Benchmarking Lubrication in the Power Generation Industry

Drew Troyer

These are exciting times for the machinery lubrication industry. The important role lubrication plays in achieving equipment reliability is becoming clearer to plant and senior-level management. Achieving excellence in machinery lubrication is similar to the quality movement that changed business practices forever.

The process begins with the awareness of the need for change. What follows is usually a task assignment. We want quality in our organization, so we will hire a quality engineer or manager to deliver it. After months or years of frustration, managers conclude that quality cannot be assigned to someone to deliver because so many people affect it.

Rather, becoming a quality organization requires a fundamental shift in the business approach. Granted, subject matter experts can facilitate the journey and serve to police performance, but they can’t deliver the goods by themselves.

Becoming a quality lubrication company is much the same. So many people and factors influence machinery lubrication that everyone who affects production assets needs to be on-board with the concept. Equipment designers, OEMs, purchasing, senior and plant-level management, operators, mechanics, plant engineers, condition-monitoring technicians, lube techs, lubricant suppliers, lubrication equipment suppliers, oil analysis laboratories, consultants, trainers and others all influence lubrication quality. Achieving excellence requires a fundamental shift in the way we go about the business of equipment lubrication.

This kind of change requires benchmarks -measurements that tell us how we stack up against others and so-called best practice on key success elements, and identify performance gaps so we can target our resources in those areas that will yield the greatest return. The benchmark also enables us to review our performance across time to gauge the effectiveness of our efforts. Programmatic changes that deliver a sustainable value contribution all have some mechanism in place for performance benchmarking.

In the power generation industry, the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has partnered with Noria Corporation to develop benchmarking tools that enable end-users to see how they stack up on the key elements
of a successful lubrication program, and to identify which gaps to close first. This helps management make smart resource allocation decisions. This is part of a larger movement at EPRI to serve its members with the knowledge and tools to operate and maintain equipment more effectively.

Together, EPRI and Noria have identified the key elements of a plant lubrication program, each of which has numerous sub-elements rolled into it. The key elements are summarized in the spider diagram - a multidimensional scaling tool named for its web-like appearance. The spider diagram provides an easy-to-use visual comparison of performance on numerous factors, or dimensions. One can quickly identify the strengths and weaknesses of a plant, a company or an entire industry. The spider diagram is supplemented with detail information.

The power generation industry is interested in developing a program to benchmark and improve power plant lubrication practices. EPRI and Noria have responded to the challenge. The process will begin with a simple self-evaluation by industry participants on the key elements. A questionnaire will be sent to industry participants (even before this article is published) with instructions to evaluate their performance on the key elements of success in machinery lubrication. These results will then be compiled and sent to EPRI members. No single response will be divulged, just the collective information revealing average response, range, standard deviation, etc.

This information will be discussed in one of two concurrent two-hour power generation industry benchmarking sessions at the Practicing Oil Analysis 2002 Conference and Exhibition, held March 19-21, 2002, in Tulsa, Oklahoma. One session will focus upon nuclear power plants, the other on fossil power plants. During these session meetings, participants will see the results of the preliminary self-evaluation benchmark study, participate in a discussion about the selection of the key elements, and assign weights to each of the key elements.

This is a major step forward for lubrication excellence in the power generation industry. If you are responsible for lubrication in a power plant, or you support power plant lubrication as a technician, vendor or consultant, you won’t want to miss this important session.

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