100 of the Most Effective Ways to Boost Machine Reliability

Noria Corporation

100 of the Most Effective Ways to Boost Machine Reliability

The results are measurable. The savings are real. The case studies speak for themselves. There’s a clear pathway to improving machine reliability: lubrication excellence. Organizations worldwide are systematically reaping the benefits of transforming their lubrication programs to best practice.

If you have yet to begin your lubrication excellence journey, here are 100 ways to get started:

Develop effective lubrication procedures. With a retiring workforce in play, the development of world-class lubrication standards and practices is long overdue in many organizations. Don’t let your lubrication knowledge walk out the door.

Make machine modifications that increase reliability. Machines may require modifications for a variety of reasons, such as to improve the accuracy of lubrication procedures, to enable inspections of the in-service oil and the machinery, to ensure precise oil analysis and consistent oil sampling, and to enhance the effectiveness of the contamination control program.

Understand why oil degrades and work to prevent it. There are many causes that can result in the degrading of your lube oil. The most common are oxidation, thermal breakdown, micro-dieseling, additive depletion and contamination.

Identify the weak links in your lubricant chain of custody. The responsibility for quality is a collaborative process beginning with lubricant marketers. From there, quality needs to be protected in lock-step by responsible parties along the chain of custody. Users share in this responsibility by testing new lubricant deliveries and taking all appropriate measures to preserve quality to the point of use.

Reverse engineer your oil analysis program. Some users are unaware of the many questions that oil analysis can answer, and as a result, they gain only a fraction of the potential benefit from their oil analysis program. Start with a list of the ideal oil analysis deliverables and work backward.

Add routine viscosity analysis to your lubricant condition monitoring program. When nonconforming viscosity trends occur, determine the root cause of the excursion so that it can be prevented from recurring.

Use zone inspections for early problem detection. There are three important inspection zones in common oil reservoirs and sumps. Each zone has a story to tell about your oil and machine.

Inspect bearing grease discharge. Grease discharge carries out a historical account of the bearings including debris, contaminants and degradation byproducts. It can reveal wrong or mixed grease, degraded grease, contaminated grease, inadequate grease volume or frequency, and excessive grease volume or frequency.

Develop thermal lubrication charts for critical equipment. Like many things in life, when it comes to lubricant temperature, there's a need for control and moderation. In other words, you can expect problems if you have too little or too much. Find the temperature sweet spot, and the performance and service life of your lubricant can be extended many fold.

Learn how to give your machine a physical. Mechanics, lubrication technicians and even equipment operators must be skilled at giving physicals. Like a doctor or pilot, they need to be alert to subtle changes or symptoms that might be an early sign of machine malfunction or accelerated wear.

Start using onsite particle counting. Routine particle counting has a surprising impact on achieving cleaner oils. When the cleanliness of oils is checked and verified on a frequent basis, a phenomenon known as the invisible filter occurs, which is analogous to the saying, "What gets measured gets done."

Put wear debris analysis to work for you. For well-engineered programs, wear particle analysis may be the most penetrating and early warning system of all maintenance technologies in use.

Use the FRETT approach to eradicate repeat pump failures. Repeat pump failures are clear indications that the root causes of problems were not found. Pursuing a structured failure analysis approach is necessary to solve problems. Guessing or “going by feel” will never do. FRETT is a powerful method you can use to uncover the root causes of repeat problems.

Don’t buy premium lubricants hoping they fix everything. As good as modern lubricants may be, they are never a panacea for bad lubrication practices. Today’s additive technology can serve as a solution provider across a wide range of potential problems that frequently plague machinery, but they are unable to be miracle cures for numerous other maladies.

Keep tabs on oil filters and their performance. Certain operating conditions can abruptly alter a filter’s performance and shorten its service life. This leads to particles that get a free ride into sensitive machine components and frictional surfaces, leading to damage and premature failure.

Use sealable, reusable oil containers for top-ups. Particles and moisture enter lubricants from a variety of sources and entry points. For many machines, a surprisingly large amount of contamination is introduced between intermediate storage and the machine.

Learn how to inspect a gearbox. If gearbox failures are common at your plant, inspections might be just what the doctor ordered. Here’s an arsenal of inspections to choose from.

Stop giving lubricant supply contracts to the lowest bidder. Though typically treated as a commodity by many, the lubricant is a vital component of the machine. For many organizations, the quality of lubrication is the single greatest factor that influences machinery reliability and productivity.

Protect equipment during storage, standby and decommissioning. Water has the distinct potential to wreck idle industrial machines. It pays to prepare machines for decommissioning to avoid the destructive forces of corrosion.

