Building a Successful Maintenance Program Through Oil Analysis

Brett Minges, Polaris Laboratories

Integrating oil analysis into an established maintenance program can yield great returns in the form of more reliable, longer-lasting equipment. However, 43 percent of oil analysis programs leave half of their equipment unsampled, and 36 percent don’t adjust their preventive maintenance based on the results. Moving a reactive or preventive maintenance program to one that predicts and avoids wear requires the right people, processes and technology, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Build the Business Case

Many programs have a staggered start when they adopt oil analysis. They either test the value using a pilot program or pick a starting location that will discover the best way to fit the program into their processes before rolling it out to the entire company. Along the same lines, it’s much more feasible to pick one or two types of equipment to test at the beginning. Adding the task of collecting oil samples regularly from all equipment isn’t realistic for most maintenance programs out there, especially if they already feel the crunch of overtime hours.

The first step is identifying where testing would generate the most bang for the buck. Focusing efforts on increasing the reliability of critical and “problem” equipment especially helps time-starved maintenance programs get ahead of the work backlog. It also adds the bonus of demonstrating the strongest benefits to management.

For programs without data from past oil analysis, the best place to start is by pinpointing equipment that is experiencing high rates of failure. Units can be grouped by type, manufacturer, model, application, replacement cost, hours/miles operated or how vital they are to production. Calculating the maintenance costs (especially rebuilds and replacements) and the number of failures will typically identify the units that would benefit the most from oil analysis.

Presenting the business case this way should succeed, since you’re speaking the language of management. Maintenance and equipment costs are unavoidable, but they can be reduced. Savvy businessmen are willing to listen to improvement ideas, especially when they are backed up by real-world data.

Develop a Plan and a Team

Once given the green light to begin, many want to jump in and start pulling samples. That sort of ad-hoc program can easily fizzle out or run into problems that kill momentum. In addition, easing into a program will allow time for staff to become acquainted with the new process so it doesn’t feel like additional work piled on top of their already heavy workload.

Instead, create a detailed action plan, recruit personnel and begin training staff. Pin down exactly who will be responsible for what duties and how their efforts will be evaluated. Set dates or triggers for staggered rollouts, but remember to leave space in your timeline to deal with delays and unexpected issues that will eat up time. While there’s nothing wrong with aggressive schedules, falling behind can be demoralizing to staff and raise management concerns.

Prepare Personnel and Equipment

Once the plan is in place, it is time to put it into action. Training and preparation are always required, even for oil analysis veterans. Everyone involved with the program needs to know how it will benefit the maintenance plan before they can start believing it will help them and the company. This training also provides an opportunity for feedback and can identify overlooked obstacles or weaknesses in the plan.

The equipment may need preparation, too. Retrofits, such as adding oil sampling ports, can expedite the sampling process and free up many maintenance hours. If nothing else, the equipment list needs to be updated in your computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and oil analysis provider’s files.

Grade Progress and Share the Wins

The best way to accelerate the adoption of a new program is to measure the progress and share the results. Necessary first steps, like the retrofits, training and list management steps mentioned previously, can get bogged down and delayed without a guiding hand directing (and sometimes pushing and pulling) them along.

One way to hurry the transition along is to “grade” the progress of each section/location/ division and review them out in the open. Peer pressure and friendly competition can go a long way toward motivating slow adopters. Once the oil analysis program is up and running, your time can be devoted to providing additional motivation, such as sharing major saves, recognizing sampling compliance or establishing best practices.

Show the Financial Justification

It is important to capture information about maintenance and replacements that were avoided due to oil analysis. A lot of time can be saved when information is documented in the moment. Estimating the costs and time spent on projects can be difficult, especially if months have passed. Your management software or even a simple spreadsheet can track the hours spent and the cost of parts for each project.

Multiply the hours spent conducting repairs by the average labor rate or burden rate and add in the part costs to estimate what was spent on an individual repair. To evaluate the program as a whole, add in the cost of oil analysis testing and the labor spent collecting samples. By comparing this to the cost of complete unit replacement or more involved repairs, you can calculate the immediate return on investment (ROI).

A more advanced method of calculating ROI would be to factor in the cost of downtime to your company. This requires a lot of coordination with the production department, and this data isn’t always available to maintenance divisions.

Make Decisions Using Data

The final step to integrating oil analysis into a maintenance program is to take advantage of the sample result data as a whole. Basic programs just review individual results for unexpected wear. This will definitely save equipment and reduce downtime, but all your past results contain a lot of statistics that can be mined for even more savings.

Oil analysis providers can sort and filter specific results from your data and compile them into a management report. A wide variety of reports are possible, and the helpfulness of each depends on the individual’s position in the maintenance program. For example, having a daily list of high-severity maintenance recommendations is extremely useful for maintenance managers looking to assign work to technicians. The senior maintenance leadership for a national company will find little use for such a list, but they might want to see a monthly pie chart with the percentage of each severity.

The most sophisticated use of oil analysis data and management reports will aid strategic, companywide decisions with scattergrams and Pareto charts. Identify the types of equipment that break down the most, extend oil drains with minimal risk by finding the threshold where severity levels spike and make purchasing decisions based on which makes and models perform the longest before maintenance/replacement is required.

Create a Partnership

Each company is different, and an oil analysis program can be easily customized to deliver superior results. Sample bottle cleanliness, flagging limits, report delivery options, computer system integration and automatic management report subscriptions are just a few of the options that can be adapted to improve an oil analysis program. In this regard, an oil analysis company is more like a service provider than a simple supplier.

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