Name: Mark Crooks

Age: 59

Title: Mechanical Foreman

Years of Service: 34 years

Company: SaskPower

Location: Saskatchewan, Canada

Four years ago, a change in management at SaskPower’s Poplar River Power Station (PRPS) in Saskatchewan, Canada, led to a new way of thinking. Mechanical foreman Mark Crooks was asked to initiate and implement a lubrication program and improve on anything that was already in place. When Crooks asked, “Why me?” he was told, “You have a passion for improving the lubrication problems in the plant.” Over the past three years, Crooks has been in the lead support role for the company’s oil analysis program and has been educating employees on the importance of clean oil, proper oil handling and keeping oil reservoirs and gearboxes as clean as possible. He knows that once these ideas become common practice and the routines become a habit, everything will start to flow more smoothly.

Q: How did you get your start in machinery lubrication?

A: I started my career with SaskPower in 1979 as a dragline oiler. At the time, the company ran draglines with 400-foot booms and 90-yard buckets. I graduated to dragline operator and held the position for five years. I then moved to a coal-fired power plant in Saskatchewan and worked as a coal handler until I was appointed to an apprentice millwright position. I worked as a journeyman millwright and then as a mechanical foreman. This included working with and supervising welders, machinists and millwrights, as well as various contractors. I have been in the oil analysis business for three years.

Q: What types of training have you taken to get to your current position?

A: As a dragline oiler and operator, I took a basic lubrication principles course. I also have my supervisor’s certificate for open-pit mining. As a journeyman millwright, I completed an introduction to vibration technology course as well as a reliability-centered maintenance program. I have taken courses for steam turbine generator maintenance and oil analysis for proactive maintenance.

Q: What professional certifications have you attained?

A: In 1992 I received my industrial mechanic (millwright) provincial trade certification, and in 2011 I earned my Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA) Level I certification from the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML).

Q: Are you planning to obtain additional training or achieve higher certifications?

A: I plan on obtaining my MLA Level II and III certifications in the future. It is my goal to have our oilers also earn Machine Lubrication Technician (MLT) Level I and II certifications.

Q: What’s a normal work day like for you?

A: Our team is made up of one oiler, one millwright and me. In the morning, we meet in the oil room and discuss the plans for the day. We talk about equipment permits, safety issues and the day’s work. I check any oil issues that may have been written up the night before and put them in the schedule according to priority. Any oil additions or breather changes would be done that day. Following the crew meeting, I check certain pieces of equipment that may have concerns. I also check the oil analysis reports and schedule work orders to remedy any problems. I research our equipment to find out what oils the manufacturer recommends. This will allow me to see if we can consolidate the oils. I also research breathers, filters and oil-related equipment so we can improve maintenance, make our jobs easier and extend the life of our equipment. We wrap up the day with a short meeting about what happened that day and what needs to be done the next day.

Q: What is the amount and range of equipment that you help service through lubrication/oil analysis tasks?

A: We are kept busy with sampling and monitoring our two turbine generator sets, 12 bowl mills, three large compressors, 12 large fans, 14 conveyor systems and a host of smaller equipment. We sample about 100 pieces of equipment. Depending on the equipment, these samples are taken in a range from once a month to once a year. We have another 175 gearboxes that are not sampled but are set up for regular oil changes.

Q: What lubrication-related projects are you currently working on?

A: Our team is now working on installing breathers. We are systematically changing our breathers over to an acceptable type. At the same time, we are moving the piping to a cleaner and more accessible spot. We will be setting up a preventive maintenance program for checking and replacing these breathers. On our major equipment gearboxes, we are piping in suction and discharge lines and adding quick couplers. We will locate these at convenient locations so that we can hook up our filter carts quickly and safely. This will eliminate the use of hoses that could be damaged or cause tripping hazards.

Q: What have been some of the biggest project successes in which you’ve played a part?

A: Our first big challenge was to clean 30 years of grease off the oil room floor, get rid of the barrels, replace them with totes, and then keep the room clean and neat. The oilers do not go home at quitting time until the oil room is cleaned up from the day’s work. This includes washing the floor every day at the end of the shift. The oil room must be as clean as or cleaner than it was in the morning. The oilers do this as part of their daily routine.

Q: How does your company view machinery lubrication in terms of importance and overall business strategy?

A: The SaskPower management team has supported our undertaking at PRPS. They feel that clean oil, oil analysis and vibration analysis will pay for itself over and over in the future. Just think of the satisfaction of knowing which equipment needs attention and which ones are going to fail. We can plan to repair equipment when we want to schedule it instead of when it breaks down in the middle of the night. It is hard to put a cost savings to this kind of reliability program. It can really cut down the financial burden of emergency repairs.

Q: What do you see as some of the more important trends taking place in the lubrication and oil analysis field?

A: I am very excited about the clean oil and oil analysis movement. It seems to me that the time is here. Companies are now realizing the benefit of these programs due to many major breakdowns and the unnecessary costs of plant downtime. Plant reliability is finally receiving the attention it deserves. At Poplar River, instead of ignoring the oil analysis data, we study it, take the findings and act on it before we run to fail. We now have more knowledge and support equipment than ever before. We are moving from the dark ages and starting to use the new technology that is available today.

Q: What has made your company decide to put more emphasis on machinery lubrication?

A: At Poplar River, this need for change became very apparent with far too many unnecessary equipment failures. The management team started to listen to the people on the floor. As tighter budgets and plant reliability became more important, we were left with no choice but to improve equipment reliability and develop a strong oil maintenance plan. This was the best way to achieve this at a reasonable cost. As our oil maintenance program expands, our plant will continue to reap more benefits that will in turn last for years to come.

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