Avoid the seven most common oil sampling mistakes. The greatest concerns with trending oil analysis parameters are false positives (nuisance alarms) and false negatives (missed alarms) that undermine the program and erode confidence when sampling practices are limited to consistency with no regard for accuracy.

Understand the “rights” and “wrongs” of greasing bearings. World-class lubrication requires precision and skill. While there may be more than one right way to do something, there are many more wrong ways.

Select the right oil analysis tests. Oil analysis is an excellent tool that can be used to direct maintenance decisions, but you’ll likely be wasting time and money if you don’t select the right test slates. Educate yourself to guarantee that you are getting your money’s worth and that your oil analysis program is aligned with your reliability goals.

Focus your learning opportunities. Training courses and conferences provide a targeted way to obtain the information you need to boost reliability. In just a few days, most can bring back dozens of actionable ideas.

Stop neglecting your lubrication program. For many companies, the practice of neglecting lubrication has become deeply engrained in the maintenance culture. Follow this 12-step program for recovering addicts of lubrication neglect.

Integrate oil analysis and vibration analysis. Oil analysis and vibration analysis are natural partners for machine condition monitoring. The strengths of vibration analysis counteract the limitations of oil analysis and vice versa in managing the health of specific machine types.

Perform more onsite oil testing. Onsite oil analysis laboratories are becoming more popular as reliability professionals realize the profit-enhancing benefits that a well-designed and well-managed lab can reap.

Understand filter efficiency and beta ratios. To extend machine life and boost reliability through contamination control, it’s important to work smart when buying and employing filters so you can achieve your lubricant cleanliness targets.

Maintain grease guns and fittings. When grease guns and fittings aren’t properly used, protected, cleaned and maintained, machines and people are at risk. Here are 10 tips for maintaining grease guns and fittings.

Strategically exclude and remove water from oil. You don't have to remove what you don't allow in. With some forethought and strategy, you can extend machine and lubricant life by keeping water out and removing water when it gets into your oil.

Know when it’s time for an oil flush. What should you do when a lubricant doesn’t get a clean bill of health? More specifically, what must be done with the machine that contained a degraded or contaminated lubricant after the drain?

Accessorize oil reservoirs for lubrication excellence. Often viewed as lifeless metal tanks and sumps half-hidden from sight and inaccessible, reservoirs are not only treasure chests of information, but they offer a convenient stage from which to perform remedial tasks.

Get proactive about recognizing and stopping lubricant starvation. Machines don’t just need some lubricant or any lubricant. They need a sustained and adequate supply of the right lubricant. Precision lubrication supply should be included in any engineering specification for lubrication excellence.

Learn how to diagnose a cloudy oil. When an oil gets cloudy, it’s typically an indication of soot, air, water, undissolved additives, dead additives, salt, wax or another insoluble. Become efficient at spotting, diagnosing and restoring cloudy lubricants.

Don’t let water murder bearings. It takes only a small amount of water (less than 500 ppm) to substantially shorten the service life of rolling-element bearings. Do not underestimate the attack potential of water.

Set oil cleanliness targets and achieve them. The cleanliness you want is purposeful. It’s not for the sake of godliness but rather for a heightened state of reliability. Achieving cleanliness is almost always costly, yet the benefits gained are usually multiples of this cost.

Develop a current risk profile of your critical machinery. There are many different ways to enhance reliability and improve the quality of maintenance. The best options should be risk-based.

Start conducting daily one-minute inspections. The most important maintenance function doesn't require anything from the toolbox. It doesn't require an instrument or an oil sample. It may not be on your PM schedule or lube route. What it requires instead are skillful inspections that are rapid, comprehensive and frequent.

Select the right metrics. A well-conceived maintenance dashboard is a command post of key performance indicators, some leading indicators (what’s going to happen) and some lagging indicators (what did or is happening). It broadcasts those measures that are the most important at a macro level but enables greater detail and specificity on command.

Stop overgreasing bearings. How do you know when you have added enough grease? If you haven’t calculated grease relubrication cycles and volumes, you could be doing more harm than good.

Maximize data density and minimize data disturbance when oil sampling. To receive and act on an analysis report that indicates a “critical problem” but turns out to be nothing more than poor sampling is the easiest way to erode confidence in any oil analysis program. Focus on getting representative oil samples.

Practice sight-glass oil analysis. How many times a day do you sample the oil on critical equipment? That’s right, how many times per day? Did you know that each time you visually inspect the oil in a sight glass, you are both sampling and analyzing at the same time. If operators do this once per shift, they are sampling and analyzing three times per day.

