Even Reliability Specialists Need to Look Inward

Martin Williamson, KEW Engineering Ltd.

If you are preaching reliability, you have to practice reliability, too. That may seem simplistic and a bit obvious, but in the quest to promote reliability for the benefit of others, it is easy to overlook internal issues.

One such example happened recently at AESSEAL plc, in Rotherham, England. The seal manufacturer, AES, has attracted a number of blue-chip clients, including major petrochemical companies such as Dow Corning. These clients are successful reliability leaders in their industry.

One particular client, the Cargill Group, has recognize d AES as a preferred supplier. AES has received several of Cargill’s supplier awards. However, this leads to the following story. During a visit to the seal manufacturer, one of Cargill’s senior managers questioned the lubrication practices within the factory.

Reliability is a serious initiative at Cargill, and has been addressed at many conferences and in numerous case studies. Reliability engineers recognize the benefit of best practices in lubrication management, addressing waste and leakage control regarding lubricant usage in a sensitive environment. More importantly, these engineers understand the benefits of life extension for both the machine and its lubricant. In addition, they see the fundamental link with improved compliance in terms of health and safety, environmental awareness, and energy savings.


Color-coded Sealed Containers

With this in mind, during the visit to the seal manufacturer, the senior manager asked how lubrication was managed within the manufacturing department.

This is the point at which I became involved. It is part of my job to visit manufacturing facilities, and in the case of AES, to observe its machining centers which utilize a range of hydraulics, gear oils, greased components and coolants.

Because these fluids are often used in small quantities, engineers and managers can overlook the importance of a well-designed lubrication management program.

After visiting the seal manufacturer, I noted the following recommendations:

  • Instigate the use of color-coded sealed containers.

  • Improve greasing practices and storage of grease and grease tools.

  • Increase awareness of the importance of good housekeeping related to fluids.

  • Set up a record-tracking system for monitoring fluid usage and disposal as part of the ISO 14001 standard.

  • Provide better storage facilities.

These are brief recommendations made in the summary of my report, discussed here to show how they would impact the reliable manufacture of quality seals. The goal is to ensure maximum uptime on the machining centers, with minimal wastage and scrap to improve the yield; in other words, to help maintain a high overall equipment efficiency index by which many companies measure their performance.


Grease Gun Storage

Instigate the use of color-coded sealed containers.
Consider an unmarked container of oil left open in the manufacturing area.

What are the consequences of this action? These are the possible outcomes:

  1. The oil is accidentally used in the wrong part of the system, cross-contaminating the existing fluid and leading to lubricant and machine failure.

  2. Because the oil is open, it is continuously subject to contamination from the environment. At some point, it will be poured into the machine, and could likely lead to lubricant and machine failure.

  3. The oil could get knocked off the part of the machine on which it was placed. This creates a slip hazard in the walkway area, along with a more obvious waste of the fluid.

All of these outcomes would halt production on that machining center, creating an associated loss of income aside from the repair and replacement costs. In outcomes 1 and 2, there is also risk of poor product quality.

Using the color-coded resealable containers minimizes the risk using wrong or contaminated oil.

Improve greasing practices and storage of grease and grease tools.
Although the seal manufacturer took steps to minimize grease contamination by using the tubes of grease, these tubes and the accompanying grease guns should have been stored in the lubricant storage area. This ensures control and protection of lubricants from nearby work activities.

More importantly, though, the activity of greasing needs to be properly scheduled along with the specified amount (number of shots) required at each greasing point. This serves to identify grease points. These should be tagged with the appropriate interval and number of required shots.

It is all too easy to reduce the priority given to greasing activity, but in the environment of machining and cutting/coolant fluids, it is essential to ensure a regular greasing schedule. This prevents the ingress of contamination on the machining center’s bearings and slides.

Increase awareness of the importance of good housekeeping related to fluids.
This is accomplished by providing training and raising awareness among operators, technicians, management and contractors. It is a fundamental part of the successful integration of reliability improvements.

Set up a record-tracking system for monitoring fluid usage and disposal as part of ISO 14001.
Many companies have an environmental policy, yet fail to monitor exactly where their lubricants are being used.

Without such tracking in place, it would be impossible to state (for audit purposes) what quantities of lubricants purchased have been used for the following purposes:

  • oil changes

  • top-ups

  • flushing purposes

  • remain within the machine

  • proper disposal

  • post-spillage recovery

Such records can be valuable in a food and pharmaceuticals production facility to assure clients of the strict controls. However, it does necessitate recording basic information and using metering systems in storage areas to track usage.

Provide better storage facilities.
A quality storage area is essential because it is the hub of all lubrication activities across the plant or factory. The kind of details to look for when assessing standards include the following:

  1. Location and position of the store, especially with respect to ambient temperature and general protection from ambient contamination.

  2. General housekeeping. As a rule, the better the housekeeping, the better the lubrication management already in practice.

  3. Clear, concise labeling of oils and greases should include a first-used date.

  4. Contamination control measures such as breathers on oil drums, closed tops, filters fitted to drum pumps, etc.

  5. Storage of tools, fittings and consumables such as cloths in a dust-free environment, such as a cabinet or locker.

  6. Health and safety aspects, including ease of access with drum carts, handling of drums and containers, and fire safety precautions.

  7. Compliance to environmental issues and the provision of material safety data sheets (MSDS) and spill kits.

  8. Any other information posted on the walls with regard to good working practices.


ISO 14001
ISO 14001 specifies the actual requirements for an environmental management system. It applies to those environmental aspects which the organization has control and over which it can be expected to have an influence.

ISO 14001 is often seen as the cornerstone standard of the ISO 14000 series. It is not only the most well-known of the ISO 14000 standards, but is the only one against which it is currently possible to be certified by an external certification authority. However, it does not itself state specific environmental performance criteria.

For more information: http://www.iso14000-iso14001-environmental-management.com/iso14001.htm.

Wrapping Up
In my observation of the seal manufacturer’s lubrication practices, there was little to report that was of concern, thanks to the efforts of the lubrication technician. Overall, I was impressed with the company’s approach to lubrication. An update shows that the company has communicated with its staff the issues I raised. This is not surprising, given their commitment to excellence in serving their clients.

However, in summarizing this project, it reminded me again how important a reliability program is, no matter the industry involved or the size of the facility. No matter how small the throughput of lubricants is at a particular site, there is always room for improvement. When reviewing lubricant expenses, it may seem to be an inconsequential amount in terms of the maintenance budget, but the impact on the business can still be crippling to a company’s performance and vision of reliability.

About the Author
Martin Williamson has managed an oil analysis program in a mining environment. His expertise is with oil analysis products in a variety of industries. He is currently managing director of KEW Engineering Ltd., a training and consultancy service in maintenance and reliability, based in Chester, England.


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