Author Archive | Ken Bannister


2:56 pm
September 13, 2016
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Win the War with ‘Lubrication by Design’

Use aviation-style checklists to eliminate ambiguity and errors in your lubrication-maintenance procedures.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK) CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

The Sample Gearbox-Lubrication Checklist in the table below points to Hi-Lo fill indicators that help personnel make simple, yet correct, Go/No-Go decisions when checking lubricant reservoirs. Image courtesy of EngTech Industries.

The Sample Gearbox-Lubrication Checklist in the table below points to Hi-Lo fill indicators that help personnel make simple, yet correct, Go/No-Go decisions when checking lubricant reservoirs. Image courtesy of EngTech Industries.

Arguably, the most used and abused instruction in the field of practical lubrication is “lubricate as necessary.” The origin of that advice is often attributed to the OEM’s (original equipment manufacturer’s) machine operation and maintenance manual.

OEMs typically prefer to use subjective language when outlining a maintenance approach in their manuals. As a consequence, they rarely provide accurate lubrication instructions based on the ambient condition factors found in the end-user’s working environment. This is especially true when the OEM sells its equipment globally through third-party agencies and retains little control—or understanding—of how and where that equipment is used. The level of subjectivity is further amplified when an unsuspecting and/or unenlightened maintenance-department person follows, without question, the unaltered written instructions.

A key component in reliability and performance improvement—with regard to maintenance personnel and machines—is consistency of effort. This type of consistency is afforded through an understanding in two major areas:

  • the impact that a current operating environment has on machinery requirements
  • who, exactly, performs lubrication tasks.

The highest level of reliability possible with any machine is primarily achieved as a result of the simplest of maintenance observations and tasks, based on the equipment’s weakest links. A machine’s weak links typically present themselves in two formats: consumables and adjustables. Often thought of as “nuisance” or “pain” points, weak links are instantly identifiable systems or components of an equipment system that require regular or constant replacement or modification. Lubrication falls into both of these categories.

Recognizing your work environment

The checklist below points to number- and color-identification of grease nipples and grease guns as a way to quickly and accurately determine the correct lubricant amount and type for each bearing in the referenced gearbox. The solution shown here is from OilSafe (, Rockwall, TX.

The checklist below points to number- and color-identification of grease nipples and grease guns as a way to quickly and accurately determine the correct lubricant amount and type for each bearing in the referenced gearbox. The solution shown here is from OilSafe, Rockwall, TX.

Lubricants are considered consumables because of their propensity to leak out of a closed environment or deteriorate in service, thus requiring replenishment or full replacement. A machine’s working environment can dictate how quickly the lubricant will deteriorate. For example, a bearing operating in an extreme wet, damp, hot, or dirty environment, similar to that in a foundry, mining operation, or steelmaking operation, will call for a more intensified approach to lubrication management than bearings that are operating in “white-room” HEPA-filtered environments such as those found in pharmaceutical-manufacturing operations.

Lubrication-delivery systems also require monitoring to determine application requirements and schedule adjustments based on changing needs. For example, using a manual greasing approach in bearing lubrication will require a change in PM (preventive maintenance) frequency when moving from a single-shift to double-shift operation. Similarly, in changing to an automated lubricant-delivery system, note that the lubricant reservoir will likely require replenishment at twice the previous (manual) rate and necessitate an adjustment of the lubricant-fill cycle.

Recognition of your working environment, and tailoring your lubrication approach accordingly, is the first step to implementing a “lubrication by design” method and, ultimately, achieving true lubrication effectiveness.   

Objective instruction and interaction

Instructing an operator to “lubricate as necessary” will only guarantee a subjective decision about which lubricant is to be used, as well as how much and how often. Subjectivity, in turn, invokes inconsistent behavior leading to lubricant cross contamination, over or under filling reservoirs, bearing-seal breaching, or starving bearings. These situations all reflect high-risk behavior that can easily result in premature, yet preventable, machine failure and downtime. They don’t have to be a problem in your plant.

In Dr. Atul Gawande’s 2009 best-selling book, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right (Metropolitan Books, New York), he described the first military test flight, more than 75 years earlier, of the Boeing B17 bomber that had been introduced in the late 1930s. Ending in a crash due to a simple oversight by the most experienced pilot in the U.S. Army at the time, this flight led to the aviation industry pioneering operational and maintenance checklists.

Designed to overcome human ineptitude, attitude, and ignorance, the aviation checklist, written in simple and exact language familiar to the profession, was instituted to ensure that each and every pilot, from that point on, followed a consistent, set procedure prior to takeoff and landing. As head of the World Health Organization’s “Safe Surgery Saves Lives” program, Dr. Gawande successfully adapted that checklist into a simple, innovative tool for the medical field—and subsequently credited its use for a dramatic reduction in hospital and surgical deaths, regardless of hospital conditions. There’s a significant takeaway from this story for those of us who have an interest in the health and well being of industrial equipment and processes.

