Proactive maintenance is at the very heart of how the maintenance mindset must change. What exactly are these things that must change? Companies must stop positioning their maintenance job skills upside-down. This sends mixed signals to those involved, and in a very real sense, makes failure a self-fulfilling prophecy. For instance, if what you want most is to avoid machine failure, then what you need most are maintenance skills that foster intrinsic machine reliability. This strategy is opposed to the practices of many companies that structure their highest maintenance pay grades for those who detect and respond to failure.

Let’s look at how this relates specifically to lubrication. Who is more important to machine reliability: mechanics, vibration analysts, wear debris analysts or the lube tech? To answer this, bear in mind the fragile state of the microscopic oil film that separates a machine’s internal frictional surfaces. Who will protect and nurture this critical film throughout the months and years of machine operation?

Will this be done by the vibration analyst with accelerometer and data collector in hand? Perhaps the wear debris analyst will be able to use his microscope to ensure optimum lubrication. Or maybe it’s the mechanic . . . how will a wrench and screwdriver ensure that the critical surfaces are continuously bathed by quality lubricants? In the realm of the modern maintenance organization, these are all vitally important jobs, but none are strategically positioned to pilot a proactive maintenance program better than the lubrication technician.

Does your organization embrace high quality lubrication? How much training has your maintenance staff received on the essence of world-class lubrication in the past year? Are your lube techs certified in the same way as your vibration analysts? Do you have well-documented lubrication procedures for each task that have been reviewed by subject-matter experts? Is your company attracting and paying for high-achievers in a lubrication career path? Is there a strong sense of pride among those who serve in this important job - a job that’s fostered and supported by management?

It’s the dawn of a new day in machinery lubrication.


About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advised hundreds of companies on developing their lubrication and oil analysis programs. Contact Jim at

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