50
6:00 am
March 1, 2008
Print Friendly

Key Factors In A World-Class Lubrication Program

Companies today have to work hard and smart to survive in a global marketplace. U.S. industry is managing to keep pace with foreign competition, but only through increased productivity gains. One of the key components to being competitive is extending asset life. This type of focus is changing maintenance strategies from reactive and preventive to more of a reliability-centered approach involving increased condition monitoring—both predictive and proactive.

In reliability-focused organizations, lubrication is recognized as a cornerstone of asset management. Key components shared by the most successful programs include:

  • The right attitude
  • A lubricant champion
  • Effective lubricant surveys
  • Proper scheduling & record-keeping
  • Consolidation
  • Competent personnel
  • Training/certification
  • Correct lubricants
  • Minimized contamination
  • Updating and improving
  • Oil analysis

Foster the right attitude 
Many companies don’t recognize the importance of a well-structured lubrication program, assigning routine—but vital—lubrication tasks to the least-qualified individuals in their organizations. This results in equipment failures, many of which may not be traced back to lubrication, but instead are thought to be nothing more than normal equipment breakdown.

More progressive companies recognize the importance of lubrication and don’t bury it in the organization as a meaningless task. They usually assign it as a function in the maintenance organization—in some cases as part of reliability, if such a separate group exists. The lubricator is usually a maintenance technician who has many tasks, the primary one being to maintain the equipment. This designated individual realizes the importance of lubrication as a key component in equipment life. Lubrication is not considered a task that is only performed if time permits.

The right attitude is set at the top of the organization and allowed to permeate through the maintenance and reliability groups that should have responsibility for lubrication. Over the past few years, upper management in more and more plants finally is beginning to recognize the importance of lubrication.

Designate a lubricant champion 
Every plant needs an individual who is considered to be an expert in lubrication and is capable of being an effective conduit between the lubrication supplier and the plant. He/she serves as a consultant in the plant to solve lubrication related problems. In the past, the steel industry had highly qualified lubrication specialists called “lubrication engineers.” It was not uncommon to find more than one individual performing this task in a mill. Their time was allocated primarily to lubrication. Sadly, as personnel cutbacks and retirements have increased over the past few years, lubrication engineers have gone the way of the dinosaur.

Today, plants still have lubricant champions, but typically this role involves many other duties—not just lubrication. For the most part, though, these in-plant experts are keepers and conveyors of priceless lubrication knowledge. Unfortunately, in light of our aging workforce, with countless workers nearing retirement age, little effort is being made in many plants to train others to fill these crucial lubrication champion positions. This vast amount of knowledge needs to be preserved and passed down. While many of these individuals are not actually trained engineers, their know-how and experience has saved their companies millions of dollars by preventing equipment failures. Some plants now are designating the role of lubricant specialist to a maintenance or reliability engineer, but as that person is promoted, the task is assigned to some other individual. Consequently, there still is a loss in continuity.

Conduct effective lubricant surveys 
Every plant needs a complete up-to-date list of equipment that requires lubrication. In large plants, surveys are usually done by area. For example, in an oil refinery, each major area—crude unit, catalytic cracker, reformer, etc.—would be surveyed separately. Conversely, in a small manufacturing plant, the survey would follow the process flow through the plant. This is a daunting task in a plant with thousands of pieces of rotating equipment.

The responsibility for a lube survey falls on the lubricant supplier. This is a cooperative effort where plant personnel and the lubricant vendor visit each piece of equipment to make sure the correct lubricant is applied properly, recording it all in a document to establish lubrication procedures. The following list reflects the recommended minimum amount of information to be recorded on a lube survey:

  • Equipment Name
  • Equipment ID #
  • Sump Capacity
  • Component Lubricated
  • Application Method
  • Lubricant Name
  • Service Frequency Interval (time interval equipment is checked)
  • Oil Change Interval
  • Oil Analysis (yes/no)
  • Special Considerations

Once a lube survey is completed and recorded in the system via an Access or Excel spreadsheet, it will serve as a basis for scheduling the lubrication routes and frequencies. Each lube survey needs to be continuously updated as equipment is added and dropped. Normally, when switching lubricant suppliers, the new vendor will perform a lube survey.

Observe proper scheduling & record-keeping
Once the lube survey has been completed, it will serve as the platform for the lubrication program. It is vital that proper records be maintained and updated. Tools for doing this range from very basic to highly sophisticated. Select the software program that works best for your operations. The more sophisticated programs integrate the lubrication program into a CMMS system from which work orders and scheduling are generated. Lubricant suppliers, as well as outside companies, sell Access-based programs that will adequately schedule all your lubrication activities and turn out daily, weekly and monthly work orders.

Once the lubrication program is implemented, it is only as good as the data that goes back into the system. Develop a simplified procedure for data input to assist the technician(s) who check and lubricate the equipment. Stress the importance of inputting the data on a timely basis. Lubricant scheduling both in addition and changing of lubricants should be updated as conditions change.

Many technicians recognize the importance of proper scheduling and record keeping. Others don’t. Make sure that the personnel in your organization do.