Lubrication checklists that don’t challenge or insult maintainers or operators (but are designed correctly and written in a concise manner similar to those used in the aviation and medical fields) can overcome ignorance and ineptitude and promote low risk through a high degree of consistency.


Take, for example, the sample checklist in the table above. Written in objective language, it points to minor, required steps for making modifications to the lubrication-system components of a gearbox. It specifically references Hi-Lo-fill indicators on the lubricant-reservoir sight gauge that help personnel make simple, yet accurate, Go/No-Go decisions when checking the reservoir, and a number and color identification of the grease nipple and grease gun that’s used to visually identify the correct lubricant amount and type for each bearing.

Color, though, is just one aspect of identification called out on the checklist. It also references the exact grease point and reservoir number, the specific grease that is to be used, and the amount of the grease to be deployed in displacement and grease-gun shot action. To correctly perform the procedures in this sample checklist, a grease-gun consolidation program—wherein all current grease guns are surrendered and replaced with one grease-gun style—must be implemented. This allows the maintenance group to determine the exact displacement by volume and gun “shot” action for all grease deployed in the plant. Different greases are assigned specific grease-gun and grease-point colors.

Bottom line

This “lubrication by design” approach requires almost no capital outlay. With some minor organizational effort up front, it can be rolled out systematically, machine by machine. In these times of diminishing technical skills and experience across industry, the alternative really isn’t much of an option. MT

Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc., (Innerkip, Ontario), an asset management-consulting firm specializing in the implementation of certifiable ISO 55001 lubrication-management programs and asset management systems. For further details, phone 519-469-9173, or email

Quick Tips for Successful Checklists

As I wrote in a March 2013 “Don’t Procrastinate, Innovate” column for Maintenance Technology, Dr. Atul Gawande’s 2009 book The Checklist Manifesto–How to Get Things Right, was, and still is, an intriguing read. It offers some invaluable insight for those in the reliability and maintenance field.

In his book, Gawande details how he pioneered the “Safe Surgical Checklist,” based on a model that the aviation industry adopted following the infamous World War II Boeing 299 crash. That checklist has certainly stood the test of time.

According to Daniel Boorman of Boeing (Seattle)—the person charged with developing aviation checklist manuals for all of the company’s planes for 20+ years—the secret of a good one is how it’s written, starting with using simple and precise language familiar to users in the profession. Among Boorman’s other tips:

— A checklist doesn’t have to be too comprehensive to be effective (usually between five and nine items).

— Well-designed checklists fit the flow of the specific work, encourage users to read each point out loud, and help them detect potential failures before they occur.

— A successful checklist ideally fits on one page, is free of unnecessary color and clutter, and uses upper and lower case in a sans-serif font such as Helvetica.

learnmore2“Power from Making Lists and Checking Them Twice”

“Safe Surgical Checklist” on the World Health Organization website


8:17 pm
August 9, 2016
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Practical Oil Analysis: Why and What For?

Simply hoping your lubricants are operating  within their protective-specification limits doesn’t make it so.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK) CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

Lubricants are designed and chosen to perform as finite and perishable, integral components of host machines. Rarely, if ever, will a lubricant be employed in identical application and environmental conditions. Enter oil-analysis testing.

Why we test

The uniqueness of lubricants reflects how and when they must be tested, maintained (filtered and temperature controlled), and changed out. Stresses and influences such as load-induced shear stress, thermal degradation, various types of contamination, and wear-metal-catalyzing alter and prematurely degrade lubricant properties.

Oil is made up of a base oil and an additive package that’s designed to combat ambient and working environmental stresses/influences and deliver reasonable lubricant life. Outside stresses produce an array of detrimental effects, including oxidation, polymerization, cracking hydrolysis, and evaporation that manifest as thickening or dilution of viscosity, acid buildup, and sludge. Additionally, when oil loses some of its protective ability, its host bearings can come into contact with one another and release metal-wear particles into the lubricant, which then act as a bearing-attacking abrasive material (three-body abrasion).

These effects and conditions are why we analyze oil. This testing is how we ensure lubricants are serviceable and bearing surfaces are protected.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 3.15.01 PMWhat we test for

Oil analysis is analogous to a blood test wherein a single, properly extracted fluid sample is used for a variety of diagnostics that indicate machine and lubricant conditions. To ensure an accurate interpretation of results every time—reliable ones suitable for trending and historical analysis—samples must be collected in a consistent manner and sent to the same laboratory for testing on the same equipment.

The lab will also require a virgin sample of any lubricant to be tested. This sample is used to document baseline measurements of base-oil type, additive-package levels (metals and chemicals), cleanliness level (dirt-contamination level), and viscosity and acidity. A set of initial samples detailing how and where each was taken will also be required for each machine.

Good laboratories also document an operational profile for each machine tested. Based on it, they can recommend additional beneficial testing, e.g., a Karl Fischer water-contamination test for a food plant with daily machine wash downs; tests for soot and glycol in mobile equipment and generator engines; or ferrographic analysis of metal particulates to determine specifically how a bearing is failing.