Create a risk management grid (RMG) for production assets. The RMG makes planning and scheduling maintenance priorities more conspicuous, helps integrate the use of maintenance technologies and significantly simplifies the planning and scheduling process. Most importantly, it leaves a historic trail of events needed to prescribe new proactive maintenance and reliability strategies to prevent recurrence.

Deploy magnetic particle collectors. When magnetic separation and detection technology is properly selected and positioned in a machine application, the benefits can be extensive. These can include enhanced lubricant oxygen stability, improved filter performance, particle removal in unfiltered fluids, controlling particles during filter bypass, and wear particle detection and identification.

Become proficient at performing failure scene investigations. When critical failures occur, every effort should be made to prevent repeat performances. Without an intervention to remove the underlying root cause, a recurrence is almost guaranteed. It stands to reason that maintenance organizations should consider failure investigations as seriously as they do the repair activities needed to return a machine to service.

Determine lubrication technician competency ASAP. Today there is a workforce in the lubrication field that seems largely oblivious to many of the fundamental concepts that embody excellence in the profession. Here are six questions every lubrication technician should be able to answer correctly.

Add oil circulation to gear and bearing sumps. Many of the benefits of oil circulation are subtle or not easily understood, but they are significant in importance to machine reliability. Some benefits include oil level control, contamination control, live oil sampling, oil cooler/heater options, magnetic plug options and more.

Don’t put off preventive maintenance. It sounds simple, but lubrication requires constant attention. Vigilance is perhaps a better word. It's easy to forget the things we are not motivated to do, yet rarely do we forget those activities we are passionate about and desire to do.

Develop a corporate education master plan. Reliability and lubrication excellence are behavioral sciences. Bearings don’t just die; they’re murdered by people. What can change behavior? It requires awareness and know-how. Make education and job competency a big deal.

Set effective oil analysis limits and targets. Historically, users of oil analysis have relied almost exclusively on commercial oil analysis laboratories or oil suppliers to identify when a machine is in alarm. Realizing the limitations of this approach, world-class organizations take charge of their own alarm settings to ensure that their specific objectives are met.

Employ a unified condition monitoring (UCM) approach. UCM is an overarching principle that can be adapted for many applications and uses in the reliability field. The more you know about machine-specific failure modes and criticality, the better you can plan and optimize maintenance across multiple technologies within both predictive and proactive schemes.

Demand reliability readiness from equipment builders. Buying machines stripped to the bones in an attempt to reduce costs is almost always false economy. The astute reliability professional views new equipment in terms of the cost of ownership, not simply the cost of purchase. Most important is the overall machine reliability, which includes repair costs but also equipment utilization (uptime), maintainability (PMs, inspections, etc.), safety and other factors.

Test new lubricant deliveries. Lubricants are formulated by humans, blended by humans, inspected by humans, transported and packaged by humans, and labeled and stored by humans. When it comes to humans, there is one inalterable constant — we make mistakes.

Learn how to grease electric motors. Rolling-element bearings used in electric motors potentially have many failure modes if an incorrect strategy is implemented. These modes include incorrect lubricant selection, contamination, loss of lubricant and overgreasing.

Learn how to trend oil analysis data. Testing your oil just once is like only watching five minutes of a movie — you’re only getting part of the story. Simply obtaining a snapshot of data from an oil sample is essentially worthless without something to compare it to.

Find the source of contaminants in your machines. Contamination control is an important part of a proactive maintenance strategy. The first step in keeping lubricants clean, cool and dry is to address the existing contaminants and measure their potential impact on the machinery and oils (failure modes).

Manage the six areas of the lubricant lifecycle. Whether the program is for a fixed plant or a mobile fleet, the lubrication-related factors to consider can be described according to the lubricant’s life cycle. These include lubricant selection, lubricant reception and storage, lubricant handling and application, contamination control, lubricant analysis, and lubricant disposal.

Be smart with oil filters. The main purpose of an oil filter is to prevent large particles of dirt from causing damage to equipment components. In order to help control contamination within lubricated systems, follow these 12 guidelines for using oil filters.

Use lube identification tags. A lube tagging system is a great way to mitigate failures caused by lubricant cross-contamination as well as to introduce barcodes or similar items into the field. Keep in mind that you want to label all products that will potentially touch a lubricant, not just equipment.

Empower your team with lubrication and oil analysis training. 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.

Maximize the value of filter carts. Smart lubrication professionals make the most of the tools of their trade. They know that a portable lubricant filter cart is a vital tool that can be used in more ways than one. Here are 10 different ways to put your filter cart to work.

Eliminate the source of equipment failures with root cause analysis. A root cause analysis program can offer benefits for almost any plant. It eliminates repeating problems and allows you to focus on other issues. Always try to gather as much information as possible. If you don’t solve the problem the first time, the additional information may be useful for a future solution.