Consolidate without compromising
There are many advantages to limiting the number of lubricants used in a plant, including:

  • Minimized misapplication
  • Lower inventory costs
  • Lower administrative ordering costs
  • Faster inventory turnover
  • Lower drum and handling costs from bulk purchases

Most plants today are using more lubricants than they need. This is particularly true of greases. In some operations, though, greases have been consolidated from 20+ down to only three or four. Look at your grease inventory as the first place to consolidate, and also identify your goals.

One example of a successful consolidation effort took place several years ago in a large chemical plant. The site decided to consolidate to one polyurea grease (ISO VG of 220) for both its electric motors and general purpose fan bearings. To date, the higher ISO VG for the electric motors has had no detrimental effect on the motor bearing life. Likewise, potential problems resulting from misapplication of light ISO VG 100 electric motor grease with the fan bearings has been eliminated.

At another large chemical plant, the consolidation program calls for the site to minimize lubricant types and consolidate to five greases, as well as cut different oil types by 30% in one year.

Under normal conditions the following grease types can cover many potential applications in a typicalplant:

  • Electric motors- Polyurea ISO VG 100
  • General purpose- #2 Lithium Complex ISO VG 150/220
  • High-load low-speed- #2 Lithium Complex ISO VG 460

Centrifugal pumps lend themselves to consolidation. Some OEMs recommend ISO 68 R & O oil for centrifugal pumps while others recommend an ISO 32. Many plants, especially those in warmer climates, have consolidated to an R & O ISO 68 with no problems.

Consolidation should be done without compromising equipment integrity. Be sure to consult your lubricant supplier and OEM to assist in the process.

Hire & retain competent personnel
Lubrication should not be left to the lowest level person in the plant. Unfortunately, this is too frequent of an occurrence in many operations.

The ideal program is to have a separate group for lubrication—a group that is highly trained, certified and well rewarded. This happens in some plants, but it is rare.

Another approach is to use a highly trained individual to perform a number of duties around the equipment, including lubrication. Give him/her a sense of ownership for that equipment where he/she is responsible on an ongoing basis for a certain route in the plant. This will ensure that the same person is lubricating the equipment over an extended time period. Countless problems are created by the lack of consistency inherent with lubrication of equipment by different people.

Some plants use operators for lubrication—which can create a problem because of an operator’s many duties. Lubrication is usually last on the list of tasks to be completed and, in some cases, it can be almost, if not completely, neglected. The preferred approach is to assign maintenance or reliability technicians— who already have equipment ownership—to provide the lubricating. Not only will they lubricate to preserve the asset, they can be proactive in identifying problems, such as equipment noise, oil color, leakage, high temperatures, etc., at an early stage.

Support training/certification 
There seems to have been a real awakening as to the importance of lubrication over the past 10 years—and the fact that training and certification can offer immediate payback for an organization. In the past, most of the lubrication training was provided by the lubricant supplier. This began to change in the late 90s. Today a great deal of training is performed by non-lubricant, outside training companies or associations. A case in point is The Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE), the world’s oldest lubrication organization— and with over 4000 members, the largest.

STLE has been promoting lubrication for over 50 years through its publications and annual conferences. It serves as an excellent platform for the introduction of new developments in the field of lubrication and, through its many local chapters, provides training and information exchange for the lubrication community.

Certification programs to recognize individuals who have demonstrated a high level of expertise in lubrication practices are available. In 1994, STLE introduced the Certified Lubrication Specialist (CLS) certification. In 2001, the International Conference of Machinery Lubrication introduced the Machinery Lubrication Technician certifications that are designed for lubrication technicians in plants. These recognized certifications have gone a long way in raising awareness of the importance of lubrication to industry.

Companies can reap substantial benefits by exposing their lubricators to new ideas through technical conferences and training classes, and by supporting certification in lubrication for both technicians and engineers.

Use the correct lubricant 
The use of the wrong lubricant can go undetected for many years with no serious consequences. In some cases, however, this situation can lead to catastrophic equipment failure. Using the right product starts with the initial selection of the lubricant for new equipment.

The OEM manual is the first place to look for the correct lubrication recommendation— and the OEM should be consulted if there are any questions. Also, involve your lubricant supplier.

Based on my own experience conducting many lube surveys, in almost every case there has been a small percentage of the wrong lubricant being used on equipment. How can this happen? Usually, the wrong lubricant was initially selected. When performing lube surveys, some suppliers only refer to the current lubricant being used on a piece of equipment and cross it out with their lubricant equivalent. The correct procedure is to check or contact the OEM if there are any doubts on the correct lubricant to use for a particular piece of equipment.

Once the correct lubricant has been selected, there is no guarantee the wrong lubricant will not be added. It has been estimated that everyday at least 15% of lubricants added to equipment are incorrect. People often say that “oil is oil” and “there is no difference,” so they add the first product available. But, would they add just any oil to their automobile engine? Of course not. Thankfully, this group is a small minority.