Basic oil analysis concentrates primarily on fluid property and fluid contamination.

Fluid-property testing

In analyzing fluid properties, laboratories typically look at viscosity, acidity, and additive elements—the “big three” characteristics that make oils unique—and which, through their changes in service, can tell us how to better maintain our lubricants.

Viscosity. The viscosity rating of new oil is typically measured in centistokes (cSt), i.e., oil’s kinematic viscosity depicting measured resistance to flow and shear by the force of gravity. As oil thickens or dilutes over time, however, its specific gravity changes, leading to errors in gravity-based tests. A more consistent measurement is achieved by checking for the absolute viscosity rating depicting oil’s resistance to flow and shear through measurement of its internal friction. Because absolute viscosity is measured by multiplying kinematic viscosity by the actual specific gravity, it’s an accurate, error-free trending method of choice for most laboratories. To understand which tests your lab used, note the measurement scales: kinematic viscosity (good test) is measured in centistokes (cSt), absolute viscosity (best test) in centipoise (cPs).

Given oil’s many variables, it’s best to work with a laboratory that’s experienced in setting up caution and critical limits for your industry type. Most labs typically start with a clearly defined set of viscosity limits of –10% CL (critical lower), –5% CaL (caution lower), +5% CaU (caution upper), and +10% CU (critical upper) for industrial oils. In more severe environments, the CaU and CU limits can be reduced to +4% and +8%, respectively. For oils with viscosity improvers, the lower limits are usually doubled.

Thickened, more viscous oil points to oxidation (depleted additives), air entrainment, and/or contamination. Thinner, less viscous oil points to a wrong substitution or fuel dilution. 

Acidity. The acid number, or AN, is a measurement of the acid concentration in the oil, not the acid strength, and is greatly affected by the presence of water within the oil. Most oils start with an AN of less than 2.

Setting limits for acidity isn’t as easy as setting those for viscosity. The caution and critical limits are dependent on the type of additive package used in the oil. Most standard mineral oils are considered corrosive over AN 4, whereas AW (anti-wear) or R&O (rust-and-oxidation-inhibited) oils are considered critical well below AN 3. Working with your oil supplier’s engineering department and/or a reputable oil lab with experience in your industry is the best way to set up meaningful acceptable limits for your environment.

A change in oil’s acidity (TAN) points to base oil deterioration, oxidization, and contamination.

Additive Elements. The table on p. 38 lists the typical standard elements for which oil analysis tests. Since some perform in multiple functions, they must be checked against a virgin sample and operational profile to determine if they are beneficial or detrimental when their values are compared with known values.

Fluid-contamination testing

Dirt, water, and chemical contaminants are highly destructive to lubricants. For the most part, however, they’re easily avoidable.

Solids contamination. Testing for solid contaminants involves particle counting based on ISO Cleanliness Code ISO 4406:1999. One method requires a technician to use a light microscope and manually count the number of particulates in a 100-ml oil sample that are >4 microns, >6 microns, and >14 microns in size. The total is then compared with the ISO 4406 cleanliness chart to derive a three-number ISO cleanliness rating. An alternative, automated approach leverages sensors and light-absorption principles to detect and count particles. With this method, ISO 4406 calls for three sample size counts at >4 microns, >6 microns, and >14 microns.

Water contamination. Water in oil promotes rust and corrosion—and, in a dissolved state, will accelerate oxidation. Water can be introduced as contamination through wash downs of equipment or leakage. Prevention measures include coalescing filters/breathers and physical waterproof protection around areas susceptible to moisture ingression.

Testing for water contamination typically involves the Karl Fischer moisture titration method: A vaporized oil sample is carried by oxygen-free nitrogen into a reaction-vessel containing methanol. Trapped moisture is titrated to an end point with a reagent to establish the presence of water in parts per million.

Beyond why and what

The procedures discussed here represent the major components in standard, inexpensive oil-analysis testing. In most cases, they’ll indicate when to change oil, based on condition. Unusual or inconclusive findings should generate more-specific testing that can lead to positive outcomes for both lubricant and machine. MT

Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc., Innerkip, Ontario, an asset management-consulting firm now specializing in the implementation of certifiable ISO 55001 lubrication-management programs and asset-management systems. For further details, telephone 519-469-9173, or email



4:05 pm
July 11, 2016
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Use These Steps to Introduce New Lubes

Part of of the process equipment of the mechanism close-up.

The process of introducing new lubricants to your plant calls for great care, communication, and attention to details.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK), CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

New lubricants are introduced into plant environments every day. There can be several reasons behind this type of move: a purchase-cost-reduction or purchase-bid program; new equipment for which the manufacturer’s specified lubricant isn’t currently stocked on site; promotion of a specialty lubricant as a way to solve a specific equipment problem; or some form of lubrication-management initiative. Unfortunately, most new lubricants are introduced in an informal, non-controlled manner with little or no communication between the reliability/maintenance, engineering and/or purchasing departments—or much consideration of the impact that the new product can, and will, have on the maintenance and operation of the physical plant.

