Elevating the Status of Lubrication Personnel

Tom Hiatt Wayne Ferguson

The examples presented in this article revolve around the idea that by elevating the status of lubrication personnel, an area can increase the reliability of its equipment. This can be accomplished through increased ownership, respect and recognition of the lubrication technician's contributions. By giving those tasked with lubrication responsibilities the proper tools, education and respect, they will seek new and innovative ideas to assist in the journey toward reliability excellence. Examples of elevating the status of lubrication personnel include the list below and are presented within this article:

  • Lubrication-specific training with certification (professionalism)

  • Willingness of management to invest in the proper tools

  • Roles within lubrication excellence teams

  • Engineering and maintenance seeking and implementing their ideas

  • Including lubrication personnel in procedure development and improvements

  • Lubrication program ownership

  • Lubrication personnel recognition and reward

You may remember the "5 Rs" of proper lubrication:

  • right product

  • right place

  • right amount

  • right time

  • right attitude

To accompany those goals, here are the "5 Rs" of elevating the status of lubrication personnel:

  • right training

  • right tools

  • roles on reliability teams

  • respect

  • recognition/reward

These five Rs provide the path for elevating the status of lubrication personnel, making them contributing members of a successful reliability team.


Without a doubt, one of the main components of a successful reliability program is a lubrication program that focuses on the basics and delivers results. Within most maintenance organizations, the status of lubrication personnel is often considered subpar to that of other skilled craftspeople. This image is often fueled by those who believe that you can take anyone and make him or her responsible for the tasks associated with lubrication without regard for the skill set and the training required for a successful lubrication program. Without skill building and higher expectations of personnel, this portion of the reliability program will fail. To facilitate these higher expectations, a new line of thinking about the role of lubrication personnel must be taken.

Lubrication tasks are generally an afterthought within many organizations. These tasks are sometimes referred to as "tribal knowledge". In other words, an accumulated set of tasks that has been pulled together without much thought and passed down over time without regard to the total effect on the reliability of equipment. When the newest individual is hired, the responsibility of the lubrication program is passed on. Often this new responsibility does not come with any training and the lubrication technician is expected to perform the existing tasks without ever understanding why or how the particular task was chosen.

If an area is having difficulty convincing management of the need for the improvement in a lubrication program, a method of measuring the program should be developed and implemented. This could include an audit which compares an area against predetermined best practices and/or a review of failures with lubrication as the true root cause.

How then do we elevate the status of lubrication personnel? Based on the examples mentioned previously, each point is examined in more detail below.

Lubrication-specific Training with Certification
The development of a training regimen for lubrication personnel is one of the first steps toward improving their status. This training should include:

  • A basics of lubrication course

  • Skills evaluation

  • Additional ongoing training which could include advanced lubrication courses, lubrication conference attendance, on-line training, etc.

The end result of this training should be some type of certification. This certification signifies to management and peers that your lubrication personnel are capable and qualified to perform the tasks required and have the skills necessary to assist in the identification and resolution of lubrication problems in equipment. Without the training required to become proficient at the task at hand, most people would resort to the tribal knowledge that most programs are built on.

After lubrication personnel are trained, they will take the lessons learned from the training and apply them to their jobs, such as:

  • Improving storage and handling techniques (cleanliness, contamination control, regard to environmental controls, etc.)

  • Improving application of lubricants to equipment

  • Assisting in the development of proper procedures for preventive maintenance

  • Assisting in the reduction of the types of lubricant used at their plant

  • Understanding and beginning to use oil analysis information in a proactive manner

  • How to develop and implement a lubrication improvement program

Investment of Management
When management is willing to invest in the right tools, it is a sign that they are serious about the professionalism of lubrication personnel and the expectation that results will follow. When management listens to the ideas and improvement suggestions brought to them, the employee feels that he is valued and is more willing to advance the lubrication program even further. This becomes a win-win situation for both the employee and the company. The company gains productivity, efficiency and quality in the operation and maintenance of its equipment and the employee gains recognition, reward and job satisfaction.

Once management views the role of lubrication personnel as value-adding, they will be willing to seek, purchase and apply various tools. Some of the examples of the tools that could be applied include:

  • Filtration equipment (filter carts)

  • Oil analysis equipment (proper oil sampling ports)

  • Equipment accessories (BS&W bowls, desiccant breathers, newly designed constant level oilers)

  • Bulk storage equipment

  • Secondary containers (sealed oil transfer containers)

  • Educational materials

  • Ultrasonic equipment

  • Greasing equipment

  • Software

  • Training

  • Lubrication conference attendance

These tools can be great resources in the pursuit of elevating your lubrication program to a new level. Care should be given to not expect these tools alone to solve your lubrication issues. These tools are to assist you in troubleshooting, organizing and managing your lubrication program.

