The Missing Link in Reliability Lubrication Maintenance

Jan Peens, SAPPI
Tags: industrial lubricants

During the early 1990s, an abundance of literature on lubrication was available, but the content of this literature did not provide a practical guide to setting up a lubrication plan or how to align all departments according to such a plan. Therefore, a simplified lubrication framework, which takes a holistic approach to lubrication, was devised to set up a cost-effective lubrication control system.

The Basics
This framework can assist and support any individual or group who needs to implement or streamline its lubrication service. It considers all aspects of lubrication rather than targeting a single department or group.

This should provide value in optimizing the function of lubrication services which ultimately enforces better maintenance practices.

This framework presents a guide on how to implement, assess and improve an existing service. Once implemented, results should include a cost reduction in lubrication and an improvement in the on-line availability of equipment. During the initial implementation stage, lubrication costs will increase, but once the system is put into operation, savings and increased machine availability can be quantified.

This program calls for comprehensive data to be collected and stored. It is recommended that a master file of this data be kept at a central point. A working document must be available to all parties involved with lubrication.

What Is Lubrication?
Lubrication covers a wide range of activities related to oil, grease, filters, handling of lubricants, lubrication equipment, breathers, oil analysis, storing of lubricants and lubrication devices. In effect, lubrication means the effectiveness of all these functions being performed holistically.

Who Is Involved?
Lubrication functions should be centralized to obtain the benefits gained by rationalizing and then standardizing on lubrication-related items. Therefore, the four main stakeholders or role players will be the maintenance department (customer), the planning department who will distribute the schedules, the lubrication services team who will execute the tasks and the lubrication subject matter experts who must provide up-to-date recommendations and best practices regarding plant lubrication needs. These experts could include plant lubrication engineers, lubricant suppliers, original equipment manufacturers and/or other lubrication engineering subject matter experts.

The original equipment manufacturer (OEM) should certainly be included to provide information on the lubrication design, lubrication instructions and maintenance practices of the equipment.

Leading the Program
The key to this program's success is selecting the right person who brings the major role players together for a common goal.

The main function of each player must be carefully defined.

Lubrication Subject Matter Experts


Maintenance Department (Customer)
Execute works request by:

Staff Performing Lubrication Functions (Lubriserv)

These tasks will generate interaction among the four players. For example, maintenance will blame the supplier (Lubriserv) for breakdowns. On closer inspection, contamination (gland leaking) could be found to be the root cause of equipment failure. As a result, the Lubriserv will request maintenance to remove the contaminant (repair leaking gland) to protect themselves. To eliminate waste, the Lubriserv will continue to request that maintenance repairs oil leaks. This interaction can become cumbersome. The roles and responsibilities of each player should be clearly defined to prevent miscommunication and misunderstanding of the concept.

The leader is the hub of the program, and must also have the authority to implement changes and manage them accordingly.

It is advised that a central department, such as a planned maintenance or services department, must lead the process and manage the functions once the program is in place. This is the best scenario because the program procedures need to be implemented throughout the entire plant.

From hereon the program will be called reliability lubrication maintenance. Its main objective will be to manage lubricant usage, prevent contamination, and minimize adverse environmental impacts associated with lubrication activities.

Reliability Lubrication Maintenance
Removing defects from systems can be accomplished by utilizing lubricants effectively, preventing unnecessary waste of material and increasing machine availability. It defines the responsibilities of all role players culminating in the responsible disposal of waste that complies with relevant legislation of systems (for example, ISO 14001).

To initiate a reliability lubrication maintenance program, one must understand the full concept and the implication it will have on the staff. The aim is not to reinvent the wheel but to utilize and train existing staff. It is also imperative to align this tool with existing maintenance strategies.

The following areas should be considered when developing the program. Experience shows that if the program is working, the list of lubricants will be constantly updated, and therefore, optimizing lubricants is the logical first step. Though viewed from a reliability point, lubrication organization will be a higher priority when putting effective schedules into place.

There is no correct sequence or starting point because all the functions influence each other. Debating the sequence of events only wastes time and energy that can be better invested in the program.

