Education Is Key to Get the Most from a Lubrication Program

Jeremy Wright
Tags: lubrication programs, oil analysis, contamination control

While instructing a lubrication fundamentals course, I’m often asked, “What is the best return on investment in terms of lubrication?” Without hesitation, I’ve always answered that it is keeping the lubricant and machine clean, cool and dry. However, I’ve been lying to these people. Keeping the lubricant and machine clean, cool and dry is in fact very important, but it pales in comparison to education.

Until recently I’ve never taken a step back to view the whole picture. When an employee knows why it’s important to maintain these conditions, that’s when the company gets true value. This comes through education.

In regards to lubrication and oil analysis, the cost of an uneducated workforce is often overlooked. How many times after a failure has occurred have you thought back and realized it could have been avoided if you only would have known...?

It’s important to understand the difference between training and education. Training pertains to skills. For example, systematically running through an inspection checklist is a skill. I can provide people with a checklist to inspect a machine component using sensory inspection. This checklist might include things like desiccant breather color, level in a level gauge, leaks, etc. I would take them through the list and show them what the optimum reference state looks like. If what they see in the field does not match, there is a potential problem.

70% of lubrication professionals say knowing why to perform a task is more important than knowing how to perform a task, based on survey results from

On the other hand, education is not only knowing what the optimum reference state is but also why it must be that way. When education and training are combined, that’s when an organization gets the maximum return on investment. Rather than having a “droid” running through a checklist, when you introduce education with those skills, you get a dynamic, problem-solving, thinking employee. Don’t get me wrong; knowing how to perform a task is very important, but knowing why is where the real value is added.

Education can also be extremely valuable when trying to manage change. Let’s face it, people don’t like change. As a consultant, I deal with this on a daily basis. I’ve found that the best way to impart change on behavior is education. For instance, a few weeks ago I was in a plant and happened to witness an employee transferring lubricants in an open-top, dirty container. Rather than just telling him to use quick-connects and a sealed container, I educated him. After a simple 5-minute explanation of the effects of dirt and other contaminants to the hydraulic system he was about to top-up, and why it was important to keep the lubricant clean, he said, “That makes perfect sense. I don’t know why we haven’t been doing it that way the whole time.” Through education, I was able to change this person’s behavior in just 5 minutes.

To run an effective, world-class lubrication program, there is a great deal of knowledge to be absorbed. Once the decision is made to make improvements to your program, it is crucial that you decide what knowledge and to whom it must be distributed to facilitate quality implementation and execution.

Education and training should become core components of your lubrication program. Education not only will help with adherence to your defined best practices, but it also will ensure continuous improvement for years to come. Remember, the real value is not in the training of how but in the understanding of why.

Hidden Costs of an Uneducated Workforce

There are costs associated with having a workforce that is not educated. The following highlights some of those costs.

Expensive and Wasteful Oil Analysis
  • Poorly sampled oil (not repeatable and not representative)
  • Sampling oil at the wrong frequency
  • Incorrect use of onsite oil analysis instruments
  • Oil analysis data without baselines or limits/alarms
  • Not responding to oil analysis alarms
  • Wrong selection of oil analysis tests Selecting a lab based on price
Undetected Faults and Failures
  • Unrecognized machine faults on an oil analysis report
  • Poor inspections, unrecognized problems
  • Not properly inspecting used filters for wear debris
  • Unrecognized oil contamination or degradation
  • Undetected wrong oil or mislabeled oil
  • Undetected, wrongly performed repairs/installs
High Cost of Lubrication
  • Premature oil changes
  • Lack of lubricant consolidation
  • Using synthetics needlessly
  • Wrongly selected lubricants
  • Wrongly applied lubricants
  • Accepting out-of-spec oil
  • Leaky oil that goes undetected and unrepaired
Poorly Specified Equipment/Parts Purchases
  • Filters that don’t work as intended
  • Internally contaminated new or rebuilt machinery
  • Lack of proper breathers and filters preinstalled
  • Lack of proper sampling hardware preinstalled
  • Wrong new lubricant factory fill
  • Improper selection of filters and separators
High Labor Cost
  • Overtime cost for unnecessary emergent repairs
  • High cost of unnecessary inspections
  • High cost of unnecessary PMs
  • Excessive use of labor for lubrication
  • Trial-and-error troubleshooting
  • Poor workforce morale/low productivity
High Cost of Reactive Maintenance
  • High spares inventories
  • Repeating past mistakes
  • Treating symptoms not causes
  • Forced outage and lost production
  • Product quality problems
Costly Mistakes that Lead to Premature Failure
  • Putting any oil in a machine instead of the right oil
  • Using defective or spoiled new oil
  • Failure to use bottom sediment and water (BS&W) bowls, sight glasses and mag plugs
  • Mixing incompatible greases
  • Outdoor lubricant storage
  • Handling and storage practices that lead to lubricant contamination
  • Poorly lubricated and protected equipment in storage Ineffective system flushing
  • Changing engine air cleaners (filters) too often
  • Using factory-recommended lubricants and filters (with exceptions)
  • Improper sump and reservoir management practices
  • Uncalibrated or incorrectly calibrated grease guns
  • Careless washdown spray practices
  • Failure to monitor and control lubricant particle and moisture levels
High Machine Energy Consumption
  • Wrong selection of lubricant viscosity
  • Wrong selection of grease type and consistency
  • Overgreasing or undergreasing a bearing
  • Using the wrong lubricant viscosity
  • Wrong selection of base oils and/or additives
  • Not changing the oil at the right interval