Roles within Lubrication Excellence Teams
A lubrication team should be developed at your plant for the purpose of improving the lubrication program and the plant's lubrication personnel should become an integral part of that team. At a minimum, the team should consist of the lubrication technician, his/her direct supervisor, a lubrication specialist or engineer, and the area reliability engineer supplemented by mechanics and others as required. By including the lubrication technician on this team:

  • The efforts of this team will be enhanced because the technician will bring firsthand knowledge of the task of lubrication.

  • The lube program improvements are more likely to be implemented correctly.

  • The ideas of the person closest to the work are given appropriate consideration.

  • Credibility of the lubrication technician is increased.

  • The technician is improving team-building skills.

  • His/her opinions are valued, morale/attitude is improved, and self-esteem and enthusiasm for his/her job increases.

Implementing Ideas
The individuals who lubricate equipment on a daily basis are the eyes and ears of a reliability program. As a result of the elevated status of lubrication personnel, engineering, maintenance and reliability groups will seek information and advice from them. Before the position was elevated, the solutions for lubrication issues were usually handed down from someone without any practical experience in lubrication. By recognizing and showing an appreciation for the technicians' experience and knowledge, they will develop an enthusiasm for further improvements of the program. The ideas generated could be as simple as how to identify equipment on a lubrication route list so that the mistakes are limited to lubricant recommendations for new equipment. This credibility leads to the establishment of subject-matter experts within the maintenance organization.

Improvements in Maintenance Procedures
Lubrication personnel have extended knowledge that the reliability team should take advantage of to create and improve maintenance practices and procedures. Tapping this source of knowledge, increases the success of the lubrication and maintenance program and reinforces lubrication personnel's self-esteem and worth to the reliability program. Lubrication personnel will test the procedures and route paths each time they perform a preventive maintenance task. Each of these tasks is an opportunity to improve. When changes must be made, the technician can mark up a copy of the route plan in the field and review the suggested changes with the lubrication team for agreement. These changes could include:

  • Type and amount of lubricant

  • Adding and removing equipment from the list

  • Changing the steps in the route procedure

Lubrication Program Ownership
Lubrication personnel should own the lubrication program. Management will look to them to provide the solutions to issues and problems as they arise as well as continuous improvement responsibilities. Ownership of the lubrication program means that the technician is responsible for:

  • Actively looking for continuous improvement

  • Being responsible for lubrication practices and inventories

  • Maintaining the lubrication storage areas

  • Monitoring the lubrication-related reliability metrics

The results that can be expected from lubrication personnel ownership of the program include the following:

  • A reduction in the failure of equipment related to lubrication

  • A reduction in lubricant contamination issues

  • An improvement in the work flow of procedures

  • An improvement in early identification of issues that affect equipment reliability

  • Improved control of lubricant inventories

  • Improved understanding and compliance with regulations regarding lubricants

Recognizing Personnel
Everyone has a need to be appreciated and rewarded for the job that he or she performs. Historically, the role of lubrication technician has not been seen as a skilled position and therefore generally not recognized or rewarded as such.

By recognizing and rewarding lubrication personnel for their effort and leadership, a company is sending the message that the role in the organization is valuable. This in turn causes the recipient of the recognition and reward to try to improve his performance. Improved performance by the technician will translate into improved reliability of equipment. Recognition and reward comes in many forms. These could include:

  • Single-event monetary rewards

  • Certificate of appreciation

  • Trophy or plaque

  • Recognition in front of the entire company

  • An article published in a company publication

  • Performance-based pay increase

It may also be as simple as a pat on the back or a few words from the right person. A few specific examples of recognition and reward include:

  • Lubrication Specialist of the Year - A competition within the company to choose the best lubrication personnel. This should be based on actions performed by the technician throughout the year and documented in a manner that a comparison can be scored. The recognition and reward for this honor could be:

  • Plaque presented by high company officials

  • Photograph and article in company newsletter

  • Monetary award

  • Lubrication Specialist of the Month - A competition within the company to choose a lubrication specialist who has performed at an exceptional level. This could be used as criteria to win the Lubrication Specialist of the Year award. Recognition and reward for this honor includes:

  • Monetary award

  • Certificate of appreciation

  • Rotating trophy (between monthly winners)

  • Reducing the Equipment Failure due to Lubrication Issues - The recognition and reward for this event could be:

  • Monetary award

  • Photograph and article in company newsletter

A company can create a competitive advantage by elevating the status of the lubrication personnel in its plant. This advantage comes in the form of lower maintenance costs because of less frequent failures due to lubrication, lower inventories of repair parts and lubricants, more knowledgeable employees who are now free to build other parts of a reliability program and improved employee morale. Because we are already paying someone to perform our lubrication tasks, it costs no more money to perform the task correctly. The cost of failing to perform the task correctly is significant and undeniable. The minimal investment made from the points discussed here will benefit the company many times over.

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