With no structured lubrication program in place, the mixing of lubricants—greases and oils—can be endemic. This situation is a major cause of lubricant and premature bearing failure due to the cross contamination of base oils and/or additive packages. For example, a product containing acidic additives added to one containing base or alkaline additives can very quickly neutralize a lubricant’s effectiveness and protection ability, often resulting in catastrophic failure. Anyone who has toiled over implementing a lubrication-management program knows that allowing a new lubricant into a plant environment must be formalized and controlled. This process is not necessarily easy.

An essential part of any quality lubrication-management program is an initial consolidation process that reviews and documents all current lubricant products on site, where they are used, and how they are stored, handled, transferred, and delivered to minimize contamination of lubricants and bearings. This essential engineering process, performed by the lubricant manufacturer, looks for opportunities where more modern, often less expensive, products can be standardized for use across the site to replace all redundant, unsafe, and out-of-date oils and greases, and minimize the number required to operate the plant safely and effectively. In many facilities, the number of lubricants stocked and used after consolidation can be less than half the original count. For this standardization to begin, the consolidation process must determine all possible lubricant compatibility issues and propose suitable engineered lubricant change-out/flushing operating procedures.

Once a list of new lubricants is finalized, the plant must take the following steps to formalize the program:

  1. Prepare a formal approved-lubricant list for purchasing-department personnel and set up a blanket purchase-order for the approved products.
  2. Inform all affected stakeholders of the impending change(s) to an approved-lubricant list.
  3. Remove all non-approved lubricant stock from the plant.
  4. Develop a stock rotation/control procedure for all approved lubricants.
  5. Obtain up-to-date MSDS sheets for all approved lubricants and remove all non-approved MSDS sheets.
  6. Purchase dedicated (color-coded) storage and transfer equipment for all approved lubricants.
  7. Purchase labels for all approved lubricant reservoirs.
  8. Change all lubrication filters.
  9. Develop a lubricant change-out flushing procedure and systematically change out all non-approved lubricants in all machine reservoirs; re-label reservoirs.   
  10. Update lubricant-inventory-control software with lube specification, supplier, manufacturer, code numbers, min/max levels, and inventory-turn rate.
  11. Update affected preventive-maintenance (PM) job tasks in the CMMS (computerized maintenance-management system) to reflect new lubricant changes.
  12. Update any recommended changes to PM schedules in the CMMS.
  13. Update equipment manuals to reflect new lubricant changes.
  14. Update Bill of Materials (BOMs) in the CMMS.
  15. Update changes to the lubricant disposal procedure.
  16. Update any changes to reporting requirements in the CMMS.
  17. Perform staff training for change awareness, product handling and safety issues, and product disposal.
  18. Inform production.
  19. Develop a new-lubricant trial/approval procedure for any non-approved oil or grease introduced into the plant.

After a consolidation program has been implemented, only approved lubricants can be brought into the plant for regular use. This policy, however, does not exclude introduction of a new lubricant into the plant on a trial basis. Should a new lubricant trial be required, a formal request must be made to the reliability/maintenance group by completing a “Lubricant Trial Request Form.” That group, in turn, will oversee the lubricant trial.

Typical trial-request-form attributes

A good trial-request form should have enough relevant information to enable the trial to take place and collect enough relevant data from which a yes/no approval decision can be made upon the trial’s completion. The form must elicit answers to all of the W5 questions—Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How—and document the test results. (This translates to seven sections total.)

  1. Who? Contains the name, title, department, and contact details of the trial requestor, as well as details of the lubricant supplier and manufacturer name and primary contact persons. It also provides the person(s), title(s), and department performing the trial.
  2. What? Contains the trial lubricant specification data that will include its name, oil or grease, base-oil type, viscosity, VI (viscosity index) rating, additives, virgin-oil sample datasheet #/attachment, MSDS sheet, expected compatibility issues with other approved products, seals, and production raw materials.
  3. When? Contains the expected trial duration, along with commencement and completion dates.
  4. Where? Contains equipment type or specific
    equipment number of the machine on which the lubricant is to be tested.
  5. Why? Details reasons for the lubricant trial, in what way it will benefit the trial equipment and expected results, such as temperature reduction, energy reduction, life-increase expectation of lubricant and/or bearing surfaces and sustainability, and what bearing-failure reduction the trial is expected to accomplish.
  6. How? Documents the actual test procedure specifics, including lubricant disposal after the test and the conditions to be tested, i.e., amperage draw, temperature of bearings/lubricant, and lubrication-system pressure (cold and hot running).
  7. Results? Details findings data and conclusions relevant to the test, including before and after data readings, photos, infrared images, vibration readings, risk/benefit analysis, a return-on-investment statement, and a recommendation for approving or not approving the lubricant for purchase and use in the plant.

