The Roadmap to Lubrication Sustainability

Bennett Fitch, Noria Corporation; Daniel Rader, Noria Corporation

Do you remember the last time you planned for a long trip? You likely used a mapping program or a road atlas. You may have chosen to take the backroads or decided that driving such a long distance wasn’t for you and paid an airline to do most of the travel work for you.

Regardless, when planning a long trip, you always start by considering your current location and then where you want to go. Without a feel for the journey, it’s impossible to make good decisions about the trip. The same is true when it comes to improving your lubrication program. Without first assessing where you are and understanding where you are headed, you cannot decide how best to proceed.

Machine longevity is largely driven by the state of the lubricants used and thus the state of your lubrication program. What is the state of your lubrication program? How sustainable is it? Anyone can add grease to a bearing to keep it running for a little while longer, but what can be done to provide sustainability to your lubrication practices?

Examples of contamination control leading
indicators when correlating both the
measurable cause and effect

Set Your Starting Point

What is your current location? Assess the current state of your lubrication program, either with an internal audit or an outside group. Where does your program stand in comparison to lubrication excellence standards? How does it compare to others in your industry, not just with how lubricants are selected but in every way that lubrication can impact uptime and overall equipment effectiveness?

This type of assessment can be performed in many ways. Normally, an objective, standardized assessment is preferred with comparisons to lubrication trends and industry best practices. These trends and practices are always evolving, so the recommendations from yesteryear may not be valid today.

For a thorough evaluation, consider how lubrication is handled throughout the lubricant’s life cycle. This would include lubricant selection, storage, handling, contamination control, lubricant analysis and disposal. These six elements, which are part of the assessment in Noria’s Lubrication Program Development process, are outlined below:

Lubricant Selection

What are the guidelines for the lubricants being selected? Who makes the final call on these decisions? Are they trained in lubricant selection best practices? Along with cost, are the operational, environmental and equipment factors considered in this decision? Are plant-wide optimizations, such as lubricant consolidation, taken into account?

Lubricant Storage

What are the guidelines for lubricant storage practices? Do you have a designated lube room to help ensure lubricant quality is maintained? Who is responsible for these practices? Are they trained in lubricant storage best practices? A proper lubrication room is not sustainable by itself.

There must be policies and accountability for the practices in these storage areas. A good lube room is not cheap. The return on investment will be based primarily on the care given to the lubricated equipment over time.

Lubricant Handling

What are the guidelines for transporting lubricants to machines? Since these activities often are handled by a variety of personnel, training should be a basic requirement with routine refresher courses on the best practices. The machinery’s sustainable reliability will be contingent on the quality of the lubricant.

Machine failure is expedited when the wrong or degraded lubricant is applied, if a combination of two types of oils or greases is used, or even if lubricant is not added due to a lack of awareness. Inspections or other condition monitoring methods will be critical in this process.

Contamination Control

What are the standards for controlling contaminant ingression and removing contamination from the oil in your equipment? Not all machines require the same practices and configurations, which will depend on factors such as criticality, contaminant likelihood, component sensitivity and cost. Who is responsible for these decisions and are they properly trained?

Lubricant Analysis

Are you taking oil samples and sending them out for analysis? Who is collecting these samples? Who is reviewing the results? Are they trained in the correct methods for sampling and interpreting data?

Many oil analysis programs are ineffective because of the misunderstanding for what it takes to gather representative information about your oil and machinery. At the very least, you should know how to perform oil analysis at no cost with detailed inspections directly at the machine.

Lubricant Disposal and the Environment

Do you have regulations outlining how to dispose of lubricants? What are the risks associated with lubricant spills and leaks in your environmental surroundings? Are there precautions to mitigate these risks? Who is responsible for these activities and have they received proper training?

Once you know your starting point, you can gauge how far you want to go and how long it might take. Obstacles will be encountered every step of the way. These may be major, minor, expected or unexpected. Working with people and resetting their daily patterns aren’t easy.

Overcoming this sense of complacency will help you gain the momentum to keep the program sustainable over the long haul. Critical needs with production will always pop up, but even unexpected shutdowns can be an opportunity to achieve lubrication excellence by completing a short list of work items while the equipment is down. Knowing these methods and being ready is all part of the journey to lubrication sustainability.

Set Your Destination

Where do you want to go? Unlike the starting point, your destination may be more of a moving target. It is best to have an idea of your lubrication program goals and begin moving in that direction. To support sustainability of these goals, be sure they are attainable and measurable.

Attainable requires having a plan to achieve your goals with the necessary tools, training and time. Measurable means each goal is quantifiable, both in the actions performed and the benefits received.

Without both parts of these key metrics, the connection between what created the benefit and which effects resulted from the cause is often misunderstood. This might be the most important prerequisite for lubrication sustainability.

Leading Indicators

Leading indicators help anticipate the onset of potential failure modes and alert you when action should be taken to prevent damage. Most of these indicators seem rather mundane, and few work like an alarm.

They are comparable to a low fuel light, indicating a failure mode may soon occur if the condition is not rectified. Above are examples of contamination control leading indicators when correlating both the measurable cause and effect.

Lagging Indicators

Lagging indicators monitor events that are the result of a wear mode already in progress. Through early detection, these indicators can help prevent catastrophic failures, even though the failure mode has already begun.

They can be compared to a check engine light when driving on the road. Using indicators like these can aid in scheduling maintenance for a corrective action to avoid longer downtime periods. Above are examples of contamination control lagging indicators when correlating both the measurable cause and effect.

