Most of the plants I have visited in the last few months have an aging workforce that is very skilled in performing their duties. Many of these employees are looking forward to retiring within the next few years. That in itself is not a problem. The problem is that most of the data these employees have collected over the years only resides within their heads and not on paper or within a computer. This means that when they walk out the door that final time, information will be lost until the company invests in learning it over again (often at a very steep price).

One way to remedy this situation is to start developing effective written procedures. What is an effective lubrication procedure? It is a step-by-step guideline that directs the user through a specific lubrication task. Of course, there are many types of tasks, including manual bearing lubrication, gearbox filling, gearbox checking, kidney-loop filtration, sample collection, etc. Each of these tasks will have some degree of uniqueness as well as a lot of overlap with other similar lubrication tasks.

When preparing a lubrication procedure, consider the following:

  • Strategy — How does the procedure support the broader maintenance strategy?
  • Purpose — What needs to be accomplished?
  • Procedure — How is the task accomplished, including the many details that determine safety, efficiency and effectiveness?

While there is no single approach to defining the individual tasks for a procedure, certain specifics must be incorporated to remove ambiguity and assure compliance. At a minimum, the purpose should include the name of the item to be addressed, the objective of the work, the identification of the individual to perform the task, the operational and safety conditions, and the amount of time allocated to the task. The details should identify what is to be done, where it is to be done, who will do the work, tools and materials needed, and special issues surrounding the work (safety, operational, etc.).

In the process of devising and writing procedures, expect to find major similarities between like components grouped by maintenance strategy. A template can be created with a significant amount of generic information or structure to facilitate the process without diluting the results.

Work Scope

Procedures clearly scope the work an individual is expected to perform. They ensure work is done the way management or engineering requires. If management wants 12 shots of grease pumped into the bearing, allowing 15 seconds to elapse between shots, this desire can be clearly documented in the procedures.

Consistency

In the absence of procedures, five technicians are apt to perform the same task five different ways. Without a procedure, each individual has the freedom to “personalize” the task at hand. This inconsistency produces undesirable results. Documented procedures bring uniformity into the lubrication task while keeping everyone on the same page.

4 Elements of an Effective Lubrication Procedure

  1. Emphasize Best Practice — Procedures enable the incorporation of best practice. However, this is not automatic. A concerted effort must be made to build best practice into the procedure. Access the experience and knowledge of your own maintenance team, and bring in outside support as required to ensure that your procedures are up to date and aligned with your business goals.
  2. Communicate Clearly — Use clear, easy-to-understand language when creating procedures. Also, utilize digital photographs to reduce the procedure’s dependence upon words. For intricate tasks, a digital video is an excellent way to communicate tasks that are difficult to describe with words. Consider procedures that include a top view of the plant along with easy-to-spot landmarks to reveal the location of the machine. Getting to the right machine is the first step. You should also employ sketches or photos to identify the lube point’s location. Lube points are occasionally missed because their location is unknown to the technician. Specify required tools and materials for completing the job to improve work planning and assembling a tool kit. Don’t forget to include general safety practices and any specific hazards associated with performing a particular lubrication task.
  3. Electronic  Get your lubrication procedures in an electronic form, preferably on your company-wide intranet, or onto an Internet account for those moving toward Web-based application support. When procedures are electronic, they can be updated globally, attached to work orders and linked to like machines in your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). Digital photographs and video images can also be easily attached to a document. Documenting your procedures electronically is more efficient and effective than the old paper and three-ring binder method.
  4. Continuous Improvement  There is a downside to procedures. Without management, they can anchor the organization to the past, inhibiting the inclusion of new technology and best practices. Be sure your program includes a periodic review and improvement process to update and upgrade lubrication procedures. Keeping your procedures in an electronic form simplifies continuous improvement because updates don’t require tedious activities to physically replace pages in your lubrication manual. Changes can be documented and communicated in one memorandum, while updating the procedures requires only the touch of a button.

Best Practices

A procedure creates the framework for standardizing best practice. It serves as the container in which to pour the experience and expertise of employees, outside consultants, vendors and others into a single document. This convergence process also enables the team to align the procedure to the organization’s goals. Just enough “best practice” for one machine may be too much for another, depending upon the relative importance of the two machines to plant operations, even if the two machines are identical in design.

Training

Arguably, the most important role of lubrication procedures is that they form the basis for training lube techs. Basic training about lubrication, lubricants, oil analysis, etc., is designed to provide the foundation that enables the individual to think like a lube tech.

Certification is another critical part of the training process because it confirms that the individual possesses the skills to perform the job functions. This is called technology training. While it is important, technology training fails to convey specific task-based instructions for completing a lubrication-related work order. A set of procedures serves as a natural curriculum for task-based training. It also serves as the basis for evaluating an individual’s ability to carry out the assigned tasks. Combining basic technology training and third-party certification with task-level training and skill verification creates a powerful combination and a valuable employee.

Adding Value

The perpetual nature of the lubrication process offers both challenges and rewards. The benefits and drawbacks are cumulative. By refining your strategy, working through the details and devising high-value procedures, you can add long-lasting value. Every dollar saved through a new lubrication improvement is saved over and over again. This is called an annuity. It makes each dollar saved worth much more than the face value of the initial dollar saved.

The process is both orderly and detail-oriented. Consider operational circumstances and then correctly identify the right product, the right place, the right amount and the right time, and then apply these practices with the right attitude.

To achieve and maintain a competitive position in a hyper-competitive world, a company must work as a team to build value in each segment of the process. The development of world-class lubrication standards and practices is long overdue in many organizations and will soon become an absolute necessity if my recent experiences are a barometer of the changes that will soon be affecting us all. Take the next step. Learn how Noria can help transform your lubrication program.