Jacobs Achieves Oil Analysis Success at the Home of the U.S. Space Program

Paul Hiller, ICML

Jacobs Engineering Group is one of the world’s largest and most diverse providers of technical, professional and engineering consulting services, including all aspects of a physical facility’s engineering, operations and maintenance. As the primary contractor for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) Test and Operations Support Contract (TOSC) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, Jacobs is responsible for the overall management and implementation of ground systems capabilities, flight hardware processing and launch operations. This work supports NASA’s International Space Station, Exploration Ground Systems, Space Launch System, Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Launch Services Programs.

In 2017, Jacobs earned the Augustus H. Gill Award from the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML) for oil analysis excellence at KSC. In an impressive display of resourcefulness, Jacobs developed a centralized oil analysis program by capitalizing on independent training and ICML certifications. The resulting program and facility are jointly known as the TOSC oil pharmacy. Its story reflects a successful approach to achieving excellence.


ICML executive director Leslie Fish (center) poses with members
of the 2017 Augustus H. Gill Award-winning team from Jacobs,
including reliability engineer Sean Hollis (right) and aerospace
engineering technician Jose Atencio (left).

Oil Pharmacy Beginnings

Today, the Jacobs Maintenance and Reliability (M&R) Group at KSC is a world-class operation with leading-edge lubrication and oil analysis practices. Precision lab equipment is utilized, and certified personnel provide on-demand results for real-time analysis and decision-making. Since 2013, eight TOSC engineers and technicians have earned Level I Machine Lubrication Technician (MLT I) and/or Level I Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA I) certifications through ICML, while six have secured their MLA II certifications.

In early 2013, the TOSC was awarded to Jacobs to help KSC transition to a 21st-​century launch facility that could process various spacecraft for both private and government entities. The TOSC management team had experienced the benefits of a comprehensive oil analysis program on a separate Jacobs contract with another client in the aerospace industry. While assessing the TOSC infrastructure and procedures available to them, Jacobs readily concluded it would be beneficial to implement a similar program at Kennedy as well.

TOSC personnel recognized that some simple changes not only would make their jobs easier but also would improve efficiency and machine maintainability. A condition-based monitoring (CBM) program was already established and had achieved success within engineering groups supporting the shuttle program. The Jacobs team decided its new oil analysis program would build on that effort.

Jacobs envisioned improvements to the way lubricants were received, stored, transported, tested and analyzed while anticipating that implementing best practices would align to all customer needs. However, some system engineers were skeptical of the value to be gained by such a program, expressing concern about kitting, delivery changes and whether test results would depict the accurate health of the system. Jacobs knew that oil analysis could provide the necessary insight on all TOSC assets to optimize the ground support equipment’s maintenance program, and that champions would need to be identified to make it happen.

Therefore, Jacobs’ management selected two engineers and two technicians to form the M&R Group, and they started to devise an implementation plan. They opted to develop everything in-house by seeking training, attending conferences, acquiring front-line user feedback, and studying resources in order to educate themselves and adapt what they were learning to their specific needs and priorities.

How It Works

The M&R Group named its new program the “oil pharmacy” because it established an easy, accessible one-stop shop offering solutions for nearly every ailment connected to proper storage practices, lubricant consolidation, distribution, testing, analysis and employee training.

Within the first two years, the team executed changes involving storage and distribution, including inventory consolidation, an air-conditioned co-location, procedural documentation and the introduction of lubrication codes. The team piloted its program with one group of system engineers - the Cranes, Doors and Platforms Group - with the intention of expanding to other groups as new procedures were established. Once the system engineers witnessed the insights provided by oil analysis and realized they were receiving cleaner lubricants faster and with greater confidence in their suitability, they became advocates of the program. The program’s development was further validated as ICML certifications were introduced in 2016.

The oil analysis lab is a major component of the oil pharmacy. Designed in-house and based on best practices, the lab is conveniently co-located with the storage area and equipped to diagnose the health of lubricants and assets. It receives oil samples from all TOSC system engineering groups requiring machine lubrication and analyzes each lubricant for wear, contamination and chemistry composition. Reports are then provided to the system engineers with recommendations on how to act on the results. The lab also analyzes oils upstream of service, including those newly arrived from a supplier, sitting in storage for other contracts or upon delivery to large and critical machines.