  1. Optimize Lubricants

  2. Lubrication Instructions

  3. Lubrication Organization

  4. Storage and Handling

  5. Lubrication Devices

  6. Lubricant Life

When implementing a new plant or organization, examine step 3 first, as it is a full explanation of steps 1 and 2. More experienced organizations can move directly to the assessment step 4, discussed at the end of the article.

Using these steps to align the lubrication function into the maintenance plan to ensure better maintenance standards could shorten the journey to achieving maintenance excellence.

Step 1 - Responsibilities
Designate responsibilities. Both the customer and the service provider need to participate continuously. The responsibility and accountability of an activity must be clear because this is the most important step and will be the foundation of the program.


In all the tables throughout the article, "experts" include the OEM.

Overlaps in responsibilities could cause confusion if not addressed appropriately. It should also demonstrate that lubrication is a complex entity. Focus on the harmonizing effects that lubrication has on all the role players in your organization.

Once a draft of the program is listed with clear-cut objectives, lubrication subject matter experts, oil laboratories and others can be utilized to document and then implement procedures to reach goals.

Step 2 - Accountabilities
Designate responsibilities to tasks on a finer scale. The focus areas are now divided into accountabilities rather than responsibilities.


This is a good time to discuss the effective location of the lubrication technician, otherwise known as the lube tech. Because the lube supplier oversees the schedules, he can assist to ensure the correct lubricant technicians are placed at more critical plants. When the lube tech reports to the maintenance department, he or she may not be entirely dedicated to lubrication functions. For example, in an event of a shutdown, he gets called away from his apparent lower priority responsibilities, such as lubrication. On a positive note, though, shutdowns are the ideal time to accomplish small jobs such as replacing grease nipples, changing oil and cleaning equipment.

The upside of a lube tech reporting to a services department is that during a lubrication breakdown, fingers will point to the lube tech - and that is what you want. When he reports to maintenance department, lubrication failures are hidden, and are not prevented from recurring. Another benefit to the services department is the likelihood of having more than one lube tech on-site.

This is a also gray area and depends on the reporting structure of the lube tech (who he or she reports to). It's obvious that the lube tech plays an important role in the program.

It must be noted that irrelevant to the lube tech's reporting structure, maintenance staff is responsible for maintaining centralized lubrication systems and making greasing points available. When working on machines, personnel must ensure that grease pipes will not be damaged and will be replaced in working order. A lube tech can easily assist with this task. It is important to nurture the relationship between the maintenance staff and the lube tech.

Step 3 - Implementation

1. Optimize Lubricants
The goal is to minimize the types of lubricants in stock. Upon a program's progression, there will be a reduction of stock on hand.


On-site Lubricant List
Maintain the on-site lubricants in the following format. These tables show which three products to remove from the stores, resulting in optimized storage space.

With an estimated savings of 10 percent per year over five years, 48 drums of oil can be saved, which equals 10,080 liters.

Rationalizing lubricants, however, does not reduce consumption. The operation, consumption and leakage of the machines has not changed. It will reduce the number and amount of lubricants stored at any time. For example, the author uses the list to target current leakage as well as a target for the next year. It is a comprehensive list and runs a big part of his program.

Safety Data Sheets
Have safety data sheets for each lubricant. This is a statutory requirement and must be in place. Sheets are obtainable from the supplier and can be stored on the mainframe. Keep a copy of this at the main store and satellite stores.

Main Lubricant Usage per Categories
Listing lubricants by categories of usage provides an idea what is available for new installations.

Review List
Review the list every six months to determine if there are new products on the market. This also ensures that the programs are still operating.

2. Lubrication Instructions
Lubrication Survey
This survey should be a joint effort between the company and the lubrication subject matter experts. This survey should include the following:
Planned maintenance schedules can be created from this.

Review Survey
Review survey yearly to ensure that equipment and lubricants are still in place and that adjustments can be made as necessary.

