Proper Lubrication Means Less Visits from Your Parts Vendor

Jeff Billington, Noria Corporation
Tags: lubrication programs

For Scotty Lippert of Clopay Plastics in Augusta, Ky., a reliable and trustworthy vendor is a valuable asset for his company, just as it is to any other industry. But when a company puts in place reliability and lubrication maintenance programs designed to lengthen the life of a machine and its parts, it’s the vendor who notices the change when the call for replacement parts slows to a crawl.

Several years ago, Lippert, a planned maintenance technician and lubrication leader for Clopay, a manufacturer of specialty films and plastics, received a brochure that invited him to attend a maintenance seminar on planning and scheduling.

“I received that brochure about four years ago inviting me, and in that brochure something caught my eye,” Lippert said.

The brochure stated what World Class Maintenance in lubrication means to the industry:

  1. You are recognized as World Class by customers and competitors.
  2. You are constantly being benchmarked by others who want to study what you are doing.
  3. Your benchmark performance indicators are in the top 5 percent.
  4. Few competitors are performing activities as well as you.
  5. You are respected by customers and feared by competition.
  6. Your performance numbers speak for themselves.
  7. There is a strong sense of pride among employees.

But Lippert, who has worked 24 years at Clopay, decided to add one more item to the list: When vendors call, concerned that the re-purchase of parts has drastically fallen.

Lippert said he added the last item to the list because his company had a reliable vendor that they had used for many years that sent him a message asking why Clopay hadn’t purchased a particular part in more than two years.

“It’s probably a very good assumption that this vendor is expecting my reply to be that I have found a better price with another vendor, but my reply was one he never expected,” he said.

“I stated in my email to him that their prices always have and still are competitive compared to other vendors’ prices, but the reason we haven’t purchased anything from them in over two years is because we are now properly lubricating them, an answer he sure didn’t expect.”

Lippert said when a reliability program is working correctly for a company, the first to recognize it within the organization will be the planner, maintenance buyer and maintenance staff. Outside of the organization, it’s the vendor who might believe something could be wrong when calls to the vendor slow down, and eventually stop for long periods of time, he said.

“We weren’t purchasing parts near as much, and he thought we were buying the parts someplace else at a different price,” he said. “It’s because we were lubricating right. I thought that was a good sign.”

This particular vendor is still considered an important asset, but now, Lippert doesn’t rely on his parts vendor as much because of the lubrication knowledge the maintenance staff at Clopay has received. In this case, the vendor’s loss is the company’s gain, he said.

Lippert used as an example the rotary unions on Clopay’s extrusion lines, which, depending on the particular size, range in cost from $300 to more than $4,000.

“It takes two or three hours for rotary unions on our extrusion lines to cool off. That’s because many of them rotate with hot water, cold water, lukewarm water or hot oil flowing through them, to make a quality product for our customers,” he said. “Needless to say, rotary unions are a critical part of Clopay’s operations”

If a rotary union is not properly lubricated with the right product, the life of the part can be short. Lippert said the larger rotary unions, with hot oil flowing through them, can take up to eight hours to replace, leading to a loss of production and a toll on production costs.

Before Lippert and members of his maintenance staff attended any type of lubrication training, he admits he and his fellow workers felt “grease was just a grease as long as you applied some type of grease to a bearing, and you felt good about it, even if it was the wrong type, wrong amount or wrong intervals. Applying it wasn’t appropriate because we didn’t know any better.”

After Lippert and several of his co-workers on the maintenance staff attended training provided by Noria, they began reading lubrication instructions from the original equipment manufacturer that came attached to the equipment.

They discovered that workers were using a lithium complex grease to lubricate the rotary unions, but the parts came packed with a polyurea. The instructions noted that it should be continued to be lubricated with the same product, Lippert said.

Using the right lubrication on the right equipment has been of particular importance, he said.

“It’s caused us less work and for the company as a whole, a lot more uptime and a lot less expense for parts,” he said.

“We used to have 3.9 percent unplanned downtime, which is a lot, but now we’re down under about 1.7 percent. World Class is considered 2 percent or under, so we’re doing something right.”

Lippert said the bottom line is that the cost of lubrication training is pennies compared to the cost of downtime on a machine that hasn’t been properly lubricated.