6 Keys for a Reliability-centered Lubrication Program

Alejandro Meza, Noria Corporation
Tags: lubrication programs

When implementing a formal lubrication program to improve reliability and reduce operating costs, it is necessary to have a holistic and systemic vision of the project. This will require taking into account several elements collectively in order to achieve the desired results. 

Whether the program is for a fixed plant or a mobile fleet, the lubrication-related factors to consider can be described according to the lubricant’s life cycle. These include lubricant selection, lubricant reception and storage, lubricant handling and application, contamination control, lubricant analysis, and lubricant disposal. Following is a brief explanation of each element.

Lubricant Selection

When a new machine is put into operation, one of the first questions that arises is about the lubricant to select for proper operation and warranty protection. The equipment manufacturer’s operating manual and technical service representatives are commonly consulted for recommendations. The lubricant supplier may also be involved in this process. In the end, the decision often rests with the reliability or engineering department. Several factors should be considered, such as the required specifications and performance, possible lubricant consolidation, product packaging, the needed stock for proper handling and application, lubricant identification across the plant, purchasing procedures, and product delivery. The technical specifications should also be defined for the necessary consumables and lubrication-related hardware.

 

Lubricant Reception and Storage

When the purchased lubricant is received, it should be inspected to ensure it meets certain quality standards and comes in the correct amount, package size and time required. Routine tests should be performed on the new lubricant, and a sampling plan established with the appropriate test slates and limits.

Once the lubricant is accepted, it should be stored in a convenient area that maximizes the lubricant’s storage life and integrity. All involved personnel must be sure to follow the safety procedures and environmental awareness practices. These requirements will continue for the rest of the product’s life cycle. Proper lubricant identification also begins at this point.

Lubricant Handling and Application

Careful handling will help safeguard lubricant integrity, safety and environmental protection while preparing the lubricant for application. An excellent proactive practice is to filter the new lubricant before it is used. Quality filtration and dehydration systems will likely be required to reach the cleanliness targets established for each product. It is also important to have a clean lube room along with sealed containers, appropriate tools, adequate training and detailed procedures.

Lubricant application activities encompass all tasks that facilitate the correct product application, administration and inspection while the lubricant is in service. These activities include oil change-outs, top-ups, filtering, regreasing, oil condition inspections and machine condition inspections. Each activity should be executed according to a scheduled plan with documentation detailing the machine’s status, safety procedures, tasks to be completed, etc. All activities should also be supported by appropriate training and awareness. 

Contamination Control

This strategic element is perhaps the most important part of a proactive lubrication program. It doesn’t work independently of the other factors mentioned here, but it is a requirement in most of the lubricant’s life cycle. Contamination control refers to all practices related to lubricant cleanliness. There are three important steps to consistently maintain clean lubricants:

  1. Set a specific and verifiable target cleanliness level for each machine based on criticality and machine contaminant sensitivity.

  2. In order to achieve the selected target, first modify machine and maintenance practices to restrict contaminant ingression. Next, select filtration to remove and control contaminant levels within the target.

  3. Frequently monitor contaminant levels to confirm that cleanliness is stable and well within the target.

In addition, do not forget about grease. Although you may not be able to filter or dry it, you can prevent grease from becoming contaminated. Some grease contamination can also be monitored through lab analysis.

Lubricant Analysis

How can a process be controlled if it is not measured or monitored? Oil analysis is an excellent tool for monitoring the oil and machine condition. Its purpose is to confirm the lubricant’s quality and type, measure the lubricant’s health/condition, estimate the lubricant’s remaining useful life, identify and measure contaminants and abnormal wear, find root causes of failures, and support the optimization of lubrication intervals and other maintenance practices.

An effective oil analysis program includes three primary stages: program design, program setup and field implementation/continuous improvement. 

Program Design 

The oil analysis program should be designed according to specific targets or goals. Machines to be sampled, laboratory selection, test slates, limits, sampling frequencies, interpretation of results and corrective/proactive actions are the leading factors to define at this stage.

Program Setup 

This stage involves making the necessary machine modifications for appropriate sampling procedures, setting up the oil analysis program with the selected laboratory, and providing the required training and tools for those responsible for oil sampling and interpreting lab reports.

Field Implementation and Continuous Improvement

Once the resources have been provided, it is time to implement the program. This includes taking oil samples properly, documenting the process and sending samples out for analysis. When the results are received, they must be interpreted so proactive/corrective actions can be taken. A periodic analysis of the program is also needed to verify its adequacy and opportunities for improvement. 

Lubricant Disposal

Once the lubricants and contaminated materials (like oil filters) have reached the end of their useful life, they must be disposed of in a proper manner according to local regulations and corporate policies. The goal is to protect the environment from potential contamination while maintaining safety at your facility.

Controlling lubricant leaks is also important for operating machinery as well as for safety and environmental protection. An effective program for leak detection and control should be in place. This type of program offers many benefits, such as decreasing lubricant consumption, minimizing safety risks, reducing the risk of lubricant starvation in the machine, controlling environmental contamination, achieving higher productivity levels and lowering costs.

Program Implementation Management

A lubrication program consists of different elements that interact with a common purpose. It is necessary to manage all of these factors to keep them working efficiently. Among the essential elements for a reliability-centered lubrication program include:

  • Top management support, teamwork and communication
  • A motivation and rewards program
  • Involvement of affected areas within the organization such as human resources, purchasing and production
  • Appropriate training for all involved personnel 
  • Clear, detailed procedures and work instructions
  • Effective records and proper handling of information
  • Product identification 
  • Safety procedures 
  • Environmental awareness
  • Applicable regulations, standards and corporate policies
  • Metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs)

Properly combining these elements will allow you to achieve an effective and rewarding program implementation.

40% of lubrication professionals say training of personnel is the most important factor for continuous improvement of a lubrication program, based on a recent survey at MachineryLubrication.com.

About the Author

Alejandro Meza is a senior technical consultant with Noria Corporation. He has more than 20 years of experience in the lubricant industry, technical services, quality assurance, training, consul...

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