All equipment should be color-coded with lubricant tags obtained from the lubricant supplier. Each tag has the ISO viscosity grade and a certain color to designate the lubricant type—such as gear oil or hydraulic oil.

Another best practice is to use one container per oil type and be sure that the container also has a color coded lube tag. You may want to put the same tag on the drum or tanks where the oil will be dispensed. Many problems can be avoided with proper labeling and training.

Minimize contamination
Clean oil starts with the new oil you purchase. Determine how clean the oil needs to be by setting cleanliness goals based on the equipment type and criticality. Consult with your lube supplier on how these goals can be met. In most cases filtration will be required before the oil goes into the storage tank.

On receiving drum shipments from your supplier, you need to examine the oil for cleanliness and water before adding it to the equipment. You may randomly sample from several drums per shipment. This will tell you whether you need to filter before adding to the equipment. It is very difficult to meet stringent cleanliness standards in metal drums. There are companies that will guarantee a certain cleanliness level—but only in plastic drums.

Remember that your relationship with your lubricant supplier should never be adversarial on oil cleanliness. You need to work to together as a team to meet a common goal of clean oil for equipment reliability.

Even if you have very clean oil in a drum, dispensing it in a dirty container will defeat the goal of adding clean oil. Try to use plastic sealed containers. Also, only use very clean funnels or use disposable funnels when adding the oil. Once the oil is added, be sure you have the proper filters—if it is a circulating system—to maintain the cleanliness and use desiccant breathers on vents where appropriate. Keep in mind that abrasive wear caused by particles is the most common wear mode—and 70% of the failures in circulating systems are attributed to contamination.

Continuously update & improve 
Your lube program needs to be constantly evaluated for improvements. Having a lubricant champion in your organization working in concert with your lubricant supplier will guarantee continuous improvement in your program. One way to improve is to be open about using synthetics for difficult applications, which could extend equipment and oil life.

You need to evaluate your program every year to determine if your goals were met and to set goals for the following year. Educate yourself by reading lubrication magazines and attending conferences to keep up with new developments

Utilize oil analysis for condition monitoring 
No lubricant program is world-class unless it has a well designed oil analysis program. Your program will more than pay for itself in a very short period of time. Oil analysis provides the following information:

  • Condition of the lubricant
  • Is it suitable for continued use?
  • Can it be reconditioned?
  • Level of contamination
    • Type and level of contaminants
    • Can they be removed?
  • Condition of lubricated equipment
    • Is the wear abnormal?
    • What is the wear mode?
    • What is the rate of wear?

The information provided by regular oil analysis allows you to be predictive with your equipment and proactive with the lubricant condition. When used with other condition monitoring tools, oil analysis will enhance equipment reliability. Utilize your oil analysis laboratory for training and helping you to establish the best possible program for your facility.

Conclusion 
Implementing a world-class lubrication program is not extremely difficult— and it has significant benefits. Where is your current program now? Please take a few minutes to answer the following questions:

1. Do you have a separate lubrication group?

Yes

No

2. Is it located in the maintenance organization?

Yes

No

3. Do lubricators perform other functions?

Yes

No

4. Is there someone in your organization designated as a “lubrication expert” who can resolve lubrication problems?

Yes

No

5. Have you done a lubrication survey in the last five years?

Yes

No

6. If the answer to question #5 is yes, do you keep it current?

Yes

No

7. Are you using less than five different types of grease?

Yes

No

8. In the past year have you reduced the number of different lubricant types being used?

Yes

No

9. Do you have a computerized lubricant scheduling program and is it utilized to create work orders?

Yes

No

10. Do you have lubrication scheduling in a CMMS system?

Yes

No

11. If you change a lubricant on a time basis, are these intervals evaluated and updated?

Yes

No

12. Have you had an onsite lubrication training class in the past year?

Yes

No

13. Have any of your personnel attended an offsite lubrication training class in the past year?

Yes

No

14. Have any of your personnel attended a lubrication conference in the past two years?

Yes

No

15. Does anyone in your organization have an MLT or CLS certification?

Yes

No

16. In the last three years, have you found a situation where the wrong lubricant was being used and was it corrected?

Yes

No

17. Do you use sealed plastic containers to dispense lubricants?

Yes

No

18. Are incoming lubricants checked for water and cleanliness?

Yes

No

19. Is hydraulic oil filtered before being added to a reservoir?

Yes

No

20. During the past year, have you upgraded your lubrication program by improving an application method or switching to a better product like a synthetic?

Yes

No

21. Do you currently use an oil analysis program?

Yes

No

22. Do you receive your reports electronically?

Yes

No

23. Do you have someone in your organization who can evaluate the reports?

Yes

No

24. Has someone in your organization had oil analysis training?

Yes

No

25. In the past three years, has oil analysis identified a potential problem that was effectively resolved?

Yes

No

If you were able to answer “yes” to 80% of these questions, you are well on your way to a world-class lubrication program. If you answered “yes” to less than 50% of these questions, you need to reevaluate your lubrication program.

Contributing editor Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLECertified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training in a number of industries. E-mail: rlthibault@msn.com; or telephone: (281) 257-1526.


Navigation