Defining and Executing Excellence in Lubrication

Jim Fitch
Tags: industrial lubricants

When it comes to oil analysis and lubrication, it goes without saying that execution beats brilliance. And, this execution does not mean a single high-impact feat. Instead, it is a continuous value-building activity, beginning with perhaps a marked change in maintenance philosophy. Many refer to this as a nurturing process, i.e., nurturing your oil and hence, nurturing your machine’s lubricated surfaces. Does it take a new strategy to succeed at this? Not in all cases, but tips, tactics, and strategies definitely help. After all, why not do things the easy way and borrow the learning curve from those who have been there and done that.

When I get the occasional opportunity to observe a real live oil analysis and lubrication success story I’m hungry for details. I want to learn everything I can about the program including changes within the organization that were targeted and carried out. Things such as:

- What led or motivated them to the decision to implement the change?
- What was the strategy that was implemented? Proactive maintenance? Predictive maintenance? Other advanced maintenance tactics?
- What were the unforeseen hurdles or obstacles in the process?
- How was the proposed plan justified and sold to management?
- What benefits were realized? Reduction in lubricant consumption? Lower repair costs? Reduced production losses? Extended mean time between failures? Reduced filtration costs? Reduced disposal costs? More “saves” and fewer “misses”? Planned versus reactive maintenance?
- How did they gauge or monitor the program’s progress?
- What were the real costs to implement?
- Was lubrication and oil analysis integrated with other maintenance technologies?
- To what extent did the plant / mill provide training to key people?
- What was the reaction of those affected by the program change?
- What was the role of management in initiating or supporting the program change?
- How was the program cost justified?
- What would they have done differently if they could start over again?
- What are the plans for continuous improvement?

Fortunately, we have had the opportunity to see many excellent lubrication and oil analysis programs over the years. While rarely do all aspects of these programs fall into the “best in breed” class, their achievements usually exhibit many common traits and success factors. And, I have found that most champions of such programs exude tremendous pride and enthusiasm in their success. They want to share the details and mentor would-be followers. Some perhaps learned from others and then added to or expanded on this wisdom. So then, it only stands to reason to leverage this knowledge and experience by tuning in to what they have to say.

Write A Best Practice Vision Statement
In the modern maintenance organization, the best way to retire the wrench is to retire the wrench-driven culture. And, anymore, reliability is not enough. We now want reliability at the lowest possible cost without any accompanying job stress or unpleasant routine tasks. In such case, reliability is optimized, not maximized. It becomes a strategic and discriminating process, considering both the cost of reliability-enabling alternatives and the business / safety consequences of unreliability. Many organizations formalize this using the tactics of Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM).

Amidst all is a central and strategic role for oil analysis. We use oil analysis for measuring quality - quality in machine design, installation, and maintenance (a.k.a., proactive maintenance). We also use it for timing specific maintenance activities. However, the action of “achieving” quality is not the role of oil analysis. This is where best practices in lubrication and maintenance comes in. Essentially, when we define best practice we are defining the meaning of quality in the context of the machine reliability.

But, before we set aside ritual past practices we first need to identify best practice. Next, we need to educate best practice. And finally, we must execute best practice. And, for those in a support or management role, there is a vital need to celebrate and reward best practice. Making it a mindset and an exalted part of the company’s core culture is key. These important concepts are presented sequentially in Figure 1.

Sometimes its not enough to casually proclaim a commitment to change and best practice. Such verbal statements are often discounted or considered little more than lip-service. Lasting cultural change requires much more than this. To this end, many organizations have followed the quality movement by writing and institutionalizing an indelible “best practices” vision statement. This removes the temporal, and often fleeting, panacea plans companies sometimes advance.

Yet, even this is not enough. There must also be a corporate money-where-your-mouth-is commitment to support the program by allocating the necessary resources to those charged with its implementation.

These resources are applied to education, reference materials, people, instrumentation, software, and in some cases, modification to equipment. It’s here that the rubber-meets-the-road as many maintenance organizations often struggle painfully to create a strong business case in vying for limited resources to finance the transformation. Yet, by deploying the correct project evaluation techniques in the cost / benefit analysis, such justification can often be easily achieved.

Defining Best Practice
Before anything new is implemented there is a need for what one might called a situation analysis. It is important to determine where things are now as the initial step in defining the course of action going forward. This situation analysis, or lube audit as it is often called, is best performed by an outside specialist or consultant with specific knowledge in machine lubrication and oil analysis. While lubricant suppliers have traditionally performed such services, what’s involved here generally goes beyond the training and background of their technical support people. And, there are many other advantages gained by using an “independent” specialist to perform an audit relating to lubrication and oil analysis. The objectives and goals of a good lubrication audit are as follows:
- Identify current practices and suggest best practice alternatives
- Identify improvement and cost reduction opportunities relating to lubrication management, storage, handling, and disposal
- Identify opportunities to enhance effectiveness in oil analysis including sampling methods, test slate, on-site oil analysis, target cleanliness levels, data alarms / limits, sampling frequency, etc.
- Review contamination control and proactive maintenance practices and propose improvements
- Identify opportunities and needs for lubricant consolidation and purchasing standards
- Examine the way oil analysis is integrated with other maintenance technologies
- Suggest needs for training and procedure documentation

When the audit is complete the findings and observations are typically documented in a detailed report. Included in this would be a listing of high-benefit recommendations for change. The organization then needs to begin the process of converting the recommended changes into specific action plans, complete with the necessary details and assignments. The program design would not only include certain equipment changes (installation of sampling ports for instance) but also the procedural and monitoring activities needed to insure that the machine and lubricant conditions are in compliance.

