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My job takes me all over North America to client sites which are attempting to become more reliable and efficient through best practice machinery lubrication, oil analysis and contamination control. While on-site, my job is to assess and benchmark the practices the plant has employed that either promote their initiatives or identify the habits hindering their progress. I often run into lubricators who are happy, if not excited, to discuss what they have done to promote progress in the above-mentioned areas. I typically see sample ports, desiccant breathers, or maybe even a filter cart capable of performing the job it was intended to do! At times, I am impressed … then the survey grinds to a halt in the lube room.
In my line of business, the lube room is the nucleus of reliability in the plant. This is where the reliability of a rotating component can be strengthened, or the life of a component reduced. Most people don't realize, or conveniently overlook, the importance of a well-designed and well-maintained lubrication storage room.
In most plants, I can usually find a quality assessment laboratory being used to periodically check the quality and consistency of the product being manufactured. In plants where the product requires significant quality testing, the lab is typically well designed, well laid out and has restricted access. Generally, the plant has made a significant investment to ensure this room and the equipment within it will provide accurate data before the product goes out the door. These qualities are all part of a sophisticated lubricant storage and handling room.
A well-designed lube room should be in a separate access-controlled, climate-controlled building. When lubricants are delivered to the lube room, a vehicle should be in place to allow for initial quality checks for viscosity and additives. Decontamination of incoming, in-storage and outgoing lubricants needs to be simple and built-in.
Back to the Lube Room
When surveying the design and condition of a plant's lube room, I am always surprised at how little effort has been put into the storage of a major investment. A standard paper mill can spend more than $75,000 a year just on lubricants. This is more than the cost of a well-built and efficiently designed lube room. When speaking with lube techs, I use analogies to help them contemplate the consequences of poor storage. I describe lubricants as the blood of their machines. If I needed to have blood administered, I hope it would be stored and handled in a manner appropriate to my personal goals of health and longevity. The same holds true for plant equipment. Most people will agree with this analogy, but still, very few take actions to secure these goals.
A New Understanding
One of the roadblocks to good storage and handling is ownership. Imagine the scenario involving a millwright who needs a new electric cart to make his way around the plant. With seemingly little business training, the millwright can put together a case that cites the massive declination of wrench time likely to occur and the personal risk he will assume by carrying tools and parts around the plant. Chances are, in due time, the electric cart will be replaced. The cost benefit of a lube room, however, is harder to quantify and has significantly less ownership attached to it than a millwright's trusty electric cart.
I began using a different analogy that incurs less of a verbal response and more of a look of perplexity. What I usually say when I am in a lube room of lower quality is, "Would you use any of these jugs, funnels, storage containers, etc. to change the oil on your car or truck? Would you keep new oil for your car or truck in conditions like this?" The response is always "no." Then I ask, "If it's not OK for your car, why is it OK for the plant equipment?" This is where the variable of real ownership is most evident.
With all of these resources available - articles written and companies dedicated to lubrication storage and handling - I am always surprised to see so many inadequate lube rooms. Many companies are investing in procedure-based machinery lubrication, oil analysis and contamination control, and are making the appropriate investments to modify equipment for proper maintainability. However, they fail to invest in the one area that can disable all the rest. It's similar to investing in the most expensive wheels for a rusted-out truck with a seized engine. Sure, the additions look good, but overall, they won't be going anywhere.
The next time you find yourself in a plant's lube room, try to find out if there is a solid foundation for lubrication excellence, or just a bunch of rusted-out trucks with nice rims.