Advantages of Documented Procedures for Lubrication Tasks

Bennett Fitch, Noria Corporation
Tags: lubrication programs

Lubrication is not what it used to be, and that’s a good thing (and a bad thing). There was a time when documented procedures for lubrication tasks were treated with importance.

Lubrication was front and center to both the cause and solution for a large percentage of machine failures in industrial facilities. Much has been learned since then. Improved lubricants and better engineered machines have enabled equipment life to be extended.

However, over time the reduction in failures and the seemingly inconsequential effects of task performance have led to inattention in the everyday lubrication activities.

Because of this, routine lubrication tasks continue to take a backseat and at times are disregarded altogether.

Even when lubrication tasks are performed, there has been an epidemic of disregarding details and overall ownership. The result is that the state of maintenance has reverted back to unnecessary lubrication failures, but this time the cause is often carelessness or human error.

Today, the most common reason for lubrication failures is not low-quality lubricants or poorly designed machines. Instead, it is because of how lubrication tasks are ineffectively managed.

Following are seven reasons why documented procedures for every lubrication task can offer the solution and directly benefit the bottom line.

7 Reasons for Documented Lube Procedures

When lubrication tasks are documented properly and smart management decisions are made, those who perform the tasks will be more effective and strive to become more educated in lubrication activities.

Good documentation with organized response procedures is the key to maximizing root cause detection or early signs of failure detection. This will lead to one failure avoidance event after another. In short, less overall downtime is achieved.

Those involved are also more satisfied in their job tasks and become more invested in achieving the reliability goals. Lubrication task documentation and actions with intention can be the soft solution to an increasingly hard problem.

1. Task Precision

Precision maintenance is all about the details. When careful thought is put into each of the task assignments and procedure steps, there is a better chance of achieving precision maintenance.

This should be the most obvious reason. These details may include matters such as who is to perform the task, which tools will be required, in what areas of the machine will work be performed, what must be done, etc.

For example, an oil sight-glass inspection task should not simply involve inspecting whether there is an accurate oil level. Instead, it should be a more comprehensive form of oil analysis.

This type of inspection would include all three lubrication inspection zones: level, foam and deposits (LF&D); color and clarity (C&C) and bottom sediment and water (BS&W).

The documentation should be complete with steps for analyzing the oil across all inspection zones, directions for remediation protocol and even annotated pictures, if possible.

2. Task Confidence (Job Satisfaction)

For many, it can be difficult to feel confident in your job if the tasks are unclear or undefined, particularly if you are assessed against the outcomes.

This is a common challenge for new personnel who have been hired to take over the lubrication activities but may not have any experience. If they are given little instruction or are simply told to just “keep everything oiled and greased,” they can become unsatisfied in their jobs.

Performance will go down as they consistently question whether they are completing the tasks correctly. Even worse, if the machine experiences a lubrication-​related failure mode, the root cause may be placed on this individual unjustifiably.

The more this occurs, the greater the lack of confidence, and the more job performance worsens.

3. Task Consistency

Routine lubrication tasks are often assigned to one or two specific lubrication technicians (or an area of the plant). This is important in creating ownership, consistency and ease of process control.

As these individuals perform their work over a long period of time, there becomes less dependence on documentation for their job tasks.

This can be both good and bad. It’s good because efficiencies can be developed, but bad because the technicians are more likely to deviate, simplify or overlook task requirements as they become more independent from the documentation.

Keeping documentation as a routine reference helps reinforce the validity of the work being done. Also, if the documentation is updated as deviations are proven beneficial, these efficiencies can be passed to the next individual performing the tasks.

This is essential, because if the individual responsible for the lubrication activities in a specific area is suddenly unavailable (temporarily or permanently), someone else would need to step in.

If there is improper documentation, a huge risk to the overall task performance will emerge.

While slight changes may not be of concern for many tasks, with others like grease relubrication or oil sampling, even the smallest deviations in the steps performed can have major consequences.

For example, if an individual uses the wrong type of sample bottle or does not properly flush the oil pathway, the results could show false positives. Likewise, if the sample is taken from the wrong location, a false negative or false positive could occur.

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In both cases, the corrective action to prevent a potential failure mode from progressing will depend heavily on these results, and the small details in the sample procedure will play a huge role in that.

4. Task Compliance

Proper documentation is not just about how to perform a task but also how to report that the task has been completed and what the findings or outcomes were.

For grease relubrication procedures, scheduling of the next instance of relubrication will depend on when it was last performed. This requires documenting the task completion and if it was done without issue. For inspections, documentation is simply a matter of verifying that each inspection point was not overlooked.

If abnormal conditions are reported, this can be trended and observed more closely or converted to a corrective action.

Proactive maintenance is one of the most effective ways to avoid unexpected downtime and extend the life of machines.

Tracking task compliance with documentation is a key part in seeing the true benefits of proactive lubrication tasks. After all, what gets measured gets done.

45% of lubrication professionals say their plant does not have written lubrication procedures, based on a recent poll at MachineryLubrication.com

5. Task Prioritization

It’s not uncommon for lubrication technicians to get behind on their scheduled tasks and for routes to fall into a backlog, particularly if the available manpower is not adequate. For many, this seems inevitable.

