"Our new lubricant supplier would like to conduct a lubricant survey at our plant. It has been awhile since the last survey was completed, but we are wondering how often you should have someone do a lubricant survey in your facility."
First, it is important to define exactly what a lubricant survey should involve. Typically, it is the lubricant supplier (often a newly assigned supplier) who requires that a lubricant survey be conducted. Unfortunately, this type of survey often tends to be a look at the lubricants currently in use at the facility as well as a determination of how the new supplier's products best correspond to each of these lubricants. This frequently results in many critical factors of lubricant selection being overlooked.
A proper lubricant survey will take into account whether a sufficient lubricant specification has been chosen based on all the operational and environmental conditions. The most difficult part of the survey will be the collection of data for each machine's operating conditions and environmental influence. Assuming a previous record of machine information has been maintained, it will be vital that this information is updated each time a machine is replaced, moved to a new location, adjusted to operating requirements or removed all together. Of course, this can be challenging.
While proactively updating this information may seem insignificant, it can play an important role in achieving an accurate plant-wide lubricant survey. In today's modernized facilities, this may be greatly aided by centralized software systems that require updates whenever equipment changes occur.
Regardless of the process used to make updates for equipment changes, a detailed lubricant survey should be conducted at least every year or two. Keep in mind that this is the recommended frequency for a facility where there are few lubricant-related failures and all runs smoothly, which is highly improbable. Therefore, a lubricant survey should be prompted when there is a history of similar lubricant-influenced failures occurring.
How often a lubricant survey is conducted will also depend on a variety of factors, including the nature and age of the facility, changes in personnel, training, etc. Even though cost savings is generally the ultimate goal, do not expect the cheapest lubricant that "meets the criteria" to be the most appropriate choice. A true lubricant survey will ensure that the optimum lubricant is chosen to meet plant expectations as well as maximize machine and lubricant life.