Be sure to alert plant personnel whenever a lubricant trial is being performed. Communicate this fact by placing a placard or sign on the equipment that states “Machine Under Test with New [insert name] Lubricant.” (Specifically call out the name of the lubricant). Make operators aware of such tests and notify maintenance personnel of anything unusual regarding noise, vibration, smell, and leakage during the procedure.

Before proceeding with any lubricant trial, always consult with manufacturer(s) of your approved lubricants to establish:

  • whether they have already performed a compatibility test of the trial product with your approved lubricants.
  • if, as suppliers of your approved lubricant, they have a comparable product available to test, or that you may already stock. You should also contact trial-lubricant manufacturer personnel and ask if they have conducted any compatibility tests with your approved lubricants. If no testing has taken place, you can ask if any party is willing to test compatibility on your behalf.
  • In the case of new oils, when no compatibility information is available or forthcoming—and you are unable to establish compatibility—you can perform your own testing, as follows:
  • Take samples of both lubricants and blend three mixed samples in ratios of 50:50, 90:10, and 10:90.
  • Send the three mixed samples to an oil-analysis laboratory and have them tested for filterability, sediment, and color/clarity. Also ask the lab to perform an RPVOT (rotating pressure-vessel oxidization test) to determine the new lubricant’s resistance to oxidation, and a storage-stability comparison.
  • For accurate results, tests should be performed three times and the results normalized.
  • Ask the lab to assist you in determining any cross-contamination risk.
  • Share the test results with the manufacturer of the new lubricant and ask for a change-out/flush procedure.

Note that an RPVOT can be quite expensive to perform. Thus, in the case of non-critical equipment, and if you won’t need to complete a large number of lubricant changeovers, you could forego the RPVOT and simply ask the manufacturer of a new lubricant to recommend a neutral flushing oil.

In the case of new greases, similar steps are followed. The process starts by blending mixed samples of new and existing greases in 75:25 and 25:75 ratios, and sending them to an oil-analysis lab to test for consistency, dropping point, and shear stability.

If a new-lubricant trial is deemed successful, and none of your existing approved lubricants can perform the required job, the new product can be accepted as an “approved” lubricant. The acceptance process, however, calls for the reliability/maintenance group to once again go through the appropriate steps listed above to formally integrate the new lubricant into your plant. MT

Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc., (Innerkip, Ontario, Canada), an asset management-consulting firm now specializing in the implementation of certifiable ISO 55001 lubrication-management programs and asset-management systems. For further details, telephone (519) 469-9173, or email


5:03 pm
June 13, 2016
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The Color of Lubrication

Add visual management to your lube-program toolbox through an array of color-coded solutions.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK), CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

When you hear the word lubrication, what color comes to mind? If you answer brown, or allude to some shade of it, you’re in good company. More than 80% of maintainers to whom I’ve posed this question over the past 30 years have responded the same way.

The reality is that oil and grease products come in a rainbow of colors and shades, including white, gray, black, silver, blue, green, red, purple, and every variation of brown, from golden honey to dark, earth tones. Manufacturers typically color these products for their own purposes. Unfortunately, there’s no formal industry standard or convention regarding their choices, with the exception that most food-grade greases tend to be white.

Most lubricant colors are naturally influenced by the color of the crude base-oil stock and its additive package. For example, when molybdenum disulphide (MoS2) is added in any quantity, it can significantly darken the lubricant to near black in color. Manufacturers, though, add colorants to their respective lubricants to help identify different brands and/or make products more appealing and marketable to the end user.

Despite incongruent colorization, maintenance departments can take advantage of differences in lubricant colors in their plants. For example, if two or more grease brands or different colors are employed in a facility, personnel can be made aware of which color belongs to what bearing by a photo of that grease color posted on the machine or close to the grease nipple. If a trace amount of the previously used grease is evident at the bearing or grease nipple, maintainers would (should be made to) understand that they are not to pump a grease of a different color or shade on top of the original grease.

Oil colors are a different matter. Oil ages in service and its additive package will deplete through contamination, heat, and oxidation. This causes a natural darkening in color. That visual cue has been used for many years in industry and the automotive world to manage oil changes. Sadly, this somewhat risky strategy can fall flat when an oil is changed out with one of a different color and additive composition—especially in the case of darker oils.

Introducing color coding

In 1950, the prestigious UK Scientific Lubrication Journal published an article by M.J. Harrison titled “Color Codes.” In it, Harrison, who at the time was an engineer in the technical department of the UK’s C.C. Wakefield & Co. (now known as Castrol), detailed a symbol/color-control system methodology for identifying the lubricants used in an industrial plant. As he pointed out, employing symbols to denote frequency of application and colors to signify lubricant type would ensure that unskilled workers were able to perform “factory lubrication” in a consistent manner, with scientific precision.