Use primary and secondary oil sampling points. Most circulating and hydraulic systems should have both a primary and secondary sampling location to ensure that any identified failure mechanism can be tracked back to the component causing the problem.

Detect and control varnish problems. Turbines, compressors and large motor/gearcase applications are all subject to dangerous varnish deposits. Learn and employ varnish mitigation strategies for greater reliability.

Get smart about pump lubrication. When it comes to pumps, important choices and decisions need to be made about lubricant types, lube change intervals and filtration. Guidance from reliability improvement and cost points of view are necessary.

Don’t just test oil – test grease. In the past, grease monitoring was not a common practice even though the majority of installed bearings are grease-lubricated and have a substantial impact on the reliability of the equipment. However, a change in philosophy seems to be occurring with a trend toward more routine grease analysis.

Learn how to analyze gear failures. There are many different types of gearbox failure modes. It’s important to be aware of the various tests that can be used to develop and confirm a hypothesis for the probable cause of failure.

Get gear coupling lubrication and maintenance right. When it comes to gear coupling reliability, there are many areas where failures may be initiated. Often these failures begin because of a lack of knowledge or a lack of execution of certain fundamentals, which are necessary for couplings to run reliably.

Monitor the four lethal diesel engine oil contaminants. There are no motor oil additives that control the damage caused by glycol, fuel dilution, soot or water. Any one of these contaminants is capable of causing premature or even sudden engine failure.

Optimize oil sampling frequency. Every machine is unique in its intended performance, locality, environment and maintenance schedules, and this uniqueness should be reflected in the oil analysis program design process. Oil sampling frequencies should be set specifically for each particular machine.

Give your machines a gentle burp. Air contamination in lubricants is a serious condition that can lead to oxidative oil degradation, thermal degradation, impaired heat transfer, retarded oil supply and cavitation. Managing aeration and the air-handling ability of lubricants is no insignificant matter.

Improve lubricant storage and handling. Many companies are unaware of the danger improper lubricant storage and handling practices create and what inevitable fate they can lead to in terms of equipment reliability and life cycles. Proper lubrication is not only about the right amount at the right time in the right place, it is also about keeping lubricants clean, cool and properly identified.

Choose the right oil analysis lab for your needs. Partnering with an external oil analysis laboratory is a strategic decision. Too often, like many other business decisions, price is (wrongly) the overall decider. There are many aspects of the oil analysis service that need to be considered, such as the available tests, interpretation skills, turnaround time and price.

Use conspicuous charting for lubrication program success. What gets measured gets done. Make sure everyone knows just how important your lubrication metrics are with front and center signage. It’s the ultimate statement of commitment to excellence and encourages buy-in from everyone in the plant.

Deploy time-dependent oil analysis limits. Time-dependent limits monitor factors that are not absolute – in other words, parameters that cannot be judged as normal or abnormal without taking time into account.

Update your sealing technology. Competent manufacturers of mechanical seals have contributed to the uptime extension and component life upgrades realized by acknowledged best-of-class users. Is it time to upgrade your seals?

Learn how to identify wear modes in lubricated systems. Failure analysis is used to assign a wear mechanism to a specific failure. If the wear mechanism can be determined, corrective action can be applied to prevent the failure from recurring.

Use statistical techniques to simplify oil analysis data. By understanding how various oil parameters correlate, you can investigate abnormal symptoms and make decisions with a strong sense of confidence that you are addressing real maintenance problems, not just chasing false alarms.

Keep high-viscosity lubricants filtered. Thick oils aren’t easy to filter and are often neglected. Here are 10 pointers for offline filtration of high-viscosity lubricants.

Reduce gearbox oil contamination levels. Gearbox applications present many challenges when it comes to achieving and maintaining an aggressive level of oil cleanliness. Cleaner oil means longer gearbox life. Maintain a balance between what is financially feasible and what is absolutely best for the machine.

Get smart about lubricant incompatibility. While some types of lubricants are already tested and qualified for mixing between brands (motor oils, for instance), most are not. Many modern lubricant formulations, which use premium base oils and additives, have new risk factors related to lubricant cross-contamination. Learn how to both avoid cross-contamination and recognize the symptoms of lubricant incompatibility.

Avoid cold start-up problems. If a system has a very short warm-up period, and there are no critical components, it may be worth considering allowing the filter to go into bypass mode for a short period.

Don’t delay after oil sampling. The moment an oil sample is taken from a machine, the sample and the oil in the reservoir begin to experience different environments. Once taken, samples should be tested as soon as reasonably possible.

