Pinnacle's Smith Continues Quest for Better Lubrication

Tags: lubrication programs

Name: Douglas Smith

Age: 47

Job Title: Maintenance Systems Manager/Reliability Engineer

Company: Pinnacle Foods

Location: Fort Madison, Iowa

Length of Service: 15 years

Douglas Smith joined Pinnacle Foods in 2003 as a production/sanitation technician. He later entered the maintenance trainee program and worked to become a maintenance mechanic. Lubrication had always been a part of his job, but Smith truly learned about industrial lubrication as a maintenance mechanic. He was fortunate to be mentored by knowledgeable mechanics on lubrication practices. At the time, Pinnacle was a very traditional maintenance organization. If a little grease was needed, a little more was better. Galvanized steel funnels and containers were used for everything. When Smith was promoted to his current position as maintenance systems manager/reliability engineer, he began a quest to better understand machinery lubrication. It was then that he also discovered his appetite for all things related to maintenance reliability.

Q: What types of training and professional certifications have you obtained to reach your current position?

A: What I know I have learned by listening to those with more knowledge than me and those with less. Everyone I meet has something to teach me, even if it is how not to do something. I am passionate about reliability, so I listen a lot to others. I read books and articles whenever I can to increase my understanding. I also attend maintenance conferences and participate in webinars as much as possible. Maintenance conferences contain a wealth of knowledge and are a great way to get recharged and learn.

Q: Are you planning to obtain additional training or achieve higher certifications?

A: This year I have set a goal to train and achieve my Level I Machine Lubrication Technician (MLT I) certification. I have set this goal because I am attempting to drive our maintenance organization to become more progressive in our lubrication practices. To do that, I need to assure myself and others in our plant that I have the knowledge and skills to guide us.

Q: What’s a normal work day like for you?

A: My work day is very flexible and driven by the needs of the plant. My job responsibilities include management of the maintenance planners, storeroom, trainees, a small reliability-centered maintenance group and the machinery lubrication technician. In addition, I work with our maintenance manager to develop and drive our maintenance best practices along with building and growing our predictive maintenance program. I am the local administrator of our computerized maintenance management system and use the information to help drive our key performance indicators and assist the maintenance manager to make data-driven decisions.

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Q: What is the range of equipment you help service through lubrication/oil analysis tasks?

A: Our facility has nearly 2,000 assets that we maintain, covering everything you would expect in a canned meat facility. We have small ½-horsepower (hp) motors and gearboxes all the way up to and over 150-hp electric motors driving large gearboxes. We have a wide variety of pumps, from product pumps to large well pumps that provide all the production and drinking water for the plant. We also have our own waste-treatment system and ammonia compressors to refrigerate parts of the building. We do a small amount of oil analysis on critical assets. It is something we are looking to expand in the future.

Q: On what lubrication-related projects are you currently working?

A: Currently, I am working with our new machinery lubrication technician. For many years, we had a very traditional lube tech. His job was to grease bearings and fill gearboxes every day. At the end of last year, this person retired, and I helped our maintenance manager create a new skill block in our group for a machinery lubrication/reliability technician. This new skilled role will do much more than just add grease and lubrication. Along with me, they will also be getting trained to earn a MLT I certification. This newly developed role will become the nucleus of our lubrication program and expand into lubrication reliability through new technologies such as ultrasonic lubrication.

Q: What have been some of the biggest project successes in which you’ve played a part?

A: When it comes to machinery lubrication, there are two projects that I am proud of and count as successes. The first was upgrading our lubrication storage and dispensing system. Originally, we used a row of oil drums with open bungs and pneumatic pumps placed in the drums but no breathers. We upgraded to a pod storage system that filters in both directions. It uses desiccant breathers along with dedicated and color-coded hoses. We also upgraded to sealed, color-coded secondary containers.

The second project was the development of a machinery lubrication technician skill block within our maintenance group. Prior to this, the lube job was thought of as a less skilled job that could be accomplished by nearly anyone. Today, the position is a skilled trade that receives the training necessary to be a key player in our maintenance reliability team. This role will do more than just fill gearboxes. They will be involved in oil analysis and identifying and implementing the predictive practices that will make us more reliable. I look for this position to grow as the potential is realized.

Q: How does your company view machinery lubrication in terms of importance and overall business strategy?

A: Honestly, I have to say that I am blessed to work with a great group of maintenance professionals, both in the plant and on our corporate team. Our company has always understood the importance of machinery lubrication and has some great practices in place through our preventive maintenance (PM) program and operator asset-care lubrication. There have been successes and failures throughout, but we learn and adapt. Right now, we are beginning a journey to implement additional modern practices and technologies into our lubrication program. Without the support from our company leadership, these improvements would not be possible.

Q: What do you see as some of the more important trends taking place in lubrication and oil analysis?

A: I think that ultrasonic lubrication has some of the greatest potential and is something we are looking into very closely. Oil analysis, while not new, can unlock some hidden information that leads to good business decisions. In addition, improvements are being made to clean and maintain the cleanliness of lubricants, so things like color-coded secondary containers and single-use funnels to prevent contamination are a must.

Q: What has made your company decide to put more emphasis on machinery lubrication?

A: I would say that it has just been part of the maintenance reliability journey. If every day you are fixing breakdowns and not asking why, then that is the road on which you will stay. However, if you stop and ask the right questions - why, how and what can be done - you will end up changing lanes, and your journey will take a different path.

A few years back, I was fortunate enough to sit in a training session given by Bob Matthews. He made a comment that stuck with me. He said, “You have to remember we are a maintenance department, not a fixing department.” In my humble opinion, if you want to do more than fix things, you need to understand and value lubrication. 

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