Harrison went on to recommend the use of different 1-in.-high geometric symbols painted on lubricant reservoirs or at lube points to represent lubrication-interval schedules. He proposed a circle to represent the need for daily lubrication, a triangle for weekly lubrication, and a square to represent monthly intervals between lubrication activities. For activities conducted on a quarterly basis (or over longer periods), the square was to again be used, but this time with a number painted inside the square to highlight the number of interval months.

To determine the correct lubricant to apply, each symbol was to be painted one of three primary colors: yellow, red, or blue to correspond with an already-determined lubricant legend. If more than three lubricants were to be used, the same colors were used again, but with the addition of a bold black diagonal stripe across the symbol.

But Harrison didn’t stop with the design and color of symbols and shapes to help identify different lubricant and application intervals in a facility. He also advocated color-coding reservoirs and dedicated transfer equipment to eliminate cross-contamination problems.

Which colors to use

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 2.46.48 PM

Color identification is an ideal means of ensuring that the right lubricant ends up in the right place, at the right time. The actual colors themselves are not as important as their consistent use, i.e., assigning a specific color to a single lubricant and all dedicated equipment employed in its use, storage, and transfer within the plant environment, as depicted in Fig. 1.

Fig. 2. This yellow-color-coded, transfer container is from OilSafe, Rockwall, TX (

Fig. 2. This yellow-color-coded, transfer container is from OilSafe, Rockwall, TX (

Harrison initially promoted the three primary colors of red, blue, and yellow for his system. In modern plant environments, however, we’re comfortable using primary and secondary color palettes, including green, orange, and purple. This is clearly evidenced by the breadth of today’s commercially available, color-coded lubrication-handling systems, including the example transfer products shown in Figs. 2 and 3.

Fig. 3. Shown is an orange-color-coded, clear-body, pistol-grip grease gun from OilSafe, Rockwall, TX (

Fig. 3. Shown is an orange-color-coded, clear-body, pistol-grip grease gun from OilSafe, Rockwall, TX (

Lubricant storage and transfer systems, though, reflect just one area where colorization pays off for a site. Another important use of color identification involves a condition-based approach to filling oil reservoirs.

Fig. 4. Color-coding is used on this condition-based Hi–Lo lubricant-reservoir-fill application. (courtesy EngTech Industries Inc.)

Fig. 4. Color-coding is used on this condition-based Hi–Lo lubricant-reservoir-fill application. (courtesy EngTech Industries Inc.)

Figure 4 is a good example of this Hi-Lo technique. It involves using red, amber (yellow), and green lines taped on the side of an automated-lubrication-system reservoir. This arrangement is known as a RAG (red/amber/green), or the traffic-light indicator system:

  • The green line indicates the upper fill level.
  • The amber (yellow) line indicates a level at which the operator is to contact the maintenance department with a first request to fill the reservoir.
  • The red line alerts the operator to call in a priority request to fill the reservoir.

Coloring your efforts

Today, you’ll find an array of color-coded tags and transfer equipment in the marketplace. These types of innovative solutions are relatively inexpensive to purchase and implement—and highly effective when used consistently. The question is, “Just how colorful are your lubrication efforts?”  MT

Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc., (Innerkip, Ontario, Canada), an asset management-consulting firm now specializing in the implementation of certifiable ISO 55001 lubrication-management programs and asset-management systems. For further details, telephone (519) 469-9173, or email

learnmore2— Industrial Lubrication Fundamentals: Storage & Handling

— Handling, Storing and Dispensing Industrial Lubricants

Key Factors in A World-Class Lubrication Program

The Five Rights of Lubrication


7:27 pm
April 11, 2016
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Fund Your Lubrication Program Through Energy Savings

Good lubrication practices can help cut a site’s energy consumption and, in the process, possibly turn lubrication personnel into corporate heroes.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK) CMRP, MLE

If you want to assure a reasonable life span for mechanical equipment with rotational and/or sliding elements built into its design, you must lubricate it. The benefits of doing so, however, go well beyond the health of the lubricated equipment.

Virtually all machine designs facilitate some form of lubrication by incorporating one or more means of lubricating bearing surfaces. These solutions range from something as simple and austere as grease nipples at major bearing points to full-blown, centralized, automated re-circulating-oil systems. Regardless of the method/system, it’s incumbent on the end user to understand all of the benefits that can be achieved through effective lubrication practices, and the importance of implementing and adhering to a lubrication regime based not on OEM recommendations, but rather on ambient and machine operating conditions.

Arguably, of all the interactions that can be performed between a person and a machine, lubrication will be one of the least expensive and, collectively, will deliver the greatest impact on machine performance in terms of its life cycle, availability, reliability, production throughput, quality, energy use, and carbon footprint.

Stamping-press case study 

The stamping press featured in this story is one of five 500-ton pure mechanical, straight-side presses at a site. The press stamps out automotive body pieces—requiring significant energy transfer.