Educating Best Practice
When it comes to bringing a plant’s lubrication and oil analysis program up to world-class status the importance of education can not be overstated. Training is a critical element of any change process. On site education, when professionally delivered, will instill confidence and a shared vision of what’s ahead. After all, unless maintenance professionals have an understanding of the planned changes, including the associated goals and
purpose, they can’t be expected to carry out its mission.

Credibility of the training organization is vital in cases where broad scale change is targeted. Besides bringing an independent perspective into the classroom, most professional trainers also serve as consultants and have experience spanning various industries and corporate reliability programs. The cross-pollinating of knowledge and information, including best practice, is a vital part of education.

In addition to formal training, budding oil gurus need reference materials at their finger tips covering machine design, tribology, lubrication, oil analysis, condition monitoring, failure analysis, etc. Today, such references are available on an assortment of different media including video, CD ROMS, web-based, and printed books. An example of the wide variety of references can be seen by visiting the bookstore at the website www.oilanalysis.com.

Executing Best Practice
With the program designed and training in place it is critical that implementation be carried out “to plan”. There are typically many phases of implementation and, for some organizations, the process can span years. Often there are significant purchasing requirements needed to transform lubricant storage areas, add filtration and other contamination control products, install sampling hardware, and bring in on-site oil analysis capabilities.

While, in lump sum, these investments can seem intimidating, they are almost always small in comparison to the more routine investments companies make in failure (repairs, downtime, spare parts, etc.). By forcing preemptive investments into best practice lubrication and condition-based maintenance (including oil analysis) the money that would have normally flowed into the breakdown basket goes instead to operating profits (Figure 2). These preemptive investments are a strategic and vital part of successful execution and should be applied to:

Training. Spread it about to all those who benefit from and contribute to machine reliability, including, millwrights, oilers, mechanics, lubrication specialists, reliability professionals, managers, etc.

Sampling Hardware. Take the pain out of the sample bottle by installing “live zone” sampling ports wherever possible.

On site Oil Analysis. Lubrication specialists and PdM professionals need tools for their trade. Today there are many suppliers of on-site and portable instruments who can provide nearly instant information on key lubricant properties, including particle count, viscosity, moisture contamination, and ferrous density.

Premium Laboratory Services. Lab selection should be a quality and service driven decision, not price.

Hook in the Water. Don’t shortchange your oil program by sampling too infrequently. You can’t catch a fish unless your hook’s in the water.

Oil Analysis Software. Deploy the power of the computer to help you flag and analyze non-conforming data.

Best Practice Procedures Documentation. Identifying and documenting best practice is a crucial success factor. More on this below.

Proactive Maintenance. Make strategic investments in contamination control (filters, etc.) and quality lubricants and get multiples in return.

Technology Integration. Build and integrate an optimized complement of maintenance technologies by leveraging the core strength of each tool.

Program Metrics and Benchmarking. Measure and trend both your program’s real costs and real benefits. The success of the program will require proper credit to insure that annual budgets continue to support more of the things that eliminate failure and less in things that feed failure. Once broken, we can’t risk a return to the vicious failure-repair cycle.

The Corporate Lubrication Manual
As the field of lubrication and oil analysis races forward there is a strategic need to provide instant access to key information and to document best practice. Increasingly, companies are modernizing their lubrication programs by writing customized corporate lubrication manuals (CLM). Unlike printed text books, the CLM becomes a living reference that is refined and perfected over time, forming the centerpiece of their program. As new methods, techniques, and procedures are identified, it would grow and expand accordingly.

The current trend in this area is to “digitize” the CLM and place it on corporate intranets for convenient access by all employees. In the past couple of years Noria Corporation has assisted several companies in developing electronic lubrication manuals in common HTML format (Figure 3). By going electronic, large corporations not only enable instant access to the information enterprise-wide, they also simplify the process of customizing and expanding the manual over time. And, since the electronic lube manual resides inside the corporate network firewall, access and security concerns are not compromised.