As a result, planning and scheduling will require prioritization across several criteria, including all task and asset types, routes and locations. Documenting these details is a prerequisite for creating these prioritizations.

Furthermore, prioritization should be optimized routinely. Based on the results of predictive and proactive analysis from lubrication tasks or other condition-based maintenance, machines exhibiting early signs of a potential failure mode may move up the priority list.

6. Task Data Trending

Whether it’s a specific task type on one machine or several task types across all machines in the plant, there is value in analyzing data trends.

Most condition monitoring technologies such as oil analysis and vibration analysis are known for their ability to apply trend techniques to predict machine operating conditions and potential failure modes.

Making these predictions and optimizing task techniques can be greatly enhanced by analyzing the documentation for task completion and feedback data.

7. Enforcing Proactive Maintenance

Despite the overwhelming evidence of a proactive maintenance program providing huge returns, it has a long history of being treated with diminished importance.

Why? Maybe because the activities are not as urgent as rebuilding a failed pump or because there is no instant satisfaction from daily inspections or precise relubrication procedures. Whatever the reason may be, this is why all lubrication tasks should be documented.

Documenting the task requirements, scheduling, prioritizing and monitoring compliance are effective ways to emphasize the magnitude of these proactive activities.

Managing Your Lube Procedures

For today’s maintenance teams, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) is the standard for a repository where documented lubrication procedures reside.

However, with the complex functionality and requirements of mainstream CMMS programs, there can be challenges integrating the specific needs of lubrication activities.

Similar to what plagues many proactive lubrication requirements, a CMMS often treats lubrication tasks with lesser importance.

For this reason, it is not unusual for plants to opt for separate programs for lubrication documentation, route management and other lubrication data organization.

Regardless of how you choose to manage the documentation for your lubrication procedures, the following checklist can be used to evaluate a management system:

  • Is it easy to use?

  • Is it easily accessible for those who need it routinely (various levels of access permissions may be required)?

  • Is it easily editable for those who are training and accountable (editing should be limited and maintain consistency)?

  • Is it aligned with standards provided by the corporate lubrication standards manual?

  • Does it have a fixed hierarchal asset structure for organized documentation?

  • Does it offer template and format control for the structure and organization of procedures (these can be driven by the corporate standards manual or internationally recognized standards)?

  • Does it contain checklists or other evaluation feedback methods for inspection and quality-control tasks?

  • Does it include references to additional supporting documentation (such as the corporate standards manual, training materials and internal or external subject-matter experts)?

  • Do tasks specify tools, inventory items or other materials required to perform the task?

  • Do tasks specify those responsible for performing the tasks (and the minimum training requirements for this role), those responsible for editing the task, as well as any other personnel involved in the task?

  • Are there built-in triggers between each possible condition reported from the condition monitoring tasks (inspections, oil analysis, etc.) with specific follow-up tasks to reconcile or monitor the concern?

  • Does it have route generation and documentation features to modify, assign, review, etc., the structure of routes?

  • Are there reporting options for weekly or monthly overviews and management requirements?

  • Does it feature task documentation and routing mobility?

  • Is there a metrics dashboard with customization options?

  • Are there compliance tracking options?

  • Does it have data import and export options?

  • Are terminology definitions provided?

  • Is there organized training on how to align functionality across departments?

Managing your lubrication task documentation is not always easy, but neither is dealing with an undocumented or poorly managed lubrication program.

If your plant has just been getting by for some time without any control of how tasks are performed or documented, consider the opportunities available when upgrading your lubrication program.

Coupling these improvements with other lubrication excellence initiatives is a great way to modernize and gain huge returns on your investment.

While many challenges will emerge during this process, such as changing the culture, purchasing and installing machine modification hardware, and obtaining comprehensive lubrication training, with the right action plan, these hurdles can be overcome in a short period of time. The new business as usual will then become business with the right lubrication practices.

Ensuring Long-term Success of Your Lubrication Program

If you are considering revamping your lubrication program, there are at least two reasons why procedure documentation is vital to support the long-term success of the program.

As an improved program is implemented, many of the proactive measures will result in reduced machine failures and higher overall uptime.

After years of the program maturing, there likely will be changes in maintenance personnel, a shift in focus with reliability initiatives and even changes in management. All of this may lead to those involved losing sight of why certain daily lubrication tasks are necessary.

If few machines are experiencing lubrication-related failures, a perception may even arise that these tasks are irrelevant.

However, if the activities are well-documented and the key metrics were tracked during and after the program’s implementation, there would be evidence to show how these “irrelevant” activities are directly responsible for the reduced lubrication-related failures.

Also, if there have been changes in the personnel responsible for lubrication activities, it will be important to continue these activities with a seamless transition.

Without documentation and properly scheduled assignments, a core part of the program will walk out the door with those who leave.

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About the Author

Bennett Fitch is the director of product development and lubrication program development (LPD) services for Noria Corporation. He is a mechanical engineer who holds a Machine Lubricant Analyst (...