Protect gearbox lubes from moisture. In humid environments, water contamination can wreak havoc on gearbox oil. Here are seven common-sense steps to help keep gearboxes protected. 

Reduce wrong oil mistakes. When the wrong oil is added to a machine, bad things can happen. There are a variety of ways to reduce the risk of mixing lubricants, including training, visual tools, dedicated oil transfer equipment and more.

Visually inspect used oil filters. A careful visual examination of a used filter element by experienced eyes can yield useful information about the machine, the filter and lubricant health. Filter inspection is an often overlooked tool in a reliability professional’s toolbelt.

Use best practices for outdoor oil storage. Oil drums stored outdoors can be at high risk of contamination when not stored properly. If you must store oil drums outdoors, use these best practices.

Learn from case studies. Companies all around the world are reaping the benefits from lubrication excellence. Reading about their journey will help you learn best practices and avoid the pitfalls and mistakes already made.

Manage tank headspace. Are you in on this well-kept secret? A high percentage of the particles and moisture that ingress into lubricating oils and hydraulic fluids must pass through the area above the oil in tanks (the headspace). Keeping contaminants from entering the headspace, by default, leads to cleaner oil and better machine reliability.

Sharpen your hydraulic troubleshooting skills. Troubleshooting hydraulic systems involves a lot of science and sometimes a bit of art. An incorrect diagnosis prolongs downtime and can result in the unnecessary repair or replacement of serviceable components. Avoiding these costly mistakes requires the correct equipment and a logical approach.

Know the difference between good lubrication and good lubricants. Good lubrication goes way beyond the optimum selection of lubricants. It’s also a mantra of vigilance. It’s tending to the details perpetually. Its currency is reliability at the lowest cost. It optimizes not maximizes. It is measurement-driven and deploys oil analysis to make risk-informed decisions.

Optimize lubrication PMs. Regrettably, PMs are often selected, scheduled and carried out with little thought regarding the desirable result, or ineffective PMs are perpetuated simply because that is the easiest path. As a result, resources employed to complete PMs are often wasted. Optimize PMs and steer resources toward improving reliability.

Maintain tank and reservoir levels. One of the key responsibilities in inspection and maintenance is checking and maintaining the oil level. A drop below a buffer level in a storage tank may result in an insufficient supply of lubricant. When oil drops below the minimum level in a wet-sump application, the machine can be starved of the appropriate amount of oil to keep it running properly and reliably. Overfilling the reservoir can also be harmful.

Stabilize lubricant temperatures. Temperature extremes have a pronounced effect on component materials as well as machine performance. When the temperature is too low, fluid viscosity is high. At low temperatures, the fluid often reaches the point where it actually congeals and will no longer flow (pour point). High temperatures also accelerate wear, destroy hydrodynamic lubrication regimes, increase the oxidation rate, foster additive depletion and affect other critical aspects of the machine.

Standardize lubrication tasks. Despite overwhelming evidence suggesting that poor machinery lubrication spells trouble for the plant, most organizations lack clearly defined written procedures for performing basic lubrication tasks.

Learn how to interpret oil analysis reports. Without a solid grasp of the underlying principles of reading and understanding the analysis report, the inexperienced reader is likely to grow frustrated with trying to make sense of the seemingly unintelligible test data. However, with just a few basic rules and a modicum of understanding, any oil analysis neophyte can quickly come to grips with reading and understanding an analysis report.

Put on your detective hat. The truth is, oil analysis is detective work, plain and simple. Today’s detectives are empowered with a growing bag of tricks, but only a few of these tricks involve traditional “oil analysis.”

Realize that most machines don’t just wear out. A high percentage of lubricated machines in normal service can have a seemingly infinite lifespan. They are less prone to wear and failure when well-maintained. Quit assuming that high machine failure rates just happen.

Consolidate lubricants. Lubricant consolidation offers some obvious benefits like reducing stale inventory and sole-sourcing lubricants to a single distributor. From a reliability standpoint, you will lower the risk of accidental lubricant cross-contamination due to fewer drum pumps, transfer systems, filter carts, top-up containers, etc.

Performance-test lubricants. You may be surprised to learn that there are no less than five lubrication performance properties that are missing from nearly all in-service oil analysis reports. While it is true that commercial oil analysis labs will not be conducting performance tests on in-service oils any time soon, the need and application are still very real in certain situations.

Take caution when changing lubricant suppliers/brands. Lubricants aren’t indiscriminately interchangeable, even if they are in the same product class. This is especially true with industrial lubricants, and there are very few exceptions. From experience, we’ve learned that lubricant change is too often the precursor to sudden and unexpected machine failure.

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