This press employs an OEM-designed centralized box-cam-style automated recirculating-lubrication system that delivers a local re-refined (reclaimed) extreme-pressure (EP) 150 Gib and Way oil to rotating main and countershaft bearings and sliding surfaces. The system had not been calibrated since commissioning.

Energy is supplied by an electric variable-speed drive (VSD), and the press is used 12 shifts each week, for a total annual usage of 4,800 hr. Equipment monitors energy consumption over a 48-hr. period calculated an average use of 25.2 kW p/hr.

The press was observed under load with an infrared camera that showed lubrication delivery was unbalanced on the main and counterbalance shaft bearings. A 45 F temperature range between bearings indicated the need for immediate re-calibration of the lubrication system. The lubrication system also had numerous dirty filters. After the lubricant and filters were changed out, the press was restarted and the cam lubricators re-calibrated.

Back in production and monitored over another 48-hr. period, the stamping press showed a dramatic 18% reduction in energy consumption, i.e., with average usage at 20.5 kW p/hr.

Based on 4,800 running hr./yr. and a delivered energy price of 10 cents/kWhr the energy-reduction savings for one press was calculated as follows:

(25.2 x 4,800 x 0.1) – (20.5 x 4,800 x 0.1)  = (12,096 – 9,840)  = approx. $2,256 per press (or $11,280 for all five presses) 

The energy savings of 112,800 kWhr was also calculated against the carbon footprint. Using the Carbon Trust calculation of 1 kWhr = 0.000537 emission tonne equivalency, this automotive manufacturer accrued a carbon credit of approximately 60 tonnes—for just its presses.

Additional accrued benefits from the lubrication program implementation included:

  • reduced purchase costs through lubricant consolidation
  • reduced lubricant and replacement bearing carry costs
  • reduced lubricant stock rotation requirement
  • increased inventory real estate
  • reduced lubricant waste that could meet corporate environment and sustainability program mandates (ISO 14000 mandate).

Making engineered choices in lubricants, lubricant application devices/systems, and lubrication control will ensure that equipment delivers as designed, and, as an added bonus, help a site significantly cut its annual energy costs. The bottom line? A good-lubrication-practices program can front energy-waste-elimination efforts and be solely underwritten by the energy savings. MT

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional and certified Machinery Lubrication Engineer (Canada). The author of Lubrication for Industry (Industrial Press, South Norwalk, CT) and the Lubrication Section of the 28th Edition of Machinery’s Handbook (Industrial Press), he can be reached at

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1:39 am
March 18, 2016
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Implement an Oil-Analysis Program

Chemical Laboratory,Hand holding the tube with test flask

Chemical Laboratory,Hand holding the tube with test flask

Keeping a close eye on the life-blood of your lubricated equipment systems pays off in many ways, all of them crucial.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK) CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

When a doctor wants to assess the condition of your health, he or she may order a blood test. Similarly, oil analysis, sometimes referred to as “wear-particle analysis,” is a mature condition-based maintenance approach used to determine the health of a machine and its lubricating oil. The process involves taking a small sample of oil from the equipment’s lubrication system, comparing it to a virgin stock sample through a series of laboratory tests, and examining the results to ascertain the “wellness” of machinery and oil.

Oil analysis reflects a highly effective and inexpensive means of deciding when to change lubricants based on condition; predicting incipient bearing failure so that appropriate action can be taken in a timely manner to avert failure; and diagnosing bearing failure should it occur. Yet, despite its availability and proven track record since the 1940s, oil analysis is still misunderstood and overlooked as a proactive strategy in many of today’s industrial plants. Relatively easy to set up, this type of program should be implemented in any facility that purchases, stores, dispenses, changes, uses, or recycles lubricants as part of its manufacturing or maintenance process.

Basic implementation steps

A successful oil-analysis program can pay for itself in a matter of weeks, given the fact that it delivers multiple benefits, including:

  • oil change intervals (often extended) that are optimized to the machine’s ambient conditions and operational use requirements
  • probable reduction in lubricant-inventory purchase costs and spent-lubricant disposal costs
  • enhanced understanding of how bearings can fail (or are failing) in their operating environment so that such incidents can be controlled or eliminated
  • increased asset reliability, availability, and production throughput.

(NOTE: The potential for program success is greater if a site already has a work-management approach in place, thereby assuring completion of corrective actions in a timely manner whenever oil-analysis reports recommend them.)

Similar to other successful change-management initiatives rolled out across the organization, an oil-analysis program will benefit from a piloted, phased implementation. Taking a stepped approach allows management and workforce alike to become accustomed to the new sampling and reporting processes and quickly iron out any problems prior to a full-scale launch.

Step 1: Appoint a program champion.

All programs require a “go to” decision-making person who advocates on the initiative’s behalf and is committed to making the implementation a success. The champion should be at a supervisor or manager level.

Step 2: Choose a suitable pilot area/machine.

