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In my last Viewpoint column, I talked about the role that management must play in helping an organization achieve excellence in lubrication. Management buy-in and support – both financial and moral – are crucial to achieving success. However, I have observed many companies who despite committed management and grandiose statements about “achieving lubrication excellence” fail in their goals due to an inability to develop the necessary skills and infrastructure within the ranks of the lubrication department. In this column, I want to explore what makes a good lubrication technician into a great lubrication technician. After all, the lube tech’s effective performance is where the rubber meets the road, right? Without skilled, dedicated and knowledgeable lube techs, it’s highly likely that management’s vision for lubrication excellence will remain exactly that – merely a vision.
In my experience, many organizations place too much emphasis on the lubrication technician to get the job done, while providing little or no support. The pervasive attitude seems to be that sending a technician to a three-day training class is all he or she needs to change the fortunes of the lubrication department from one that is still operating in the dark ages, to one where modern best practices become the new day-to-day reality.
In fact, sending a lube tech to a three-day class often has the opposite effect. Armed with newly acquired knowledge about all the deficiencies in the plant’s current approach to lubrication, the technician returns to work fired-up and ready to make a difference. Unfortunately, the rest of the organization is not ready to make the same commitment. Faced with the same old road blocks and closed-minded attitude inside the plant (just keep it running, fix it when it breaks…), the tech slowly but surely becomes frustrated and reaches a state of “conscious incompetence.” As Drew Troyer discussed in his Viewpoint column in the May-June 2003 issue of ML, conscious incompetence essentially describes an organization – or in this case an individual – who understands that most day-to-day activities are not being performed as they should, but is unable to make any substantive improvements. Anxious but unable to make a difference, the now consciously incompetent lube tech becomes unmotivated and is tempted to either adopt a punch-the-clock attitude, or worse, seek a fresh challenge elsewhere. What started as a committed, dedicated asset is now lost for good.
So how do we ensure the newly minted lubrication technician has what he or she needs to excel? The answer is simple – tools. No matter how knowledgeable the lube tech, without the right tools, it is highly unlikely the tech will succeed.
In understanding the value of the right tools, one must understand that “tools” don’t necessarily equate to hardware. While it is true that filter carts, ultrasonic devices, infrared temperature guns, the right top-off containers, the right storage containers, etc. are all necessary to complete the task of lubrication effectively, these alone will not get the job done. In our single-minded quest to become “excellent”, we buy all the new “toys” but often overlook the most valuable tool of all – information.
Information and knowledge are not the same thing. Knowledge provides fundamental understanding of the importance of the task or activity, in essence, the “why?” Information, on the other hand, should supplement the individual’s knowledge by adding specific details that general knowledge-based training cannot provide. Where knowledge provides the “why”, information provides the “how”.
Take for example one of the most common and simplistic tasks: greasing a bearing using a handheld grease gun. While it is true that having knowledge about those factors that affect bearing regreasing helps the tech to understand the task at hand, without specific information about grease type, grease volume and correct regrease frequency for each bearing, it is doubtful that the plant will ever achieve lubrication effectiveness.
But hang on…wasn’t this information covered in the knowledge-based training course? If it wasn’t, maybe we should ask for our money back. The reality is that even though the appropriate information may have been covered in the class, with perhaps several thousand bearings in the plant each requiring regreasing, it is unreasonable to expect the lubrication technician to know specifically how much grease each bearing requires and how often when he is doing his daily rounds.
Instead, this valuable information must be determined in advance and provided in writing – preferably on the work order – to ensure consistency and continuity in application, no matter who performs the work. In the same way we kit a job with the right hardware tools, the job must also be kitted with the right “information tools”.
So take a look in the mirror. Is your lubrication program mired in mediocrity because of a misguided belief that lubrication excellence starts and stops with the lubrication technician? Or have you yet to provide (or receive) the right tools to get the job done?