In today’s culture of looking for high returns on investments, there are not many that can compare to a comprehensive lubrication program. Tremendous financial savings can be enjoyed by eliminating poor lubrication practices from an organization. Numerous financial losses are attributable to poor and inadequate lubrication programs and techniques, and most of the losses are not going to jump out at you. This is why it is important to think of every aspect of lubrication. Just working on one area will not yield the financial results you desire. It is all or nothing. This article will offer valuable guidance as to why and how to look at the big picture when updating your lubrication program.
To understand where your lubrication program needs to be, you must first find out where it currently stands. In order to accomplish this, an in-depth benchmarking process must be performed to compare your current program to industry best practices in key areas of lubrication. Without having a metric to compare your program to, it becomes the blind leading the blind. All successful programs start with a clear picture of how much work they need to do to become world class and what they need to do to get there. Transitioning a lubrication program is not like turning on a light. It takes understanding, clear vision, dedication, champions, time and financial resources to make it happen.
During the design and engineering phase, look at every lubrication point and determine what actions need to be put into place. These actions can range from equipment modifications and routine inspections to one-off inspections, etc. They are usually dependent upon the equipment type, criticality, reliability needs, financial benefit, safety consequences and other factors that affect the bottom line. Based on these factors, you should create clear, concise and specialized procedures for each lubrication point. These procedures will be used to modify equipment for contamination control, provide standards for oil analysis and coach the lubrication technician on proper lubrication techniques (i.e., top-ups, drains, filtration and oil sampling).
During this phase, you also should make sure the correct lubricant is being used in each lubrication point. This process involves checking the OEM recommendations for a baseline and then performing certain calculations for proper viscosity selection, lubricant type, performance properties, re-lubrication volumes, re-lubrication frequencies, etc. Re-lubrication volumes and frequencies often are left out of procedures, and a “shoot-from-the-hip” method is used. Not understanding how much and how frequently the lubricant should be supplied to an application, especially grease-lubricated bearings, can cause frequent lubrication-related failures.
Many times, as a byproduct of the design and engineering phase, lubricant consolidation occurs. This is important on many levels, as it allows for a clearer picture of what products need to be purchased, which reduces purchasing costs, eliminates unnecessary or unused products from inventory, decreases the likelihood of lubricant cross-contamination and helps the lubrication team understand which products they need and why. As the specialized procedures are created during the design and engineering phase, each lubrication activity should have the correct lubricant specified. This will help ensure that the technician is using the right product in the right place.
Once all of the necessary lubricants are identified, it is time to think about your storage and handling practices. Proper storage and handling techniques are essential in developing a successful lubrication program. You can perform all of the equipment modifications for contamination control, but if you can’t get the lubricant from the storage room to the application without introducing contamination, all of those modification efforts were in vain. This is why it is so critical to have a proper lube room with dedicated receiving filtration, storage systems, filter carts, stored filtration, dispensing equipment and a safe and clean environment for the lubricants to be stored.
Lubricant labeling is another frequently missed opportunity. Labeling should be a high priority when thinking of execution. Lubricant-specific labels should be created and placed on stored lubricants, top-up containers, grease guns, filter carts and the equipment. This makes lubrication tasks much more efficient and reduces the likelihood of the wrong lubricant being used in the wrong application. If technicians can clearly see the label on the equipment, go back to the lube room and find the matching label on the filter cart, top-up container or grease gun, their jobs become much easier and safer.
After designing and engineering a lubrication program, the next step is to implement what you have developed. Many times this is where organizations fail to execute and never see the value of all their previous efforts. Implementation is not a one- or two-day exercise but a multi-month commitment based on available resources. Complex types of equipment such as hydraulic systems will necessitate multiple modifications in order to be considered best practice, requiring a substantial financial commitment. The modifications can include breathers, sight glasses, dedicated sampling ports, quick-connects for periodic decontamination, filters, etc. This is where all the time spent developing the specialized procedures from the design and engineering phase pays off.
Every modification activity for each piece of equipment should have its own dedicated specialized procedure to instruct the labor force on how to perform the modification correctly. Other less complex types of equipment such as grease-lubricated bearings may not have any modification procedures but only routine lubrication procedures. These applications do not require as much of a financial or labor commitment to implement, and once the specialized procedure is written, the technician can start with the needed tasks immediately.
After your newly revamped lubrication program has been up and running for a while, it is time to re-benchmark your program with industry best practices to see where your program is now compared to where it was during the initial benchmarking. This is where all of the hard work in the previous steps will show the financial rewards and re-enforce that the decision to develop a real lubrication program was worth the financial commitment.
As with any change of culture, management and workforce, a lubrication program needs constant refinement and continuous improvement. It is easy to slide back to the old ways of doing things if not careful, especially if the organization has a high turnover rate in the labor force. This is why it is so important to have developed the specialized procedures during the design and engineering phase, as they make it easier to train new members of the lubrication team and define how to do things correctly and accurately the first time, which promotes a sustainable culture change.