Lubrication Standards Manual — The Need for Documentation

Wes Cash
Tags: lubrication programs

Lubrication Standards Manual — The Need for Documentation


Everyone remembers their first car. The feeling of freedom coupled with a light tinge of fear going down the road is an experience that is hard to forget. Equally hard to forget is when that first car requires maintenance or repairs. In my case, the car was a 1983 Jeep Wagoneer, and there was no shortage of repairs that had to be made.

One day my dad brought me a Chilton’s manual for that particular vehicle. It was filled with how-to’s, diagrams and troubleshooting guides. It made the jobs significantly easier to perform but also provided much-needed specifications on items such as torque, tolerances and other specs to make the vehicle operate better and more reliably. Chilton has shifted primarily to an online platform now, but I still have that physical manual.

The idea of having a manual serve to enhance understanding and performance is not a new concept, but it’s one that isn’t employed as much in the industrial space as it should be — especially as it relates to lubrication. Most facilities may have operating manuals for a piece of equipment that have some instructions related to lubrication, but many do not go into the level of detail required to ensure the reliable operation of the equipment. Nor do many facilities have a set of standards that relate to the lubrication activities required to sustain the program. This is why having a lubrication standards manual is a key component of a lubrication program.

A standards manual should be a living document that outlines each aspect of the lubrication program and then provides guidance for how activities should be performed. The idea is that it will serve as a repository of information that can be called upon when needed and as a way to keep the program in a consistent state. With employee turnover or changing priorities, the standards manual becomes a time capsule of how work should be done and managed and even who does the work.

While this is a good practice to get into for a single facility, it is often beneficial to establish a corporate-wide standards manual that will help provide consistency across a fleet of facilities. This also provides a conduit to mine the plants to find which programs are more established and record those practices to share with everyone else. It’s incredible how often you see two plants owned by the same company with a huge difference in their lubrication programs. When done correctly, a corporate standards manual will bring the stakeholders from the different plants together to create a document that will be shared with their peers to elevate everyone’s program.

Documentation is a requirement for most ISO-certified companies. For instance, ISO 9000 and ISO 55000 both have documentation requirements that you can compare your activities against. Lubrication should not be any different. The standards manual can serve as an internal audit tool used to create consistency in activities. On a set periodicity, current practices can be compared to the written manual, gaps can be identified, and corrective actions can be taken to remediate any issues. The inverse is also true: if what is being done in the field is a better practice than what is documented, the standards manual should be updated to reflect it. This keeps the manual current, making it a truly living document.

The first worldwide lubrication-centric standard for lubrication programs, a document called ICML 55, was written by over forty subject matter experts in lubrication and reliability and launched by the ICML. Within its text, it calls for documented standards. It states, “The organization shall create, execute and maintain a lubrication manual that clearly specifies the aspects associated with the execution, management and continual improvement of the organization’s lubrication policy, strategy objectives, and plans.”

While documentation alone won’t improve field practices, it does start the process of improvement. Some view the standards manual development as an exercise to puts the goal of how the lubrication program will run on paper. With this mentality, some ask, “What should be found in a standards manual?” It’s a good question, and in order to build a thorough manual, you will want to think of the lubrication program wholistically. Below are several key areas to document.

By taking the time to develop the standards, you can establish a baseline of expectations for all members of the lubrication team. Without having a plan or anything on paper, the status quo prevails, and a continual cycle of reverting back to bad habits wins out. It’s not enough to just write the document, put it into action and get your team’s involvement in its development. This is one way to start a grassroots improvement initiative in your plant.


References: ICML 55.1 page 50