What exactly does it mean to be excellent at lubrication? Is lubrication excellence a destination, or is it a journey on the path to re-inventing a plant's entire approach to lubrication?
An Overall Change
Unfortunately, many organizations approach lubrication excellence like a program, similar to a capital project, with a defined beginning, middle and end. In other words, it is something that must be defined by a clear return on investment within a predetermined time period. Lubrication excellence is not about one single activity or collection of activities over a specific time period, but rather a continual journey which should be aimed at changing the lifestyle of the plant. Lubrication excellence involves changing the process of lubrication, not just purchasing tangible products or services.
Consider the analogy of fad diets or short-lived workout routines. While no one likes to hear the truth, the only way to improve personal health is to apply better maintenance practices to the body, including a healthier diet and routine and ongoing exercise. Likewise, the only way to improve the health of machines is to change their lifestyle, or the way they are operated, maintained and equipped for lubrication best practice.
Pockets of Excellence
Like most of our consulting team, I spend a considerable amount of time in plants, and have become attuned to recognizing those that have embraced the concept of excellence in lubrication versus those that have only paid lip service to lubrication best practices. So what do I look for? I'm seeking what I have termed "pockets of excellence," which is something that may have been learned from a training class or read about in a magazine, but has not been deployed with an ongoing plan to create sustainable change. Here are a few examples.
In humid environments, the use of desiccant breathers or other water-exclusion breathers are considered to be lubrication excellence. However, I would estimate that as many as three out of every four installed desiccant breathers I observe are completely saturated and have long since changed color, indicating complete saturation. Not only are these breathers no longer removing moisture, but the particle filter may have also become saturated with particles, meaning the system is either being pressurized or is finding an easier means of breathing, perhaps through the seals. Just like the need to apply an ongoing fitness program to improve personal health, the use of desiccant breathers without a defined schedule to check and change the breather is a recipe for disaster.
This is an easy example because the desiccant breather color changes are obvious, and represent what I call a "set-it-and-forget-it" mentality. This is a misguided belief that once a program of upgrading vents and breathers has been completed, water and airborne humidity can be ignored. Desiccant breathers require a change in process - albeit a simple one - to periodically check and change the breather.
Single or Multipoint Greasing Systems
The same "set-it-and forget-it" fallacy holds true for single or multipoint greasing systems. Due to previous bearing failures attributed to under- or overgreasing, the plant is tempted to install a centralized system to eliminate the need to manually grease the bearings on the machine. While this may be the correct approach, installing an automated system (single or multipoint) doesn't mean the bearings in question can be ignored.
Just like breather inspections, a change in process to check that the grease system is full, the injectors are working and the supply lines or piping are not blocked is required to ensure that best practice continues. Unless this takes place, the steps taken to solve one problem may actually introduce more, particularly in the case of a multipoint system where one problem on the supply side could compromise not just one bearing, but all bearings on one or more machines.
So don't be lulled into a false sense of security that you can buy your way to lubrication excellence. Think about lubrication excellence as a change in the process of lubrication, rather than a solution that can be purchased, set and forgotten.