Often in maintenance and reliability programs, enhancements are made in small progressive steps. Rarely does a business have the human resources and financial willingness to start and finish a reliability program in one sweeping motion.

Oil Analysis Survey
Two years ago, I was challenged with the task of helping a client improve the quality and consistency of his oil samples by performing an oil analysis survey. An offer was made to perform a plant-wide precision lubrication survey including machinery lubrication and contamination control design, but was turned down. Therefore, we proceeded solely with the oil analysis survey. Prior to our oil analysis survey, the lab flagged more than half of all oil samples as critical. The oil analysis reports identified extremely high ISO particle counts as being the main culprit. The client blamed poor sampling practices and pushed for the survey to correct the problems. The deliverable for this project included the following:

  • sampling procedures for all components slated for oil analysis
  • detailed oil analysis test slates for each individual component
  • individual modification procedures including assembly schematics and details regarding sampling ports and accessories

After receiving his deliverable, the client began to implement our recommendations. Before long, the client was sampling all his components with ideal procedures and hardware. Much to his confusion, the lab results reported only a nominal improvement overall in the oil analysis reports. At this point, the client was baffled. He was performing all procedures correctly, yet still did not see the results expected.

What went wrong? Although the samples were now collected with precision, and the client was convinced that the sampling was not to blame for the high particle counts, the deficiency was that nothing else had changed on the components sampled. Machinery lubrication and contamination control had not been addressed. The high ISO particle count was not caused by poor sampling techniques. Rather, the high ISO particle counts were caused by high levels of dirt and debris in the systems resulting from improper lubricant storage and handling and poor contamination control practices.

Starting a Lube Program
So where does one start a precision lubrication program? To deploy a precision lubrication program, three main disciplines must be considered: machinery lubrication including lubricant storage and handling, contamination control and oil analysis including sampling hardware modifications. Which one should be initiated first, and to what degree is the discipline deployed?

All three disciplines should ideally be deployed at the same time to maximize the benefits. For the client who wanted only the oil analysis survey, the benefits of implementing the oil analysis program were shadowed by the lack of consideration for contamination control. Had a contamination control survey been performed without consideration for lubricant storage and handling or oil sampling, the sought-after benefits would not have been realized.

And the Answer Is
So what is the answer to the all-or-nothing question? Should all precision lubrication disciplines be implemented at the same time and never individually? Individually, each discipline has tremendous payback. Together, they combine to become a powerful tool used to maintain the reliability of critical plant equipment. When implementing individual disciplines, it is important to understand the function of the discipline and its relation to the other disciplines. As for the client with the oil analysis program, he is currently enjoying the benefits of a phased precision lubrication program including contamination control, machinery lubrication and of course, oil analysis.