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As we prime ourselves for another business year, I thought I'd step back from the trees and take view of some important trends occurring in the lubrication field. It's true, and even sad, that in decades past our field was nearing a stagnant state. Many had even asserted that the science and engineering of lubrication was in decline. Yet it turns out that it was just a lull or, perhaps better said, the calm before the storm. From my vantage point, in recent few years, things have pepped up a bit.
No doubt about it, lubrication is fast-tracking in certain important sectors. It stands to reason that necessity eventually attracts initiative, innovation and investment. We've observed case study after case study that bears witness to successes that have emerged from focused program transformations in the lubrication field. Change takes guts because it often means traversing down spooky, blind alleys. Will you hit a dead end or instead discover doors to new worlds of opportunity for business savings and enhanced productivity? The bold tread blindly into these unfamiliar zones, while the timid stand back until word has arrived.
Well, in many key areas, word has indeed arrived, announcing it is both safe and rewarding to begin making systematic changes in lubrication. As a result, an increasing number of companies are jumping on bandwagons to reap the benefits. Some of these important trends may not yet be a frenzy of activity, but the signs are clear. Let's take a closer look.
Filtration Economy. Clean oil can be expensive and elusive for many users. Deploying strategic filtration retrofits such as off-line filtration systems (kidney loop) can significantly reduce the cost of removing dirt from your oil as well as enhance capture efficiency. Combining a clean oil strategy with good filtration economy is the central objective.
Engineered PMs. Lubrication PMs are no longer considered a trivial maintenance necessity. The hit-and-miss practices of the past have cost companies millions. Rationalizing and optimizing preventive maintenance procedures, routes and periodicity is one of today's hottest topics in the maintenance field. Top-tier organizations are just as rigorous about documenting and training to their newly engineered PM procedures.
Empowered Oil Analysis. Passive oil analysis is nearly always a waste of time and money. Too many organizations are merely going through the motions. And for some, it's painful to watch. Yet there are rich seedbeds of opportunity for enterprising organizations which become literate in oil analysis and make strategic investments. Empowerment means taking active control of your oil analysis program, including improving on-site analysis activities, tuning your alarms and limits, investing in modern sampling hardware, managing test slate selection and rigorous training of maintenance staff.
Feedback Maniacs. Precision maintenance is a pipe dream unless you have programmatic feedback processes in place. When things go awry, find out why. Dig deep for smoking guns and root causes. Repairs, rebuilds and teardown inspections require feedback to close the loop. For instance, if electric motors are failing prematurely, ask your motor rebuild shop why. Next, consider how are you going to adjust maintenance and operating conditions to avoid recurrence. The top-tier organizations don't skimp in demanding feedback across ranging maintenance activities.
Quality-formulated Lubricants. There are thousands of cheap lubricants on the market, and many of them have no business in your machines. There are also scores of premium brands formulated for quality and performance. They cost more but fill an important niche in the market. Figuring out how to put the right lube in the right machines is a tall order for most organizations. Navigating this maze requires training and occasional expert advice. It's not chump change, but top-tiers know the wisdom of precision when it comes to lubricant selection.
Lube-savvy Workforce. Stupid is as stupid does. Organizations that pinch pennies by cutting training budgets and hiring the incompetent generally get what they deserve. Top-tier firms, however, are learning to up-skill their technicians and qualify them before they get assigned to routine lube PMs or related tasks. Training and skill development can consume more than 10 percent of annual work hours, yet still earn attractive yields to employers.
Optimized Oil Changes. The concept of optimized oil changes has two facets. One is accomplishing all steps reasonable to prolong the oil's service life. The second is, as best possible, to change the oil when its remaining useful life is nearly spent; not sooner and not later. These strategies are application-dependent, but for many organizations, they can earn sizable annual savings. Then, of course, we must consider the much-maligned topic of makeup additives (that is, replenishing depleted additives) for high-volume, in-service lubricants. It is my opinion that, despite the discouraging cries from some oil suppliers, many sophisticated user organizations should keep this option squarely on the table.
Controlling Soft Contaminants. Dirt and water seem to be getting all the attention, and for good reason. Don't, however, ignore those dark, gooey suspensions that can bring even the largest and most powerful machines to their knees. Often called varnish and sludge, these soft guys are finally getting noticed. As a result, new oil analysis tests and remediation strategies are being deployed by leading user organizations to tame these unruly contaminants.
Multiplexing Technologies. Years ago, oil analysis stood alone as an orphan in the field of condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. It was not widely loved or respected. Today, we can proudly say that oil analysis has earned its due as a prominent technology for monitoring lubricant and machine health. We see convincing evidence of this from the number of top-tier organizations that have strategically integrated their condition-based maintenance (CBM) technologies to include oil analysis. The trend is confirmed by the cross-training and cross-certification between the technologies. It's apparent that a well-rounded CBM toolbox is now the strategy of choice.
Inspection Mantras. I've written on the value of the daily, one-minute inspection.1 Of course there are inspections and then there are real inspections (conducted by motivated and trained technicians). These inspection-artists know when, where and how to perform their craft. Skill and vigilance are key. Top-tiers seem to be receiving amazing rewards from this strategy.
The "not" list features laggards who wait too late and eventually fall into survival mode.
In sum, it is wise to learn from the lessons of trendsetters. Be an early adopter by championing transformational change in your lubrication program. For more details, most of the 10 trends listed above are discussed in various articles available online at www.machinerylubrication.com.
1. Jim Fitch. "The Daily One-minute Inspection." Machinery Lubrication magazine, January-February 2007.