A Team Approach to World-Class Lubrication at Eli Lilly

Wayne Ferguson Tom Hiatt
Tags: Case Studies

There are different thoughts of what constitutes a “world-class” lubrication program. It is our belief that a world-class lubrication program consists of researching, documenting and implementing the best lubrication practices and regulatory requirements as defined by the leaders in the lubrication and reliability industry (Noria, SMRP, ICML, etc.) as well as regulatory agencies (OSHA, EPA). We have determined that for most programs, best practices can be summarized into the following categories:

After placing all of the best practices into one of these categories, we developed a tool at Eli Lilly – a Lubrication Program Audit – to measure ourselves against them. We feel that the only true way to determine if you have a world-class lubrication program is to measure it against known best practices. Many maintenance areas don’t feel that they have a problem with their lubrication programs, but the only way to know for sure is to actually measure it.

After reading this article, you may have questions about your plant’s lubrication program. You may realize that this very important part of the reliability program has been overlooked. If this is the case, you should own the improvement efforts and become the champion in leading your plant to lubrication excellence. If you believe that your lubrication program is world class, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  1. On what did I base this determination?

  2. How did I measure my program?

The development and implementation of a world-class lubrication program can be accomplished in several ways. Some of these ways include:

A single individual attempting to develop a world-class lubrication program has a monumental task ahead of himself or herself. One of the first problems the individual effort will face is from the people that are responsible for the lubrication at your plant. No one likes being told that they may not have been doing their job correctly, and they definitely don’t like being told how to do their job. Without involving those that will be impacted by the changes made in the program, the effort will not succeed. Other problems include:

The individual can measure the program, but if no one has placed any value on the information from this measurement, the individual effort will fail.

Even though you may be faced with some of the same issues as an individual effort (resistance to change, lack of buy-in, etc.), we believe that a team concept will ensure that the effort will be developed successfully. By having more individuals from the area impacted involved in the development of the program, buy-in is increased, the work is spread out among the members of the team, expertise is developed and ownership is established. The team concept can apply regardless of the size of a plant or facility.

A few of the most important attributes of team members are:

Lubrication programs at most companies begin as tribal knowledge that is passed down from person to person through the years. In many cases, the job of lubricator is an entry-level position into the crafts. Many lubrication programs are generally based on the old adage, “If a little grease is good, more grease is better.” There is usually no consolidated lubrication program in place, and many plants vary in the practices and procedures used to lubricate equipment.

In some cases, a plant may have team meetings to look at certain maintenance issues, and these teams may generate many ideas. They may also solve some problems from their effort; however, once a problem is identified and addressed, there is usually not much thought devoted to developing and communicating a long-term lubrication program strategy.

Items that have proved helpful in improving team performance are the use of agendas, project lists and sub-teams.

Keeping the lubrication team focused and moving forward has been a difficult task at times. At the beginning of each year, our first meeting is devoted to setting the goals for the entire year. A brainstorming session provides us with the list of subjects that we will pursue. This list becomes our project list and is prioritized based on the effect it will have on the reliability of our equipment. All ideas on the project list are then assigned to a sub-team of members for development and implementation. The ideas that show value are then fully pursued by the sub-team. Each of these sub-teams has a permanent place on each month’s agenda for the sharing of their work and progress.

Wayne Ferguson and Tom Hiatt Eli Lilly
Wayne Ferguson (left) and Tom Hiatt built lubrication best practices at Eli Lilly.

Lube Room at One Eli Lilly Plant
Teamwork was essential in order to create a new and improved lube room at one Eli Lilly plant.

Developing your team
Here is a step-by-step process for creating your own team:

Results of your efforts
It is critical for the future support of the team and the success of the development of a world-class lubrication program to publish the results of your efforts. The first communication should be the results of the audit that was performed, which indicates what the gap is for your plant. Then, let everyone at the plant know what your team has identified as the solutions to fill the gaps.

In order to sustain your efforts, the lubrication program, as well as any tools and procedures you have created, should be evaluated at regular intervals.

Conclusion and Considerations
The team concept has worked very well for us at Eli Lilly. It allowed us to make great strides in improving our lubrication programs throughout our company. This effort has resulted in tremendous savings and has increased the reliability of equipment.

As you implement your program, here are some pitfalls to avoid:

In closing, we would like to leave you with this thought: Improving a lubrication program will increase equipment reliability. Not improving a lubrication program will guarantee that you never fully achieve reliability.

Companies are looking for champions and people with a vision. Could this be you?

About the Authors

Wayne Ferguson and Tom Hiatt worked together for many years in the maintenance and reliability organization at Eli Lilly. Today, Ferguson is a senior reliability engineer for Eli Lilly in Indianapolis. Hiatt is a reliability engineer for Covance Inc., a company which recently purchased specific Lilly facilities in Indiana.