The Hidden Cost of an Untrained Workforce

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

Modern organizations call it raising the corporate IQ. Most of us have seen statistics on the lifetime financial returns of a college education. When it comes to education, a penny saved is not a penny earned, but rather green dollars forfeited - hundreds of them, all for the quest of a penny.

When it comes to lubrication and oil analysis, the unskilled and untrained workforce is deceivingly costly. These are the costs that go undiagnosed and unrecognized. What’s below the water’s surface and out of management’s view often has iceberg-like proportions.

So why does an organization look to the maintenance payroll to make cuts in the name of survival and prosperity? For one, it’s conspicuous, like the iceberg’s tip. It is also indirect labor that is perceived as easier to sacrifice. Managers often take a Parkinson’s Law view of indirect labor, “the manpower it takes to do a job is directly proportional to the manpower available to do the job.”

We all know people who delay many projects until the last minute and then work feverishly to finish them. We also know those who start a project early enough but then subconsciously consume all the available time to complete it.

So how does all of this relate to education? Many plants and mills across the country have gone through several cycles of downsizing. They have cut indirect labor to the bone. Parkinson’s Law no longer applies. In some cases these cuts were too deep and took their toll on morale and productivity. Instead of feeding the stars (value-generating programs like oil analysis) they starved them or terminated them entirely. The consequences of such desperate measures are usually a return to the past_increased repair cost and production losses to name a few.

But how does education tie in? Well, education enables management to have its cake and eat it too. It permits both cost cuts and productivity gains without the collateral damage. With labor already cut to the bone, education gives workers the figure-it-out skills to eliminate work orders proactively. Before a single man-hour is eliminated from the payroll in the name of “lean and mean,” the demand for that man-hour must be eliminated.

An educated workforce is an empowered workforce. Employees who are treated like company stakeholders know that waste and inefficiencies put their jobs at risk. Most of us have heard the terms precision maintenance and proactive maintenance. These are not merely abstract textbook concepts. Instead, for many organizations, especially those in mission-critical space, they are strategic imperatives. Realization occurs when human capital is transformed into intellectual capital. One company characterizes it as not just low-hanging fruit but rather gold bricks, on the ground, camouflaged from view. We need to pick up those bricks!

Nothing ventured nothing gained is a timeless truism. Education takes investment, not just in dollars, but also in time, effort and planning. So does formalized skill standards and certification. In some cases it might also take reinventing the maintenance persona. Many companies have replaced the word maintenance with reliability to punctuate a change from the practices of the past.

Management needs education too; otherwise they also won’t see the gold bricks on the ground. Very often, decision-makers who fail to embrace change and recognize potential, squash powerful new ideas. Indeed, it’s scary to invest in things we don’t understand. It’s time to understand! It’s time to start building charged-up teams of knowledge workers. Our jobs depend on it.

Hidden Costs

Expensive and Wasteful Oil Analysis

  • Poorly sampled oil
  • Sampling oil at the wrong frequency
  • Incorrect use of onsite oil analysis instruments
  • Incorrect labeling of sampling bottles
  • Oil analysis data without baselines or limits/alarms
  • Not responding to oil analysis alarms
  • Wrong selection of oil analysis tests
  • Selecting a lab based on price
  • False positives, false negatives

Undetected Faults and Failures

  • Unrecognized machine faults on an oil analysis report
  • Collateral damage from undetected incipient failure
  • Poor inspections, unrecognized problems
  • Not properly inspecting used filters for wear debris
  • Unrecognized oil contamination or degradation
  • Undetected wrong oil or mislabeled oil
  • Overextended oil drains
  • Undetected wrongly performed repairs/installs

High Cost of Lubrication

  • Premature oil changes
  • Lack of lubricant consolidation
  • Using synthetics needlessly
  • Wrongly selected lubricants
  • Wrongly applied lubricants
  • Accepting out-of-spec oil
  • Leaky oil that goes undetected and repaired
  • Lubricant spoilage in storage

Poorly Specified Equipment/Parts Purchases

  • Filters that don't work as intended
  • Internally contaminated new or rebuilt machinery
  • Lack of proper breathers and filters preinstalled
  • Lack of proper sampling hardware preinstalled
  • Wrong new lubricant factory fill
  • Improper selection of filters and separators

High Labor Cost

  • Overtime cost for unnecessary emergent repairs
  • High cost of unnecessary inspections
  • High cost of unnecessary PMs
  • Excessive use of labor for lubrication
  • Trial and error troubleshooting
  • Poor workforce morale/low productivity

High Cost of Reactive Maintenance

  • High spares inventories
  • Repeating past mistakes
  • Treating symptoms not causes
  • Forced outage and lost production
  • Product quality problems

Costly Mistakes that Lead to Premature Failure

  • Putting any oil in a machine instead of the right oil
  • Using defective or spoiled new oil
  • Failure to use BS&W bowls, sight glasses and mag plugs
  • Mixing incompatible greases
  • Outdoor lubricant storage
  • Handling and storage practices that leads to lubricant contamination
  • Poorly lubricated and protected equipment in storage
  • Ineffective system flushing
  • Changing engine air cleaners (filters) too often
  • Using factory recommended lubricants and filters (with exceptions)
  • Improper sump and reservoir management practices
  • Un- or incorrectly calibrated grease guns
  • Careless washdown spray practices
  • Failure to monitor and control lubricant particle and moisture levels
  • Incorrectly labeling lubricant containers and handling equipment

High Machine Energy Consumption

  • Wrong selection of lubricant viscosity
  • Wrong selection of grease type and consistency
  • Overgreasing or undergreasing a bearing
  • Using the wrong lubricant viscosity
  • Wrong selection of base oils and/or additives
  • Not changing the oil at the right interval
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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...