Improve Equipment Reliability Using Lube Program Audits

Wayne Ferguson Tom Hiatt
Tags: Case Studies

In order to improve equipment reliability, one must understand the reasons why equipment can be unreliable. One reason for unreliable equipment is a poor lubrication program. Auditing a maintenance area’s lubrication practices is a basic step toward understanding the possible causes of lubrication-related failures. The audit should compare current lubrication practices against “best practices” and document the results and recommendations to assist in the creation of an action plan to close the gaps. The purpose of this article is to present a method to develop and implement such an audit.

Improve Equipment Reliability through Audits
Wayne Ferguson and Tom Hiatt prepare for audit.

Lubrication is one of the most, if not the most, important routine maintenance functions that can be performed to ensure equipment reliability. Industrial machinery rides on as little as a one- to five-micron film of oil. This is less than the diameter of a white blood cell. Loss of this film equals failure. Based on the analysis from several bearing manufacturers, between 70 to 80 percent of bearing failures are lubrication-related and less than 10 percent of all bearings reach their intended life. While industry best practices exist for lubrication, they are not always followed. This may be related to the fact that most lubrication information is handed down as tribal knowledge rather than in the form of documented maintenance procedures. Many lubrication programs entail little or no training and are still based on the old adage “if a little grease is good, then more grease is better.” Lubrication assignments are commonly regarded as lower skilled work and not given the priority and concern they deserve. In today’s technological world, large investments are being made in various reliability programs, but improving basic lubrication practices is often overlooked.

An audit based on industry best practices should include the following attributes:

  • Clearly defined subject categories

  • Several detailed questions for each category

  • A visual confirmation of the answers provided

  • Method of scoring (point system)

  • Differentiating levels of performance (low, medium, high or good, better, best)

Download a generic audit PDF (21 KB) that can be adopted for use in most plant environments. Categories and questions should be added or removed as appropriate.

Performing the Audit
The audit should begin with an initial meeting of the major players in a maintenance organization, such as the maintenance supervisor, reliability engineer and a maintenance craftsperson. The auditor(s) explains the details of how the audit will progress and what to expect from its outcome. During this meeting, the craftsperson and the maintenance supervisor are asked the documented audit questions. The auditor(s) notes their responses and asks for further information when the answer is vague or does not fit the response he’s looking for. The auditor(s) then makes notes regarding the answer and places the appropriate score for each question in the blank on the audit document. Once all questions have been answered, the auditor(s) and the maintenance craftsperson should take the audit from a conference-room setting to the actual manufacturing area to confirm the answers and inspect the equipment and storage areas for good lubrication practices. As an additional measure of the effectiveness of the lubrication program, the auditor should select a sample(s) of oil in storage to be evaluated by a lab to determine the oil condition. If the sample is deemed contaminated or unacceptable, three points should be deducted from the total audit score. If the sample is acceptable, a single point should be added to the score.

Once the auditor(s) is satisfied that he has seen a true representation of the actual lubrication processes and procedures, the physical audit is complete.

After the meeting, the auditor totals the score for the audit, and from that, a detailed report is developed for the problems found. This report includes the score, performance level, recommendations for improvement, and specific actions to improve the score of the audit. A follow-up meeting is recommended to explain the results of the audit and the necessary actions to improve the score. Once this report is delivered, the auditor(s) should be available for consultation on a regular basis to assist with the recommended actions. If the area has not achieved a satisfactory performance level and intends to implement the recommendations, a re-audit should be performed after the area has completed the actions suggested. Once an area is satisfied that it has achieved the correct level of performance, regardless of the score, a re-audit should be performed every three years to ensure that the program is sustained.

Scoring the Audit
Each question on the audit should have a point value. This value should reflect the answer provided by the area. A single point should be given for a positive response and a zero or no point should be given to the negative response. Responses that are not completely satisfactory may receive a half point if there is evidence that the area is making progress on the issue. This half point is at the discretion of the auditor(s). Limiting the range of the points that an auditor has to choose from will keep results consistent between different auditors. The total points scored on the audit should be divided by the total points available. This will give a percentage score that can then be translated into one of the suggested levels of performance listed below.

Scoring Example
Total possible points on this audit = 65
Points scored on this audit = 45
Oil sample points this audit = 1
(Sample passed add 1 point, sample failed deduct 3 points)
Total points for this audit = 46

Divide total points for this audit by total possible points and multiply by 100.

Total points for this audit 46/65 total possible points * 100 = 70.7 percent

If using example No. 3 from the levels of performance in Table 1, this lubrication program would be rated as “Fair”.

Examples of differentiating levels of performance are listed in Table 1.

Example No.
Percentage
Percentage
Percentage
Percentage
Percentage
Percentage
1
Outstanding
(93 to 100)
Excellent
(84 to 92)
Superior
(75 to 83)
Good
(67 to 74)
Fair
(60 to 66)
Weak
(59 percent and below)
2
Best Practice
(93 to 100)
Better
(84 to 92)
Good
(75 to 83)
Fair
(67 to 74)
Weak
(60 to 66)
Poor
(59 percent and below)
3
Excellent
(93 to 100)
Superior
(84 to 92)
Good
(75 to 83)
Fair
(67 to 74)
Weak
(60 to 66)
Fail
(59 percent and below)

Recognition and Reward for Top Levels of Performance
An area that achieves the top performance level to improve equipment reliability should be recognized and rewarded for the improvements made to the area’s equipment reliability and lubrication program as well as the efforts of individuals who were responsible. Types of recognition include plaques, trophies, monetary awards, etc.

Final Thoughts
The development and implementation of a best practice lubrication program takes time but not necessarily a great monetary investment. The audit will identify the gaps and provide goals for improvement. The most important element of developing a successful lubrication program is ownership. A champion for the program is required to implement and sustain such a program. Never underestimate the power of a positive attitude and the effect it will have on a lubrication program.


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