Getting Started on the Path to Lubrication Excellence

Devin Jarrett, Noria Corporation
Tags: lubrication programs

The pursuit of excellence is a natural endeavor of humankind, whether it involves a personal hobby, professional occupation or common destination of a group of individuals. Not everyone is blessed with the opportunities to achieve excellence in all aspects of life, but I firmly believe that every person has a chance to attain excellence at some point or another.

As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming a professional football player. My sports heroes were guys like Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders. While I missed out on being one of the best football players in the world, I have become one of the top football officials in my local association. In this pursuit, I have found that all paths to excellence, regardless of the destination, follow a similar course: assess, plan, implement and reassess.

Before going any further, I would like to define what excellence means. Excellence is superior, very good for its kind or first class. It does not mean perfect, faultless or without defects. Therefore, lubrication excellence does not imply having a perfect program but rather one that is first class.


The first step toward a superior lubrication program is to determine where you are on the spectrum of excellence. This can be accomplished by performing an assessment of your current state, preferably by an unbiased source. This step is never easy. Many organizations would like to skip this step, as it is often viewed as an outside authority telling them what they already know - that they are bad. While you may realize that you are nowhere near excellence, you still need this reference point. This is where you can begin tracking how impactful future changes will be to your lubrication program and maintenance budget.

A good assessment can reveal a multitude of things, including what you are doing well, what you need to improve, how to measure your effectiveness and how to maintain the program in the future. This also can help change any misconceived perceptions about lubrication, such as “grease is grease,” “new oil is clean oil,” “if a little grease is good, more is better,” etc. The assessment is the first step in learning what you didn’t know. How can you expect to change or improve if you don’t have a knowledgeable person or organization to show you where you are and teach you what you didn’t know you needed to know?

69% of lubrication professionals say their plant has not achieved lubrication excellence, based on a recent survey at


After you have established where you are on the spectrum of excellence, it is time to begin planning your journey for where you want to go. If you don’t take the time and effort to invest properly in this step, all future steps will be impacted, and you will run the risk of failure. During the planning stage, try to account for all obstacles that may be encountered. You likely will not be able to identify all of them, but the more you can address early, the better you can handle them in the future.

Planning as it relates to excellence in a lubrication program involves a point-by-point review of the current practices along with the recommended practices. Every lube point in your facility must be evaluated to ensure you are performing the “rights” of lubrication – the right lubricant in the right amount at the right frequency and right place using the right procedure with the right tools and hardware.

One of the biggest pitfalls during this step is over-consolidating lubricants or using a blanket approach across the facility. There is no such thing as a universal grease or oil that can provide the proper protection for every type of machine. You must consider the environment, operating conditions and application, and then perform calculations to discover which lubricant would work best. Once you know which types of lubricants you need, you can begin consolidating to the optimum number of lubricants for your facility.

Keep in mind that you cannot achieve lubrication excellence without lubricant analysis. Until recently, lubricant analysis was thought to only apply to oils. However, significant advances have been made in analyzing in-service grease. All applications must be evaluated to determine which ones should be included in the lubricant analysis program. Among the factors to take into account are the reservoir size, machine type, lubricant cost, machine criticality, lubricant age and machine age.

Once you know which machines and lubricants will be analyzed, you must choose the appropriate test slates and alarm limits. After all the tests have been selected, you will need to decide if it is more cost-effective to use an in-house lab or an outside vendor. An in-house lab can conduct simple tests and offer many advantages, but it should be climate-controlled with limited access.

All procedures for how lubricants will be maintained while in service must be documented so everyone on the lubrication team can perform each task the same way. A good procedure will include the machine name, which tools are required, which lubricant to use, how much lubricant to apply, how to perform the task with step-by-step details, and how to clean up after the task is completed.

Finally, you must decide how you will receive, store and transfer lubricants throughout the plant. Find a central location that has sufficient room, is climate-controlled and offers a means to control access. This area can set the stage for lubrication excellence. It is where you will clean and store incoming lubricants as well as the tools for lubricant application, sampling and filtration. This is your first line of defense for protecting your lubricants and machines from contamination and ultimately failure. If you don’t get things right in this area, it will be impossible to achieve lubrication excellence.


Next comes the real challenge of the journey - putting your plan into action. Up until this point, you have not actually made any changes to your program. You now must find a suitable computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) to manage the program, including all the lube points and procedures. You might need to purchase equipment to better maintain your machines and lubricants, as well as tools to provide better feedback of what is happening inside the machines. This may include particle counters, vibration measurement instruments, thermal imaging cameras or temperature sensors. In addition, equipment for obtaining lubricant samples and testing for the desired properties may be necessary.

The days of passing down tribal knowledge from one generation to the next are no more. All lube points and tasks should be documented so you no longer just guess at how much or how often to apply the lubricant.

Another area that tends to be overlooked is how you will inspect and maintain your equipment. Once again, a blanket approach will not work. You should not just install a desiccant breather on every machine. In certain cases, this type of breather will be required, but in other areas you may need a particle breather or an expansion chamber.

When selecting a level indicator, take into consideration where the oil level should be and the accessible port locations. In some instances, a columnar level gauge may be preferred. Other modifications might include bottom sediment and water bowls, quick connects, offline filters, sample ports and heat exchangers. Depending on if air entrainment issues exist, you may also need baffles, diffusers or other alternatives to increase the oil’s residence time inside the reservoir.

For grease applications, the two most common recommendations are line extensions and single-point lubricators. Again, employ these modifications wisely. Remember, the best place to regrease a lube point is as close to the rolling element as possible. If you can safely access and apply grease at the Zerk fitting on the housing, you should not be applying grease as a matter of convenience for the lube tech. Install an extension line only when these parameters cannot be met. If an extension line is needed, it should not be longer than 4 feet. As a rule of thumb, if a lube point must be regreased 12 or more times a year and requires 10 ounces or more, a single-point lubricator may be the best option.

Of course, all the greatest tools and widgets in the world will not achieve lubrication excellence. You must also train your team members on how to use these tools and on the importance of lubrication. They will need the knowledge and ability to develop the necessary skills to make the correct decisions. If trained properly, they will be able to identify problems long before a catastrophic failure occurs.

Next, you must measure how you are doing by establishing and tracking key performance indicators (KPIs). Hopefully, you were utilizing some KPIs before you started. Generally, plants measure things like unscheduled downtime, lost production, etc., to show how efficient they are. However, you should track metrics such as lubricant cleanliness, mean time between failures, route compliance, lubricant consumption, etc. This is a good way to gauge how effective your changes have been.

The last step in implementation is to change your culture. Without transforming the mindset and practices of what has always been done, you will never cross over to the other side of the excellence spectrum. This process of changing your business as usual may consume more time and effort than anything else you are implementing, but without a positive culture change, all of your other efforts will be futile.


After you have assessed where you were, planned how to achieve excellence and implemented your plan, you must reassess where you are in the spectrum of excellence. Did you accomplish all that you set out to attain? Do you have more to do? While you might have achieved everything that you set out to do, there may be other things you need to address or additional areas of improvement.

Once you have reached excellence, periodically reassess how you are doing. Like all things in life, excellence is not a lifetime achievement award that you receive and then always maintain without doing anything else. The definition of excellence is continuously changing. There are always new or better ways of doing things that redefine excellence. You must keep up with the latest developments in the industry and continue to find ways to improve your program.

Finally, don’t hesitate to seek help from outside experts. In my pursuit of excellence in officiating, I have had to rely on someone else to guide me through the pitfalls. While it is not impossible to get there on your own, it is much easier and enjoyable going through the journey with someone by your side.