Add New Equipment
Just as a spare parts list should be in place for new equipment, lubrication details such as adding new equipment must be done before commissioning. This is one of the most neglected areas in the lubrication field, and a permanent lubrication coordinator should be employed to deal with all equipment manufacturers. All standard requirements for lubricants, filtration and oil sampling points will be met for new equipment before purchase.

Access to Survey
Make survey accessible by placing it on the mainframe. This guides the repairmen after hours.

3. Lubrication Organization
Proper Scheduling
The schedule must be controlled by the maintenance program and linked to specific equipment.

Recording Systems
Especially for plants with a high oil usage rate, a detailed database must be in place to control their usage. Not only can money be saved on reduced oil costs, but problem machines can be identified and rectified before they break down due to contamination or a lack of lubrication.

Role of Lubrication Technician
Better trained lube techs should be placed in the most demanding areas where there is no room for error and machine availability is crucial.

Name tags should be added to all equipment and machinery. The objective is to ensure the right lubricant gets into the right machine and to eliminate cross-contamination. The lubricant supplier usually covers the costs for these tags.

4. Storage and Handling
Main Store
Keep minimal stock. Lubricants should be moved in a first-in first-out (FIFO) stock rotation.

Satellite Store
Satellite stores require smaller amounts of lubricant. Take the necessary steps to avoid contamination and mark containers properly.

Transporting lubricants is generally not a problem, but remember that a 210-liter drum is not easy to manhandle.

Ensure clean handling of the lubricant from the drum to the machine. This is the emphasis of the program, and a careful filling of equipment must take place to accomplish this.

Spill Plan
A plan must be in place to remedy an accidental spill. Floors should be kept spotless to make leaks more noticeable. Spillage policies must be documented to comply with ISO 1400 and other environmental standards.

5. Lubrication Devices
Centralized Lubrication Systems
Make sure centralized lubrication systems are in place. Systems are sometimes viewed as "out of sight, out of mind", and are typically ignored. Remember, these systems are the responsibility of the maintenance staff.

Lube Points
Extend inaccessible lubrication points. Lubrication points which are difficult to reach will be neglected. The maintenance staff is responsible for maintaining these points.

Minimize Greasing Time
Use lubrication equipment to minimize greasing time. It is recommended to use a pneumatic grease gun, even when lubricating a few grease points. A grease counter can be added to the grease gun to indicate correct top-up volume, reducing the chance for contamination.

6. Lubricant Life
Apply correct filtration to lubrication and hydraulic systems. Choose one filter supplier and use its products throughout the plant. Remember, paper-pleated filters are time bombs. It is recommended to choose duplex systems where filters can be changed on the run. Provide a proper identification system to ensure a correct stock removal system.

Fit breathers to all systems and machinery to eliminate the entrance of dirt and moisture. Paper-pleated filters are not recommended for this application.

Check Oil Condition
Perform oil condition checks on all systems. These tests not only indicate the condition of the machine but also prove the efficiency of the filters and breathers. Clean oil systems prolong machine life.

Avoid contamination to all machinery. Focus on removing the source of lubricant contamination. If unavoidable, overlubrication will occur. In such a case, preference should be given to the less expensive lubricant.

Critical Machinery
Oil sampling should be performed on all critical production equipment. Expensive equipment must not be excluded.

Preference must be given to reclaim or purify oil it wherever possible.

Step 4 - Assesment
A quarterly assessment is recommended to keep the program's successes on track. When reviewing your plant's lubrication procedures, consider the following best practices. It can also be helpful to assign a score or grade to each of the steps below.

1. Optimize Lubricants

2. Lubrication Instructions

3. Lubrication Organization

4. Storage and Handling

5. Lubrication Devices

6. Lubricant Life

A clear understanding of these concepts and their implications they have on staff is necessary before deciding to implement the reliability lubrication maintenance program.

Once a leader with the authority to implement change is identified, these steps can get you on the path to the assessment stage.

A pilot plant can be selected for a trial run of the program. This enables changes and improvements to be made to the program before it is implemented across multiple facilities of an organization.

A quarterly assessment should keep the program's successes on track.