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often less expensive, products can be standardized for use across the site to replace all redundant, unsafe, and out-of-date oils and greases, and minimize the number required to operate the plant safely and effectively.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:
- Prepare a formal approved-lubricant list for purchasing-department personnel and set up a blanket purchase-order for the approved products.
- Inform all affected stakeholders of the impending change(s) to an approved-lubricant list.
- Remove all non-approved lubricant stock from the plant.
- Develop a stock rotation/control procedure for all approved lubricants.
- Obtain up-to-date MSDS sheets for all approved lubricants and remove all non-approved MSDS sheets.
- Purchase dedicated (color-coded) storage and transfer equipment for all approved lubricants.
- Purchase labels for all approved lubricant reservoirs.
- Change all lubrication filters.
- Develop a lubricant change-out flushing procedure and systematically change out all non-approved lubricants in all machine reservoirs; re-label reservoirs.
- Update lubricant-inventory-control software with lube specification, supplier, manufacturer, code numbers, min/max levels, and inventory-turn rate.
- Update affected preventive-maintenance (PM) job tasks in the CMMS (computerized maintenance-management system) to reflect new lubricant changes.
- Update any recommended changes to PM schedules in the CMMS.
- Update equipment manuals to reflect new lubricant changes.
- Update Bill of Materials (BOMs) in the CMMS.
- Update changes to the lubricant disposal procedure.
- Update any changes to reporting requirements in the CMMS.
- Perform staff training for change awareness, product handling and safety issues, and product disposal.
- Inform production.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- When? Contains the expected trial duration, along with commencement and completion dates.
- Where? Contains equipment type or specific
equipment number of the machine on which the lubricant is to be tested.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.