Oil analysis begins with sampling the oil and can include lubricating and hydraulic fluids. Choosing a suitable program pilot will depend on the type of industry and business operation. Typical starting points to evaluate might include:

  • critical product, process, line, or major piece of equipment, i.e., criticality determined by constraint and/or lack of back up, downtime costs, and product quality
  • mechanical equipment with moving components that include lubricant reservoirs for re-circulating-oil-transmission systems that are mechanical and/or hydraulic in design.

Step 3: Conduct a lubricant audit.

A lubricant audit, required to identify what lubricants are currently employed in service at the plant, calls for the following:

  • Check work-order system PM (preventive maintenance) job plans for lubricant specification(s).
  • Check on or near the lubricant reservoir for lubricant identification labels or stickers.
  • Check for matching MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets).

If a discrepancy is found at this stage, outside assistance from a lubrication expert or supplier may be needed to determine if the correct lubricants are being specified for particular applications.

Step 4: Choose a laboratory.

Not all oil-analysis laboratories are created equal, making your choice of one an important step. Most oil-analysis reports are divided into four major sections that provide:

  • sampling and virgin-oil specification data
  • spectral-analysis testing results for wear elements identified as lubricant additives or contaminants
  • additional physical test results for viscosity, water, glycol, fuel, soot, and acidity
  • associated conclusions and recommendations.

Some laboratories specialize in engine-oil analyses that focus more on physical testing for water, glycol, fuel, and soot. Others specialize in industrial-sample analyses that focus more on wear-particle evaluations and some physical tests for viscosity, water, and acidity, and post-mortem testing for root-failure causes using ferrographic techniques. Some laboratories have technicians that specialize in both areas.

The key to any testing program is receiving results in a timely and consistent manner, especially where critical equipment is involved. When interviewing laboratories, be sure to rate their sample “turnaround” time and how they can assure testing consistency (usually through use of dedicated technicians to test your samples). Working with a laboratory should be viewed as a long-term relationship. The chosen facility will build and analyze your complete data history and make conclusions and recommendations based not only on your current sample versus its virgin sample counterpart, but also on an understanding of your plant ambient conditions and overall trending history of each sample.

Step 5: Set up a pilot sampling program.

A good laboratory will work with you to set up your sampling program, supply (in some way) sampling-point hardware, extraction pumps, and quality sample bottles, as well as train your staff to consistently collect “clean” oil samples.

The best oil samples contain maximum data density with minimum data disturbance—meaning the sample should best represent the oil’s condition and particulate levels as it flows through the system or as it sits in a reservoir. For example, if you extract a sample from the bottom of a reservoir in a non-pressurized gearbox lubrication system, the particulate fallout will be dense due to large wear particles and/or sludge accumulation and not correctly represent the remaining 80% to 90% of reservoir lubricant that actually lubricates the gears.

In a pressurized re-circulating lubrication system, samples are best taken as the machine is running and at operating temperature, from a live fluid zone where the lubricant is flowing freely. Whenever possible, the sample should be extracted from an elbow, thereby taking advantage of the data density caused by fluid turbulence. Sample points are best located downstream of the lubricated areas to catch any wear elements before they’re filtered out by inline pressure or gravity filters.

Virgin samples of all lubricants in the pilot program will need to be collected and sent to the laboratory for checking. They’ll be used as a benchmark for the laboratory to measure and understand what additive ingredients and lubricant condition represents a normal state. This type of benchmarking will lead to easier identification of additive depletion and wear elements in subsequent samples. 

Outside assistance/training from a lubrication expert or oil-analysis laboratory is advisable when setting up the pilot sample points.

Step 6: Set up a work-management approach to sampling.

Lubricant sampling must be performed consistently, on a frequent basis—making it a suitable candidate for a maintenance/asset-management work-order system. Using the written sampling procedure as a job plan, the task can be set up effectively through PM scheduling software.

Extracting and sending a sample to the laboratory is only the first half of the oil-analysis process. Someone (usually the planner, if one exists) has to receive the results electronically by email, read the recommendations, and take any necessary corrective action and/or file the laboratory report electronically to history, usually as an attachment to the PM sampling work order. This will require development of a workflow procedure—and training all maintenance staff involved in the program on the procedure. 

Step 8: Commence sampling and program roll-out.

An oil-analysis program will identify major contamination and wear problems with the first sample set. Sample trending can begin with the third set, wherein the site starts identifying/predicting any negative trend toward potential failure and schedule corrective action before failure occurs. Ideally, a pilot program should be allowed to run for approximately three months or longer to show basic results before tweaking it and rolling out to the next area within a plant.

Once a program is working and providing results, larger-sized enterprises may wish to consider investing in an in-house staffed laboratory that will deliver faster results turnaround. MT

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional and certified Machinery Lubrication Engineer (Canada). He is the author of Lubrication for Industry (Industrial Press, South Norwalk, CT) and the Lubrication Section of the 28th Ed. of Machinery’s Handbook (Industrial Press). Contact him at

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