Useful Tips on Applying Knowledge Logistics to Lubrication PMs

Noria Corporation
Tags: industrial lubricants

In Part 1 of this column series in Machinery Lubrication magazine, I examined what makes a good lubrication preventive maintenance (PM) task as well as the importance of task-specific information, not just generic "how-to" guides. In Part 2, I talked about how to organize and execute lubrication tasks in the most efficient way - through lube routes or multi-technology PMs. In the third and final part of the series, I will explore what type of information we need to provide as part of the lubrication PM and how to make that information available to those that need it at the point of use.

Getting Lubrication Knowledge to the Point of Use
In the past several years, a new catchphrase has emerged around the field of maintenance and reliability: knowledge logistics. By definition, logistics refers to the transport of goods, supplies or people from a point of origin to a point where they are to be used. Used most commonly in military circumstances, the field of logistics is an art unto itself. But when it comes to effective maintenance and reliability, logistics is just as important. However, it's not about moving goods or people - though, of course, having the right tools and people available is important; it's more about moving "knowledge" from the point of storage to the point of use.

When it comes to lubrication, we need to understand what kind of knowledge to which we are referring. As previously stated in Part 1 of this series, some of the required "knowledge" is to have task-specific details such as grease volume or lubricant type explicitly written into the work instructions. But knowledge logistics goes way beyond simply specifying lubricant type or grease volume on a worksheet. Logistics embodies the whole process of capturing, compiling and delivering the "knowledge" to the people that need it, in a way that is most useful to them.

Take, for example, a plant that has a dedicated team of lubrication technicians who have been working at the plant for 25 years, know every inch of the plant, and have been through lubrication-specific training and certification. In this case, perhaps they need nothing more than simple written work instructions with bare-bones details such as which lubricant type to use or how much grease to apply. Unfamiliar or unaccustomed to computers, a printed hard-copy worksheet may be sufficient.

At the other end of the spectrum, many plants are either using operators to lubricate machines or are moving toward operator-assisted lubrication. In this case, most operators do not have the experience to perform with this minimal information and may require more information, perhaps in the form of graphical or other pictographic work instructions.

Perhaps more importantly, the average age (and experience) of our workforce is decreasing. With the rise of the "Gameboy generation", integrating a more technological approach to knowledge logistics may be required. So, let's examine how to deliver "knowledge" to the people who need it in a form they can use. This is the essence of knowledge logistics.

'Visual Plant' Provides the Necessary Information
There are three basic forms in which we can capture and provide the requisite knowledge. The most basic, of course, is written work instructions. Provided they are simple, to-the-point and accurate (up to date), written work instructions certainly fit the bill. However, as the complexity of the task increases and/or the experience of the person doing the work decreases, work instructions need to be more detailed. Given this, and the well-known fact that many people do read the instructions (just ask my wife!), a diagram, schematic or photograph - particularly if it's labeled with arrows showing the lubrication points, method of application, lubricant type, etc. - may well provide far greater results.

The concept of using schematics or photos to show how specific tasks should be performed is often referred to as "the visual plant". Properly implemented, visual plant concepts provide even the most inexperienced mechanic or operator with just the level of detail required to allow him or her to perform at or above the level of a 25-year veteran. With visual plant, work instructions and illustrations can be provided either in hard copy (e.g. laminated and affixed to the machine) or, with the increasing use of personal digital assistants (PDAs), as electronic files that can be taken into the field and referred to on an as-needed basis, something that's far more appealing and bound to garner greater attention from the younger demographic of plant employee.

With PDAs, a third and perhaps more exciting option is possible: task-specific training modules. To understand the concept, imagine standing in front of a complex hydraulic system, faced with extracting an oil sample from one of the many return lines. Now imagine having electronic work instructions displayed on a PDA complete with a link to a prerecorded video showing the task being performed as prescribed. With simple "play, pause, stop" capability, the technician or operator can follow along as he or she witnesses firsthand the task being performed as specified. While perhaps overkill for simple tasks such as manual greasing of a pillow block bearing, for more complicated tasks such as inspections, adjustments or equipment configuration (e.g. set-ups), videos represent the most comprehensive and easiest-to-understand medium.

Take Advantage of Technology
So as you start to plan how to take your lubrication PMs to the next level, make sure you pay attention to the details. Provide clear, specific (not generic) work instructions, organize the work in the most efficient way (lube routes or multi-technology PMs) and take advantage of all that technology has to offer beyond simple written instructions. These fundamental tenets of knowledge logistics will help you succeed on your journey to lubrication excellence.