A well-conceived corporate lubrication manual should cover the following topical areas:
- Lubricant Receiving and Storage
- Handling and Dispensing of Lubricants
- Reservoir Management
- Lubrication and Relubrication Methods
- Oil Analysis Sampling Procedures
- Oil Analysis Test Procedures
- Guidelines and Templates for Data Interpretation
- Troubleshooting Guide for Non-Conforming Data
- Leakage Control and Seals
- Training and Skill Development and Competency Testing
- Lubricant Standards and Product Consolidation
- Resource Library

The lubrication manual not only provides instructions on proper lubrication but more importantly it serves as a master guide of lubrication and oil analysis standards as officially set forth by the company. These standards (e.g., standard operating procedures) are generally peer reviewed by professionals within the company and outside as well. The purpose is to remove subjective decision making in important and often critical maintenance activities that routinely affect machine reliability and safety. The standards also serve the purchasing function by documenting both approved performance specs and vendors relating to service equipment, lubricants, filters, and machine components.

Micro and Macro Metrics
Turning a best practice lubrication and oil program into a feisty profit center is what it’s all about. Only when we divert money away from the cycle of failure / repair investments and into the hands of reliability and condition-monitoring professionals do we begin building value. This brings us to the last critical success factor which is sometimes referred to as benchmark metrics. It is a simple process of setting targets and measuring performance against those targets. This is done on both a micro and a macro scale.

There are many different ways to measure and trend macro improvements in machine reliability and maintenance efficiencies. Some of these are specific to the machinery and industry involved. Simple straight-forward measures that can be routinely trended over time generally serve the company best. A few examples include:
- Machine availability
- Bearing replacement frequency
- Mean time between failures (overhauls, repairs, replacements, etc.)
- Annual oil consumption (or consumption ratio)
- Scheduled vs. unscheduled downtime (outage, etc.)

When it comes to achieving targets and goals relating to these measures, as they say . . . the devil’s in the details. This sets up a need to micro manage the equipment by proactively attending to the many details that lead to reliability. Applying this strategy requires another set of metrics relating to an assortment of conditions that can be routinely observed, tested, or measured. A simplistic example of a micro metric is a lubricant target cleanliness level. In sum, what we are trying to achieve are controls that restrict the occurrence of key failure root causes. While not all root causes can be practically controlled and measured, the 80-20 rule applies, i.e., identify and control the 20% of the causes that are responsible for 80% of the failures.

An interesting aspect is that many of the micro conditions, or root causes, that need to be monitored require nothing more than sensory observations - sight, sound, smell and in some cases touch. On-site oil analysis tools and techniques extend the reach of the technician further, particularly when initial exceptions are reported. Adding the oil analysis laboratory and other maintenance technologies to the inspection protocol and a more complete picture of lubricant and machine health emerges.

Identifying and Scoring Reportable Conditions
For critical equipment, oil analysis needs to performed as frequently as monthly. This keeps the “hook in the water” and provides regular flow of information about machine and lubricant health. So too, a well designed and implemented program should include oil analysis software with automatic alarming capabilities. But, this alarming capability is only as good as the quality of the analysis (including sampling) performed plus the strategic selection of the targets and limits. Many other articles and books have been written on proper oil analysis program design so no additional time will be spent on it here. However, what’s important is that reportable, non-conforming conditions are promptly brought to the attention of maintenance planners and corrective actions are expediently performed. In this area, the maintenance organization might grade itself against several lubricant control parameters plus the prompt response to oil analysis exceptions. Consider these micro metrics:

1. Number of over-target alarms per year relating to oil cleanliness / dryness
2. Percent of samples per year with reportable (non-complying) conditions
3. Average number of days to respond and correct reportable conditions
4. Total number of days per year out of compliance (by machine)
5. Metrics on sampling timeliness (to plan) and laboratory turnaround time
6. Metrics on filter and oil change timeliness

The inspection of the machines during routine PM’s needs to generate reportable conditions as well (nano metrics?). These, in many cases, are far more critical than anything flagged by an oil lab. Below are examples of inspections that can be performed with a general multi-point scoring system, depending on machine design:

BS&W Bowls. Use a four-point rating system based on color, water, sediment and emulsion (clarity).

Used Filter. Use a six-point rating system based on sludge, metallic debris, color density, color consistency, defects and varnish.

Walk-Around Inspection. Use a six-point rating system based on level gage (at correct level), leakage and seal condition, sealed hatch / cover, breather condition, filter gage (in green), and filler cap (sealed).

Magnetic Plugs. Where used, magnetic plugs can be rated by ferrous density.

Oil Sample. Use a six-point rating system based on odor, color, brightness, clarity, sediment, and free / emulsified water.

The process of routinely reporting key machinery and lubricant conditions offers many advantages in condition-based maintenance and machine reliability. When the results of these tests and inspections are communicated and conspicuously posted, preventive and remedial measures are reliably carried out in a timely fashion. Going forward, continuous improvement would depend on setting even more rigorous targets (cleaner and dryer oil for instance) and expanding the list of inspections and metrics.

Summary
The demands on a maintenance organization in delivering machine reliability at the lowest possible cost has never been greater. Today, world class programs interlace many strategic elements with amazing skill and effectiveness. And, the importance of both education and documentation in insuring best practice can not be overstated. This, added to the correct selection of program metrics on both a micro and macro scale, will generally achieve new levels of quality and reliability in machine operation.


About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advised hundreds of companies on developing their lubrication and oil analysis programs. Contact Jim at

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