Oil samples are collected in new, clean containers with appropriate labeling. All technicians have been trained on how to take proper samples from the specific hardware configurations where they work.

Analysis employs a combination of particle counting (ISO codes), elemental spectroscopy (individual metals in parts per million) and wear density (wear particle concentration, percent ferrous, micrograms per milliliter, wear index, etc.) to ensure all large and small particles are recognized.

The lab’s testing equipment was arranged to accommodate frequency of use and purchased based on self-guided research, vendor tutorials, and ease-of-use suggestions gleaned at conferences. All assets were loaded into the selected management software, with limits applied consensually by system engineers, manufacturer direction and drawing requirements. The team uses enterprise asset management software to track asset hierarchy, baseline asset information, condition assessments, labor time and material costs, along with details on oil sampling routes, grease caddy inspections, etc.

The Jacobs M&R Group runs the oil analysis program in conjunction with a broader reliability team, which includes vibration analysis, thermography and other condition monitoring technologies and tactics.

“We recognize that it takes a suite of tools to get the job done,” said Sean Hollis, Jacobs TOSC reliability engineer. “Routine oil analysis and static motor analysis are performed independently, but in all other maintenance and troubleshooting situations, other technologies are utilized to corroborate findings as necessary.”

The overall success of the Jacobs program was buoyed by three key elements: a lubrication manual, management support and ICML certifications.

Lubrication Manual

The Jacobs team collected and documented all starting data from relevant KSC shops and made modifications as they validated new procedures, drew new schematics and established lubrication codes. After managing this information briefly in standard office documents and spreadsheets, Jacobs compiled all of the information into a single controlled document with formalized revision procedures. This lubrication manual has undergone three revisions since 2015 and is readily available on the company’s intranet.


The full TOSC oil pharmacy showcases
lubricant storage best practices,
secondary containment and color-coding.

Management Support

Jacobs’ management presented the oil pharmacy’s benefits to system engineer groups in monthly meetings as well as while visiting shops and joining team meetings as the program matured.

ICML Certifications

Because the team did not utilize outside consultants, they knew eventually training and certification would be required to take the oil pharmacy to the next level of optimization and move beyond the low-hanging fruit. The M&R Group’s implementation plan had always included the procurement of training and certification. By 2016, six personnel had achieved MLT I certification. Several practitioners followed up in 2017 with MLA I certification. In 2018, six TOSC team members earned MLA II certification.

ICML certification ensured that team members could expand their knowledge and continue improvements in new ways. Certified personnel also perform on-the-job training for system engineers and technicians outside the M&R Group.


The oil pharmacy lab includes
6-S best practices and an assembly line for oil analysis.

“The education provided us with the knowledge and the tools to expand the program, and provides additional credibility with the system engineers and our NASA customer,” Hollis noted.

MLT I certification is now a prerequisite for all new hires, while MLA I certification is required for anyone regularly involved with oil analysis. Routine training for certification upgrades is also budgeted yearly.

The CBM Solution

The procedural changes implemented through the oil pharmacy have enabled the M&R Group to switch from a time-based maintenance schedule to a proactive CBM schedule. This conversion has significantly optimized the TOSC maintenance program.

Additional achievements of the oil pharmacy have been noted, including fewer oil brands in use, less oil in storage, lower maintenance and disposal costs, greater confidence among system engineers that proper lubricants are in use, and more precise and accurate monitoring of machine health. There are also fewer spill prevention, control and countermeasure (SPCC) sites, as well as a stronger brain trust with multiple ICML-certified practitioners. Finally, the oil pharmacy has made it possible for analytical findings to be used in data-driven, cost-cutting decisions on the planning and scheduling of maintenance work orders. All of these achievements indicate that management’s anticipation of streamlining machine efficiency, control and reliability was well-placed.

“Oil analysis has provided the largest return on investment and therefore has become the example of the reliability culture at Kennedy Space Center on TOSC,” Hollis added.

ICML Awards

ICML is always interested to hear when its certifications play a role in the implementation and maintenance of effective oil analysis programs, like the one Jacobs implemented at KSC. The organization would also like to recognize successful programs with its annual industry awards. Visit www.icmlonline.com for the qualifications and instructions to nominate your plant’s oil analysis or lubrication program for an ICML industry award.

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