Most of the plants I have visited in the last few months have an aging workforce that is very skilled in performing their duties. Many of these employees are looking forward to retiring within the next few years. That in itself is not a problem. The problem is that most of the data these employees have collected over the years only resides within their heads and not on paper or within a computer. This means that when they walk out the door that final time, information will be lost until the company invests in learning it over again (often at a very steep price).
One way to remedy this situation is to start developing effective written procedures. What is an effective lubrication procedure? It is a step-by-step guideline that directs the user through a specific lubrication task. Of course, there are many types of tasks, including manual bearing lubrication, gearbox filling, gearbox checking, kidney-loop filtration, sample collection, etc. Each of these tasks will have some degree of uniqueness as well as a lot of overlap with other similar lubrication tasks.
When preparing a lubrication procedure, consider the following:
While there is no single approach to defining the individual tasks for a procedure, certain specifics must be incorporated to remove ambiguity and assure compliance. At a minimum, the purpose should include the name of the item to be addressed, the objective of the work, the identification of the individual to perform the task, the operational and safety conditions, and the amount of time allocated to the task. The details should identify what is to be done, where it is to be done, who will do the work, tools and materials needed, and special issues surrounding the work (safety, operational, etc.).
In the process of devising and writing procedures, expect to find major similarities between like components grouped by maintenance strategy. A template can be created with a significant amount of generic information or structure to facilitate the process without diluting the results.
Procedures clearly scope the work an individual is expected to perform. They ensure work is done the way management or engineering requires. If management wants 12 shots of grease pumped into the bearing, allowing 15 seconds to elapse between shots, this desire can be clearly documented in the procedures.
In the absence of procedures, five technicians are apt to perform the same task five different ways. Without a procedure, each individual has the freedom to “personalize” the task at hand. This inconsistency produces undesirable results. Documented procedures bring uniformity into the lubrication task while keeping everyone on the same page.
A procedure creates the framework for standardizing best practice. It serves as the container in which to pour the experience and expertise of employees, outside consultants, vendors and others into a single document. This convergence process also enables the team to align the procedure to the organization’s goals. Just enough “best practice” for one machine may be too much for another, depending upon the relative importance of the two machines to plant operations, even if the two machines are identical in design.
Arguably, the most important role of lubrication procedures is that they form the basis for training lube techs. Basic training about lubrication, lubricants, oil analysis, etc., is designed to provide the foundation that enables the individual to think like a lube tech.
Certification is another critical part of the training process because it confirms that the individual possesses the skills to perform the job functions. This is called technology training. While it is important, technology training fails to convey specific task-based instructions for completing a lubrication-related work order. A set of procedures serves as a natural curriculum for task-based training. It also serves as the basis for evaluating an individual’s ability to carry out the assigned tasks. Combining basic technology training and third-party certification with task-level training and skill verification creates a powerful combination and a valuable employee.
The perpetual nature of the lubrication process offers both challenges and rewards. The benefits and drawbacks are cumulative. By refining your strategy, working through the details and devising high-value procedures, you can add long-lasting value. Every dollar saved through a new lubrication improvement is saved over and over again. This is called an annuity. It makes each dollar saved worth much more than the face value of the initial dollar saved.
The process is both orderly and detail-oriented. Consider operational circumstances and then correctly identify the right product, the right place, the right amount and the right time, and then apply these practices with the right attitude.
To achieve and maintain a competitive position in a hyper-competitive world, a company must work as a team to build value in each segment of the process. The development of world-class lubrication standards and practices is long overdue in many organizations and will soon become an absolute necessity if my recent experiences are a barometer of the changes that will soon be affecting us all.