Performing Lubrication in a Recessionary Environment

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation


Hey, it’s crunch time, folks. This is no namby-pamby recession. This is the real thing, and our companies and jobs are at risk. With the U.S. jobless ranks at 10 million and rising, it’s time for action. We ARE in the midst of a three-alarm economic firestorm and we need to get out alive.

Sorry for the scare, but I needed to get your attention. Yes, this reality is sobering and frightening. However, be careful of your response. It’s easy to be rattled and overreact. Action is needed, but it should be calculated and performed with a calm demeanor, even in the world of lubrication and maintenance.

Not Hitting the Jugular

Cutting costs without hitting the jugular is the trick. In these times, the tendency is to cut deep, but there’s also danger of crippling your company. Remember, lubricants are the lifeblood of your machines. Lubrication is not a choice for which you can opt in or out. Yet, there are still ways to lean up your lubrication program in a financial pinch. For the past couple of days, I’ve thought long and hard about what advice to give to those companies that need a quick, short-term financial rescue. In the past, talk about short-term benefits has not been in my vocabulary, but sometimes survival dictates. What follows are my ideas:

Reclaim aged oils. Test your used oil first to make sure it is salvageable. Use ASTM performance tests to assess air-handling ability, moisture-handling ability, corrosion control, oxidation stability and perhaps film strength. Test also for contaminants such as dirt, wear debris, oxide insolubles and water. Based on the test results, engineer a plan from your reclamation options. Consider blending reclaimed oil with new oil and even consider a supplemental additive booster shot for large oil volumes (of course, with the guidance of formulation expertise).

Perform rolling oil changes. Rather than scheduled drain-and-fill oil changes, consider the rolling change instead (based on the measured condition of your used oil). The rolling change involves performing a partial drain and adding an equal amount of makeup fluid. If the age of the lubricant is more advanced, then the partial drain could be 50 percent or more of the oil volume. Moderately aged lubricants might be by 20 percent or less. This will reduce your oil consumption and limp along your existing lubricants for several more months, if not years.

Reassign used turbine oils. Many R&O oils in non-critical applications can be substituted with used, moderately aged, turbine oils. Get advice on compatibility first and confirm that the turbine oils are fit for continued service by performing the previously mentioned lab tests.

Change oil and filters based on condition. Don’t schedule oil changes on large volumes of lubricants unless your oil dictates the need – i.e., it’s tired and needs to be retired. Even then, consider the previous three strategies as options. Said another way, deploy oil analysis to determine the need and timing of the oil change instead of the calendar. Particle counting and pressure-differential monitoring can also aid in selecting more precise filter change intervals.

Substitute onsite oil analysis. Many non-critical machines can get by with simple onsite oil analysis inspections instead of expensive and full-on lab work. Basic onsite examinations that are extremely effective include patch testing, viscosity comparator, crackle test, clear-and-bright, and the ferrous wheel (a manual ferrous density assessment). Sometimes frequently performed onsite inspections are more effective than infrequent lab analysis.

Re-examine the premium-lube option. Toughen up your stance on using premium lubricants and synthetics. Be very judicious in selecting the product and application for their use. Many of these lubricants will only save you money in the very long run or under worse-case scenario conditions. Of course, if your machine is a leaker, then the premium option should probably not be an option. However, get good advice because, in many applications, premium lubricants offer incontestable benefits, both in the short term and the long term. In other cases, it can be a waste of economic resources.

Recalibrate your PMs. Preventive maintenance tasks are resource-intensive and expensive. Optimize your PM program by recalibrating:

  • What is being done (many PMs are unnecessary, while other key inspections are casually ignored)

  • How it’s being done (it’s probably time to revisit the procedure and tools used)

  • How often it is done (poorly timed PMs waste valuable resources or neglect opportunities)

  • The route sequence (surgically engineer PM routes by sequencing them according to frequency, required tools, lube type, location and urgency)

Contact an LPD representative at Noria if you need help in this area, or simply visit the learning center at www.noria.com.

Get leakage under control. Leakage is lubrication’s financial black hole. It is a blatant sign of negligence and deferred maintenance.

Properly Induce Machine Coma

During an economic downturn, many of you will be assigned the task of putting machines in mothball mode. Remember Wall Street, the economy and consumer demand go through cycles that are normal and inevitable. What goes up will eventually come down and vice versa. Survival and sustainability is the key. So, while you may now need to put your machine into a state of induced coma, remember there will be the day when it will need to be reawakened. Use proper preservation practices for the inside of your machine to protect it from varnish, sludge, contamination and corrosion.

Don’t be Long in the Face

During the recession, we can all work to bring greater economic stability to our companies. As maintenance professionals, there are many ways we can contribute to cost reduction and machine reliability. This can even be done as people resources dwindle and budgets become tapped out. Analyze your options for conserving cash and profitability. Get team support by brainstorming and developing survival strategies together. Yes, it’s time to get cracking. Let’s give it our best shot and remember: It’s not what happens to us that matters most, but rather it’s how we respond to what happens to us.

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About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advise...