Is Your Lubrication Program Setting You Up for Embarrassment?

Drew Troyer

Recently, while perusing a book entitled “Quality Maintenance - Zero Defects Through Equipment Management” by Seiji Tsuchiya, a Japanese engineering manager and maintenance expert, I read the following line: “A breakdown that occurs because of improper lubrication is a serious embarrassment.”

This line, which one might easily pass over when reading, got me thinking.

Why did the author use the term embarrassment? Was this simply a failure to accurately translate the book from the author’s native Japanese language to English? I don’t think so. I think the term was accurately translated and carefully selected. Mr. Tsuchiya recognizes that most lubrication-related failures are chronic, recurring management failures, which should embarrass maintenance managers. Honor, and the avoidance of embarrassing situations carry a high priority in Japanese culture. I believe Mr. Tsuchiya chose his words carefully and strategically.

I frequently hear and read experts’ reports stating that improper lubrication is responsible for between 50 to 80 percent of all mechanical and electromechanical equipment failures. When I talk to corporate or upper-level plant managers about the topic, they agree that failure to properly lubricate machines probably compromises their overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

When I am consulting at a plant site, mill or mine, I talk to plant-level engineers and technicians about their lubrication practices. They are keenly aware that these practices must be improved if reliability goals are to be met.

However, progress is slow. The demand to keep up with pump, bearing, gearbox, engine and hydraulic system failures consumes all their time. They are stuck in the business-as-usual mode. There is no time to improve maintenance practices.

This is embarrassing.

To recognize that a chronic, recurring, controllable root cause is responsible for 50 to 80 percent of the plant’s reliability problems and not address it is a management error on the highest order--plain and simple. It is the responsibility of management to replace the old business as usual with a new, more effective one that emphasizes precision machinery lubrication.

Marketing and advertising experts use the acronym AIDA (Attention-Interest-Desire-Action) to refer to the process by which things get done. With respect to solving lubrication-induced equipment reliability problems, few people have reached the attention stage. Even fewer have true organizational interest. Still fewer have reached critical mass, called desire.

And, I expect that there are more fingers on my right hand than companies, in North America at least, that have taken it to the action stage and truly achieved world-class lubrication excellence. Industry continues to trivialize the importance of lubrication vs. machine reliability, pay lubrication technicians bottom-dollar wages and withhold resources for training, certification and other career development activities. Moreover, if the lubrication technician exhibits promise, he or she is turned into a millwright or mechanic.

This is embarrassing indeed.

Was Mr. Tsuchiya right? Is equipment failure caused by poor lubrication embarrassing? Yes, I believe he is quite correct. Failure is productive when it occurs in a new, unexplored area that produces valuable knowledge. When failure is chronic, controllable, known to management and significant in its impact, such as with lubrication-induced equipment failures, it is embarrassing and irresponsible.

Audit your organization.

Is poor lubrication producing unnecessary costs? Is there a gap between the views of management and the shop floor folks with respect to the impact of poor lubrication? Are you treating lubrication casually in your organization? Are lubrication tasks treated as a catch-as-catch-can activity? Do you lack procedures and guidelines for lubrication that enable precision and best practice?

If you are answering yes to many of these simple questions, you might be headed for embarrassment yourself.

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