Lubrication's Bottom-line Impact: How Owens Corning Benefited from a Transformed Lube Program

Roger Story, Owens Corning
Tags: Case Studies, lubrication programs

At many reactive plants, the lubrication program either languishes into decay or was never properly established. In the case of the Owens Corning facility in Aiken, South Carolina, a lube program was never implemented.

The plant began its life in 1979 as a satellite of a neighboring Owens Corning plant. The main plant was sold in 1999, leaving the satellite facility without programs and processes - including lubrication. In reaction, a makeshift lubrication storage room was established, but it was nowhere near world-class. For 17 years, the plant struggled awash in a reactive environment.

Wetting the Whistle

After retiring from a 20-year naval career in the nuclear power field, I began working as a reliability engineer on one of Aiken’s three production lines. My first two weeks were memorable: My supervisor quit my first day, and the plant manager was fired shortly thereafter. I quickly learned that we were a fully reactive plant in complete disorganization. With that, I had free rein to improve my production line.

New to the job, I needed to tackle small projects. A consultant introduced me to automatic lubricators. These motor-driven lubricators offer visual feedback, with a flashing green light indicating good, while a red light requires attention. We chose to place them on a system that was frequently experiencing failures. When failures began to taper off, operators and maintenance asked for more.

Adding Automatic Lubricators

One of the facility’s production lines incorporates four 24-inch hollow rolls. These chilled rolls cool the fiberglass mat as it leaves the oven. The bearings that support these rolls feel the effects of the chilled water. A cooled bearing attracts the Southern humidity, working its way into the grease. My first two years witnessed five failures, costing $130,210 in manpower, parts and opportunity. Bearing analysis proved moisture was the root cause.

Automatic lubricators were added and used to lubricate and purge moisture from the bearing cavity. After installation of the automatic lubricators, failures ceased to occur.

On the same production line, the oven utilizes eight 50-horsepower circulation fans and operates at temperatures up to 600 degrees F. The circulation fans experienced an average of four failures per year. The cost to profitability totaled $107,787.

After installing automatic lubricators, no further failures have occurred. It is important to note that the plant’s lubrication excellence program, which will be discussed later, cost $112,000. Eliminating these two failures more than paid for the program.

Eyes Wide Open

The initial makeshift lube room at the
Owens Corning facility was far from world class.

Even with a dedicated engineer on each production line, we worked in silos, not sharing best practices. Across the plant on a different production line, a bearing failure was being experienced each week.

Realizing we needed to work on lubrication, my supervisor sent me to a lubrication training course, where I witnessed a world-class facility practicing lubrication excellence. Even with the new knowledge, we made no changes. Our focus was near-sighted.


Several bearing failures led us to the discovery that our grease application was incorrect. In addition, different types of grease were routinely mixed. Testing has shown that most greases aren’t compatible, even those from the same soap family. Mixing greases compromises the ability of the base oil, risking machine longevity.

With one production line’s performance increasingly successful, an effort was made to spread the success to each of the remaining production lines. Aiken’s performance continued to languish until a personnel change was made. With the restrictions removed, we knew what needed to be done and went about it.

We consolidated our grease selection from nine to three, one each for motors, bearings and couplings. May 2016 marked the official start of the plant’s lubrication program.

The upgraded lube room has a dedicated pump and filter for each lubricant.

Lubrication Goes Live

As the Aiken facility saw its bearing failures decline, management took notice. When it became apparent that capital money may soon be available, the plant developed a plan to upgrade the lubrication storage room. Our primary goals were to simplify lubricant storage and dispensing while cleaning and maintaining the oil to a higher standard. In the meantime, we consolidated oils and cleaned the lube room, reducing choices from 18 to nine. This was a good time to consolidate suppliers, and so we did.

Funds became available in September 2016. We purchased the equipment, and in December, the lube room was constructed. Color-coded tags labeled the oil storage tanks, dispensing bottles and machines. Desiccant breathers were installed on tank vents to dry and minimize atmospheric contaminants. Each lubricant has its own dedicated pump and 3-micron filter, allowing the oil to be filtered at least three times before being dispensed to the machine.

We established a policy of maintaining minimum oil quantities. This policy works to ensure sufficient oils are in-house in case of a machine failure. Recently, a leak in a hydraulic hose caused a loss of fluid on one of the larger machines. Repairs were made, and the machine refilled without the need for an oil substitution. To date, this practice has protected Aiken’s lubrication excellence program on two occasions.

Policies and Procedures Set Standards

Detailed operational procedures have been written for the storage systems. The procedures are posted and ready for immediate use. A mission and vision statement was developed that captured our goals for the program.

HVAC: A Safety Need

The lube room was constructed in December 2016. In January, we discovered that moving ISO 460 oil at 48 degrees builds excessive pressure, twice blowing out the oil filter’s seal. That day, we learned that a lube room should be conditioned.

Our best solution was a mini-split. These heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are small, efficient and cost-effective. An added benefit is that the room is conditioned in the hot and humid summers of South Carolina. Air conditioning also dehumidifies, which is great for the life of our oils.

Details Matter

The difference between a good and a great lubrication program is in the details. Our grease guns are tagged with labels indicating which grease is to be used in each gun. In addition, the label’s color matches the color of the grease. The grease guns are also metered. This feature is used in conjunction with the facility’s lubrication matrices, which are a set of documents outlining every lubrication point in the plant.

Broaden Buy-in and Further Investment

During our journey to lubrication excellence, we experienced some resistance to change. The technicians had heard several times that “change is coming.” One technician described staff turnover as “wash, rinse, repeat.” At some point, our technicians became calloused. For them, believing would only occur after seeing.

