35-year Eastman Vet Calls Lube Work 'Most Interesting Job I've Ever Held'

Earl Edens, the subject of this issue's "Get to Know ..." section, is more than deserving of a moment in the spotlight. Earl is a lubrication technician at Eastman Chemical's plant in Kingsport, Tenn. He has worked the past 35 years at Eastman, starting off as a maintenance mechanic apprentice before holding roles in the power generation, wastewater treatment and incinerator areas over the next 23 years. His first assignment in predictive maintenance came in the late 1990s, spending eight years as a vibration analyst and then two years as a reliability contact. In 2007, he began his present assignment as the Kingsport plant's lubrication technician. Let's find out more about Earl Edens.

When did you get your start in machinery lubrication, and how did it happen?: I began my journey into the lubrication side of predictive maintenance in early 2007 when I was selected to replace the previous technician due to his planned retirement.

What types of training have you taken to get you to your current job?: In addition to the many years of experience I gained in maintenance and reliability, I attended evening college classes to complete the requirements for Eastman's technician certification.

Do you hold any professional certifications?: I have Level I, II and III certifications in vibration analysis through Technical Associates of Charlotte, and Machine Lubrication Technician Level I and Machine Lubricant Analyst Level I certifications through the International Council for Machinery Lubrication.


Earl Edens is a lubrication technician at Eastman Chemical.

What's a normal work day like for you?: There is no "normal" day! I can honestly say that this is the most interesting job I've ever held. I had no idea there could be so much to learn in the world of oils and greases.

I am the administrator and analyst for our oil sampling/analysis program, so the first thing I try to do each day is look at any oil analysis reports that have been flagged as abnormal. We average around 600 oil samples monthly, so this is a continuous effort. There are two full-time samplers charged with obtaining quality samples, keeping schedules up to date and tracking shipments. We use an external analysis lab that provides us with same-day results electronically. Recommendations I make for actions to be taken are forwarded to the lubrication and maintenance groups.

In addition to oil analysis, I'm responsible for referencing the correct lubricants for all new equipment and for any changes needed on any in-service equipment. Again, this is a constant task.

Working closely with our lubrication services and maintenance personnel is very important in my job. Examining equipment in the field in order to make recommendations for improvements to the lube systems is a daily occurrence.

We use two major lubricant suppliers at our site, and I serve as the point of contact when technical support is needed in regard to their products. In this job, it's very important to have a really good working relationship and to feel confident about the products and vendors we use.

What is the amount and range of equipment that you service at your plant?: Due to the size of our plant, we are all over the board with industrial equipment. We have everything from turbo-generators, turbine-driven compressors, coal pulverizers, reciprocating compressors, centrifuges, multi-stage high-pressure pumps, refrigeration units, cooling towers, and on and on.

What lubrication-related projects are you currently working on?: Early on in my involvement in lubrication, I saw the need for readily available options for improving/upgrading lube systems on our machinery. I have evaluated various oil system accessories such as breathers, filters, oil sampling ports, sight glasses, etc., to use in the varied operating conditions at our plant. I am in the process of having these items stocked on site for easy accessibility.

Another project being evaluated involves standardizing the oil viscosity/type on ANSI pumps across our plant using a lower-viscosity synthetic oil. Data is being taken to determine any electrical energy savings that may be realized by this change.

What have been some of the biggest lubrication project successes for which you have played a part?: One of the first projects I worked on is still one of my favorites. High operating temperatures and heavy loads were causing premature failures on several gearboxes on a critical process line. Several changes were implemented to improve the reliability of these units. Some improvements were:
  • a change from mineral to synthetic oil;

  • a change in oil viscosity (lower);

  • installation of breather and drain port fittings that included quick-connect fittings for portable filter cart and Pitot tube oil sample valves; and,

  • adoption of a portable filter cart dedicated for use on these units.

The improvements made to these units resulted in zero failures to date, cooler operating temperatures and easily maintained oil cleanliness levels. I use this project to show other areas what can be accomplished using world-class lubrication practices.

How does your company view machinery lubrication and/or oil analysis in terms of importance, strategy, etc.?: Eastman was involved with equipment reliability and predictive maintenance practices long before it became commonplace. Oil sampling/analysis was implemented 20 years ago at this site and is being constantly refined to be more efficient and effective.

On the lubrication side, our lube program is viewed as a very important part of the reliability of our machinery. An example of the significance placed on lubrication has been in going to handheld computers for handling lube routes and tasks. It was a significant investment for the company, but now all information is collected and distributed electronically.

What do you see as some of the more important trends taking place in the lubrication field?: On the oil sampling/analysis front, I believe that the growing awareness of the need for high-quality samples will increase the use of proper equipment and techniques in taking samples. This, in turn, will increase the effectiveness of the program by increasing equipment reliability.

Another trend that appears to be having a positive effect on lubrication (especially at our plant) is structured training for our lubrication services and maintenance personnel. World-class machinery lubrication is seen as vital to improving the reliability of the equipment.

"Get to Know …" features a brief question-and-answer session with a Machinery Lubrication reader. These articles put the spotlight on industry professionals and detail some of the lubrication-related projects they are working on. If you know of an ML reader who deserves to be profiled, e-mail editor-in-chief Paul V. Arnold at parnold@noria.com.

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