How Effective Is Your Lubrication Program?

Noria Corporation

The path to lubrication excellence can be difficult to navigate. It begins when individuals and organizations become aware of the importance of their lubrication program, its impact on productivity and its direct effect on the bottom line. Once this enlightenment has occurred, comprehensive training in best practices is acquired and the organization can consider what the lubrication program should be and where they wish to take it.

However, to get to Point B, Point A must first be determined. Even if the goals and objectives are defined, be they broad or narrow in scope, they can be difficult to reach. With the goals identified, a step-wise strategy must be developed. The first step is to assess the current situation. After all, the best map in the world is useless if you're not properly oriented.


To determine the current state of a lubrication program, a rigorous assessment should be performed. This assessment can be broken down into 12 key components which, when properly analyzed, can identify areas of weakness and opportunity as well as the strengths of the program. Each of the 12 categories is comprised of a series of objective criteria scored on a scale of zero to 10.

The composite score for each category is calculated and plotted on a two-dimensional diagram with 12 axes, called a spider diagram. The spider diagram, so named for its web-like appearance, can be a powerful visual tool to indicate the overall state of the program as well as identify the individual areas of opportunity.

The 12 Components of the Audit
1. Standards, Consolidation and Procurement
More often than not, opportunities exist to consolidate and eliminate many of the lubricants utilized in a plant. The benefits of safely and effectively reducing the number of products used are many. Standards should exist not only to consolidate lubricants, but to select them, procure them and assure product quality.

Effective communication among management, purchasing, maintenance and engineering is imperative for success in this area. To identify opportunities for consolidation, all of the lubricants used in a facility should be converted to a generic classification, such as R&O ISO 46. If several products fit the same generic specification, it is likely that some of the product could be eliminated.

2. Storage and Handling
To extract the maximum value from lubricants and the lubrication program, lubricants must be properly managed from cradle to grave. This means adopting best practices for receiving, storing, dispensing, maintaining and finally disposing of used lubricants. The lube store room design, dispensing equipment and handling procedures should be assessed and improved where necessary. The useful life and the quality of lubricants depend greatly on the way the products are managed before being applied to the machinery.

3. Sampling Techniques
One key to an effective oil analysis program is to collect valid data. It is all too common for used oil samples to be taken in a haphazard manner, using substandard equipment and procedures. Ineffective sampling techniques can produce erroneous results, severely diminishing or even eliminating their value. Worse still, invalid results can lead to poor decisions, adding to the waste of resources. A productive oil analysis program requires correct sampling procedures, sampling hardware, sample point location, and properly trained and qualified technicians.

4. Contamination Control
Contamination control is possibly the single greatest opportunity for the average lubrication program. It is common to see significant gains in lubricant cleanliness, which is directly related to machinery reliability, with minimal investment. Proper selection, installation and maintenance of breathers, filters, gaskets and seals can curtail or eliminate solid particle and water contamination. Methods should also be available to remediate contaminated systems and to effectively monitor contamination levels.

5. Education, Training and Skills Management
An educated workforce is a powerful asset to any organization. For the lubrication program to succeed, there must be awareness, cooperation and desire for success at every level. Skill sets and competency levels must be defined for all who affect the program. Employees should be encouraged to improve their knowledge in all areas by pursuing ongoing training with opportunities and rewards for successfully achieving professional certifications.

6. Oil Analysis
A properly designed and managed oil analysis program is one of the best investments that can be made for machine reliability. Oil analysis is the perfect tool for proactively monitoring machine condition to ensure that proper lubrication conditions exist. Oil analysis also allows for the optimization of drain intervals, thereby increasing the efficiency of the lubrication program.

It is also an excellent tool for detecting incipient failures, often in advance of other condition monitoring technologies. To be effective, test slates must be defined for all sampled equipment including normal and exception tests. Other items to be evaluated are data management, test intervals, appropriate targets and limits, quality assurance for lab methods, and integration with other technologies.

7. Lubrication and Relubrication Practices
The methods by which lubricants are selected and applied to machinery can be more important than the lubricants themselves. Many organizations go out of their way to purchase more expensive lubricants to achieve greater equipment reliability while ignoring poor lubrication practices that contribute more heavily to equipment failure. It is essential that methods be established and documented, based on accepted best practices, for applying lubricants to machinery in a consistent manner which fosters equipment reliability.

8. Program Management
Numerous individuals and groups affect the lubrication program. Management, operations, engineering and maintenance personnel all play a vital role. Effective and frequent communication between these groups is a key ingredient for the program's success. Clearly defined goals and objectives should be developed and periodically reviewed to track performance and to shift focus when necessary. It is helpful to devise a set of metrics which can be charted and publicly displayed so that everyone involved can see the progress and share the credit.

9. Procedures and Guidelines
It makes sense that all lubrication-related tasks be performed in a consistent manner that conforms to best practices. It is not enough to provide training to the technicians responsible for performing the tasks. To ensure adherence to best practice techniques, procedures must be developed and documented in a step-by-step fashion so that any individual who may be called upon to perform a task can do so without compromising quality. Ideally, each procedure would be the responsibility of one person.

However, due to personnel changes, vacations and other unforeseen circumstances, it is likely that a single task may be performed by many individuals with different backgrounds or skill levels. Additionally, the procedures should be readily available, preferably in an electronic format which can be attached to work orders generated by the CMMS system.

10. Goals and Metrics
Once the goals have been established and the course laid out, there is a need for yardsticks by which to measure the progress of the various aspects of the program. Performance metrics should be identified to assess the degree to which improvements have been completed and to measure the overall effectiveness of the lubrication program. These metrics should show the value obtained from advances in the program, which will keep everyone focused and provide justification for continued improvement. Having defined action plans for unmet goals will facilitate the success of the program.

11. Safety Practices
It goes without saying that safety is the top concern for any industrial facility. Many initiatives designed to improve machinery reliability can actually contribute to improved safety as well. Leak remediation, proper handling of materials, spill controls and drain interval optimization can potentially reduce the frequency of occurrence of lubricant related-accidents. Proper training for the potential hazards associated with the handling of lubricants can further reduce health risks.

12. Continuous Improvement
Success is a journey, not a destination. Even if a lubrication program was perfectly designed and implemented, it would still require changes from time to time. Changing conditions such as production demands, new equipment and new technologies require some aspects of the program to undergo continuous improvement. Methods should be in place to perform root cause analysis on machine failures not predicted by oil analysis as well as recurring premature failures. Recurring failures should be addressed by considering alternate lubricants or machine design modifications to eliminate or resist the suspected root cause.

Defining an action plan to achieve excellence in a lubrication program can be a daunting task and requires an initial survey to gain perspective. Some organizations may have the desire and qualified personnel to perform such an audit, while others may hire outside consultants.


Figure 1. Spider Diagram

The spider diagram is a valuable tool for assessing and visually representing the current state of the program. When scaled with an appropriate weighting system, it can indicate the primary areas of focus for resource allocation. After the initial assessment, this method can be used for subsequent evaluations which will indicate the effectiveness of the current strategies and highlight the deficiencies.

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