Getting Started

Knowing how far the journey is can be scary and overwhelming. Often, it’s better to make headway and get some quick wins before you lay out the entire plan for your lubrication program.

With most programs, there will be many opportunities for these quick wins or action items that are easy to accomplish immediately with little or no approval required. Acting on these types of work items can also provide early evidence and justification for a potentially larger investment later.


Start your route guidance with team training. Good training always offers a sustainable return on investment. Whether it’s in-house training by an outside vendor, online training, public training courses or simply sharing articles and videos on lubrication best practices, proper instruction can help start the conversation about what is currently being done, right or wrong.

Some facilities require formal training for everyone involved in lubrication. Training multiple people together can have a powerful effect and is a must for major initiatives.

Lube Room

Make your lube room a positive example for the entire lubrication program. This room is the heart of your program. Take measures to ensure the right things are being done, such as implementing 5-S practices. This not only will enhance the room’s functionality but also make people proud of their work. Best of all, many improvements in a lube room can be done for little or no cost.


Employ effective lubricant labeling. Cross-contamination is a real problem. It frequently occurs when the wrong lubricant is used for regreasing or oil top-ups, resulting in a mixture of lubricants.

This type of human error often goes unnoticed and unassociated with the root cause of an eventual failure down the road. The savings from preventing just one failure due to cross-contamination might very well justify the investments for larger initiatives.

Oil Filtration

Filter or dehydrate your lubricants instead of changing them out or consider reconditioning discarded oil. The default corrective action for machines with dirty lubricants is usually to change the oil.

Depending on the oil’s condition, there may just be contaminants that can be removed without significantly affecting the oil’s chemistry. When done correctly, decontaminating your oil can be a real cost-saving measure.

Avoid Overlubrication

Perform calculations or use smart tools to avoid overgreasing and undergreasing. Many bearings are very sensitive to the amount of grease lubrication. When unchecked, improper grease volumes can lead to premature bearing failures and downtime. A simple calculation or using ultrasonic greasing devices can help you determine the proper grease amount.


Specify who will perform the lubrication tasks and what actually will be done to the machines. Will it be the operator or janitor? Is there a different person for each shift? Stipulating who should complete these tasks can help answer several important questions.

For example, what lubricant is currently in the machine? When was it last changed or lubricated? Can these questions even be answered? Much of a lubrication initiative relies on first understanding what is currently occurring. Sometimes it’s easier and more sustainable to get these answers by identifying which lubricants are entering and exiting your lube room and by whom.

Track Lubricant Consumption

Analyze where your lubricant is going. If you can pinpoint which machine is consuming the most lubricant on a regular basis, you may be able to discover a bad-actor machine or poor practice being performed. If a specific machine is being topped off more than it should, where is that missing lubricant going?

Is there an undocumented leak or is unnecessary lubricant being added? Sustainable lubrication depends on tracking simple things like lubricant consumption. This is the pulse of a lubrication program. Is yours beating abnormally?

Lubricant Consolidation

Find obvious and easy consolidation opportunities. Create a list of all lubricants being used in the plant along with how much and where they are employed. Once this list is compiled, work with your lubricant supplier to identify where there are similar or identical types of lubricants.

Consolidating down to a smaller number of lubricants not only can provide cost savings when purchasing lubricants but can also help prevent cross-contamination later.

Examples of contamination control lagging indicators
when correlating both the measurable cause and effect

Unexpected Detours and Staying on Track

Incorporate changes into your lubrication program cautiously but confidently. Once the path from where you are now to where you want to be is mapped out, consider what might change along the way. Let’s say you have a list of 10 things you want to accomplish over the next few years to improve lubricant selection, condition monitoring, analysis techniques, etc. Each of these goals may have different challenges, such as high costs, personnel buy-in or implementation difficulties.

For example, an obstacle that could arise during lubricant consolidation is the unwillingness by some to change the lubricant in certain equipment even if the proposed lubricant is equivalent. This is understandable since there’s an element of risk when changing something and breaking the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality.

One way to overcome this mentality is to leverage the success of other plants using the proposed lubricant on the same or similar equipment. You should also offer lubrication training for those uneasy about the change. Of course, it will be more difficult to create alignment on best practices when those involved have a different knowledge base and experience level.

Creating sustainable lubrication practices takes time. Initiatives to improve a lube program should not be tackled all at once. When pushback occurs, it sometimes is a good idea to wait on a certain project and focus instead on another change that might be better received by the team members involved. Be sure to have alternatives when one route doesn’t work. No significant journey is completed without its fair share of route recalculations.

The Sustainable Journey

As the saying goes, life is about the journey, not the destination. A journey is a collection of experiences filled with obstacles and course corrections that continually challenge you to live life better.

A journey is also where you experience satisfaction and a sense of success. Attaining success and sustainability with your lubrication program is about learning how to make those course corrections and knowing when the status quo is ready for an upgrade. You create sustainability with your lubrication program when you can include the expectation of change as part of that status quo.

The methods you used to achieve success in the past may not be the same ones needed in the years to come. There must be a continuous thirst for new perspectives and new answers, even if it requires a detour or brief pitstop. However, always be sure to get back on course and be moving in the right direction. Finally, remember what it took to get there. Tracking your progress will be the fuel and motivation to keep things going.

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About the Author

Bennett Fitch is the Chief Strategy Officer at Noria Corporation and part of the services team as a senior technical consultant. He is a mechanical engineer who holds a Machine Lubricant Analyst...

About the Author