Once the lube storage room was set up, several lubrication training sessions were held, complete with a hands-on portion. The training generated numerous questions and several “aha” moments. With a lube room in place and our ignorance exposed, Aiken had gained the needed catalyst to start a culture change.


Of course, a lubrication program is more than just a room. The program needs to touch each and every piece of rotating equipment in the facility. During the expansion phase, we changed the oils and fluids in the equipment, hung tags, and added bull’s-eye and level gauges. Filter carts were used to maintain cleanliness standards. Oil sampling helped to build a history of where the plant had been and where it was going. This phase is the front line of lubrication.

Level Up

Owens Corning is a data-driven organization. When a machine fails to operate, reactive data tells us we need to work on the machine. We needed better data. Oil analysis is a tool that can provide both proactive and predictive data, seeing inside a machine without disassembly.

After oil analysis training opened my eyes, we constructed a database and sampled equipment that was 4 gallons or larger or classified as critical. While in the training class, I heard firsthand stories from other attendees about their issues with lubrication quality, such as oil mix-ups and cross-contamination. With this knowledge, a lubricant receipt sampling process was implemented.

Aiken’s new lubricants are now sampled before being released for use. The status of a lubricant throughout the receipt process is indicated by a label placed on its container. Four months later, a delivery of ISO 46 oil was sampled and determined to be ISO 68. Our receipt process continues to protect machines and provide assurance of sustained uptime.

D-I-P-F Curve

For several years, the maintenance industry focused solely on the P-F curve. This curve highlights technologies used to detect a machine fault before the machine reaches functional failure. The P-F curve is a portion of the larger D-I-P-F curve.

The D-I-P-F curve describes the condition of an asset from its design to the end of its life. If you are not familiar with the D-I-P-F curve, consider educating yourself about how each segment integrates within a maintenance organization.

When I first arrived at the Aiken plant, a contractor was hired to perform vibration analysis. Report after report revealed one common thread: lubrication. At the time, the facility didn’t have a lube program. In essence, we had the cart before the horse. After two years, the plant stopped using vibration analysis.

Aiken would have been better served by first developing a lubrication excellence program than to invest in vibration analysis. This is not meant to suggest that vibration analysis is unimportant. In fact, Aiken currently has a fully functional vibration analysis program. However, by building programs out of sequence, valuable time and money were lost.

Autonomous Maintenance in Action

Aiken’s lubrication program is now fully developed. In several areas, autonomous maintenance (AM) is in practice. The wastewater operator lubricates his machines using a posted lubrication matrix. This matrix informs the operator what, where and when to lubricate. In addition, the matrix includes inspection points for sight glasses and automatic lubricators. The AM process makes lubrication visible to everyone, both management and staff.


Sustainability doesn’t happen by accident. It must be designed into every step of the process. The Aiken facility has labored to ensure that it will not relapse. By constructing a corporate enterprise program with the necessary lubricants, tools and parts, our technicians have easy access to designated products. Aiken recently finished building a comprehensive preventive maintenance (PM) deck within the software, which includes lubrication tasks.

Organizing and automating the PM program frees up staff for higher-level tasks. With every lubrication point and its requirements documented within the lubrication matrix, our machines are protected from the inadequacies of tribal knowledge. The lubrication matrices contain 1,563 grease Zerks and 142 gearboxes. Of those 142 gearboxes, 25 are filtered, and 38 are monitored with oil analysis.

Where Aiken Is Today

Aiken’s journey is not finished. We have room to grow. In the past five years, we have nearly doubled output without adding any new production lines. Maintenance has been the major driver in this gain. Operational efficiencies are the highest they have ever been, with the plant nearing 90 percent across all three lines.

A corporate leader recently recognized Aiken as having one of the best maintenance departments in the division. Maintenance is no longer the fall guy for each failure. Morale has improved among personnel and provided confirmation of years of hard work.

3 Takeaways for Success

Along the way, the Aiken facility has learned the recipe for success. While the following keys are not lubrication-specific, they should be considered for a lubrication excellence transformation.

The Right Plan

Start small and build on your successes. Do not attempt to make a wholesale change. Instead, make small changes, learn from them and repeat.

People are visual, so begin in an area where your efforts will be visible, either to the eye or the bottom line. Success generates more success.

As always, be honest in your dealings. It’s OK to make a mistake. Also, have a vision of what lubrication excellence looks like. Visit another plant or organization that has lubrication excellence in action.

Grease guns are now tagged with labels indicating
which grease should be used in each gun.

The Right People

Growth in an organization requires a change agent. The lubrication champion must be given the responsibility and authority to make change as he or she sees fit. The best champions are people who live and breathe the reliability lifestyle.

Plant management must also fully support the change agent in this journey. Far too often, support is seen in words but not deeds (money).

When seeking outside support, look for someone with patience. A world-class lubrication excellence journey will take years to implement. If your consultant is primarily concerned with a quick sale, move on.

The Right Time

Do not expect change to occur in a day. During my oil analysis training course, Noria’s Jim Fitch spoke about change in organizations. He provided several case studies that highlighted how lubrication excellence programs can take years to fully integrate. Aiken’s journey happened in spurts. When we recognized the need for change or new knowledge came to light, we formulated a plan and made the change. Patience is a must.

Your organization may not be ready for change when you are. Maybe the capital funds aren’t immediately accessible, or personalities are preventing change. Build your plans and lay the groundwork early. When the plant realizes a need for change, you will be ready.

Lubrication excellence was the catalyst that changed the Aiken facility. Our machines run longer, more material is produced, and the plant has become the linchpin of our division. Aiken is a fun place to work. Let our experience serve as an example of how lubrication excellence can be the inflection point that takes your organization to greatness.