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Almost all sites understand that there is a need for sustainability and advancement within their lubrication program. They often struggle with the questions of how, when and where their programs can be improved. Upon taking over a site lubrication initiative, recognizing how to build the program can sometimes seem like an M.C. Escher “Relativity” print - one can be pulled in so many different directions, and the overlap between specific subject matter can be somewhat confusing.
While teaching my first few lubrication classes - which included aspects of program development - I would often have trainees question the need for the extensive level of detail in each section and commonly heard, “we will never exercise those practices at our plant because ... .” While some of these topics go into great detail, the premise is to ensure that the trainee understands what best practice looks like.
After a couple of these comments, it became apparent that bridging the gap between what world-class standards look like and the reality of trainees’ work sites was imperative. There might not be a direct jump, and the final implementation goal might not necessarily be world-class for all tasks at each site. Prior to getting into the weeds in day-one training sections, I spend at least a few minutes going over what I generally call the lubrication development staircase - discussing how this relates to the upcoming classroom training material as well as lubrication program development aspects at their sites.
This staircase exercise is a simple illustration that I request the class use as guidance over the upcoming three or four days during the training session as we shift from one topic to another. I simply draw a staircase between 2-10 steps high and note the bottom step as the worst-case practice. Next, I begin to add notable upgrades on each proceeding step until I reach the final improvement option, which is the world-class step. We then identify which step the site is currently at based on the specific, noted lubrication topic and determine how much money, time and effort the site has to reach any additional steps towards world-class practices.
As there are capital and labor constraints, it is routinely improbable to plan for all topics to become world-class. Some topics may stay on the same step or only move up one or two steps, but to advance properly across the program, we need to know each step and what perfection within each specific topic looks like. Finally, it is worth noting that during implementation, these steps can be carried out progressively or in one swift action, depending on logic, cost and the specific need or desire of the site. This activity can be carried out across all lubrication topics and then finally reviewed together to see if any amendments are necessary.
After these actions are illustrated over a number of topics throughout the class, the trainees will begin to have a better understanding of each section we cover, where their sites are in the grand staircase scheme of things, what world-class practices look like and how their sites should advance accordingly. I urge trainees to continue this staircase exercise as they return to their sites and to identify the how, when and where of the current and future state of their lubrication programs.
Now that this staircase practice has been reviewed, let’s take a look into a couple of examples within the Ascend Chart’s Lubricant Handling and Application Devices - H3P section to determine exactly what this looks like with regard to grease gun development, oil transfer, and bulk oil filtration.
Reviewing and understanding the advancement of grease gun development at a site is a great example to begin with, as there are noticeable specific changes from one stage, or stair-step, to the next. As we begin to break this topic down, we can see there are about five specific steps to look at:
Generally, the worst-case situation involved in grease gun ownership at a site is observing the use of a homogenous mixture of different varieties of grease guns with no rhyme or reason for how they arrived at this state. Often, the first step in development will be the standardization of grease guns; this is commonly executed by minimizing grease gun types down to a single brand/type of pistol or lever gun and a single brand/model of pneumatic or battery-style grease gun. This step provides visual change management for the site, sets the tone for advancement and aids in the progression of normalizing the “shot” amount of grease per application.
Following standardization, the dedication of grease guns often takes place. This step allows the site to stipulate certain grease guns for each type of lubricant used onsite, minimizing the concern for cross-contamination and providing further visual detail. Coding - the development of a color, shape and code for each dedicated grease gun type - follows the dedication step procedure very closely but provides even further advancement with regards to management. This step is imperative if sites have several team members from one or more departments involved in re-lubrication tasks.
The final step is the calibration of the grease guns themselves. I use this term broadly as there are several options at this juncture. The use of ultrasound-aided implementation, grease volume meters or the actual calibration of grease guns using a weighted average can all suffice. Over the years of traveling from site to site, I have noted all levels of grease gun development, and it is worth stating that this is a basic practice that most lubrication program owners should consider fully implementing, especially if it is a larger site with multiple team members.
Another great example of this practice can be completed in the advancement of oil transfer. Just as we covered grease replenishment through the use of a grease gun, oil replenishment - while often automated - is also carried out through manual practice. Developmental steps for oil transfer often look like the following:
It is very common to see plastic funnels in use at sites within the lubrication program. While containing spills is paramount regarding costs and environmental implications, there are better options available if the program is open to positive change. Often times I find plastic funnels randomly stored on the top of cabinets or, even worse, directly below “bad actor” components that are prone to leaks or top-offs. While logistically leaving these funnels nearby makes topping up components easier for the lubrication technician or operator, this is poor practice due to the level of contaminants adhering to the funnel while not in use.
The first simple step to improve this action is introducing the use of plastic bags to store the funnels and dedicating the funnels to specific oil types. These actions minimize the concern for debris accumulation and, through dedication, minimize the potential for cross-contamination of other lubricants. The next step while inhibiting an increase in consumables is the consideration of paper one-time use funnels. Paper funnels have improved greatly over the years and provide a means to address the repetitive use of plastic funnels onsite for different oil transfer applications and lubricants.
With any sound, lean improvement development, the goal is always to minimize and simplify steps. With this being the case, if dedicated sealable top-up containers have correctly sized spouts for most applications, the obligation of a funnel is no longer a necessity. Several sites have begun to implement these sealable containers, but we must note it is imperative that when purchasing, an audit of fill port sizes needs to be completed to properly identify and minimize the use of funnels in the future.
The final step to consider during oil transfer is the addition of quick disconnects to the sealable containers and mating components in the field. The implementation of this practice essentially eliminates any potential for foreign contaminants to gain access to the system.
One final but important example that will be discussed within the Lubricant Handling and Application Devices - H3P arena for staircase development is the deployment of mobile filter carts. Portable filtration units are a lubrication swiss army knife of sorts. They provide the ability to transfer lubricant, act as flushing and draining devices and provide online and offline filtration - depending on the system designs across an array of equipment in the plant. These carts are becoming more of a standard at sites daily, but prior to acquiring these units, it is important to understand the site’s current lubricants (i.e., a lubricant list), the total charge volume of the lubricants, the usage by asset or component and what budget is available to better outline a game plan for portable filtration. Below is an example of step-by-step advancements:
As one would expect, the bottom step, or worst-case option, regarding mobile filter cart development would be the absence of filter carts onsite. While some sites may not merit the use of filter carts (i.e., all site sumps or reservoirs less than a few gallons), smaller mobile handheld filter options are another avenue to consider. Beyond this advancement, it is often seen where sites utilize one filter cart for all portable filtration across the site. While there is improvement with this step, it is highly recommended to flush the line between uses of the same lubricant and filters between types/families. This step is commonly overlooked and, as such, can create the potential for cross-contamination.
Transitioning forward, the next advancement to consider is often the most practical, and that is dedicating filter carts for each site based on the lubricant type and family. An example of this practice is dedicating all family gear oils to one cart, all family turbine oils to another, and so on. While this process reduces the concern for noteworthy cross-contamination of other lubricants, some unease is still present within the families since cross-contamination within families can still impair viscosity.
The last significant step to mention is the dedication of filter carts to each lubricant type merited based on use, volume and criticality. Although the upfront cost of acquiring these carts may provide a hit against capital, there can be significant returns on investment. Other prominent areas of improvement within mobile filter carts are tagging and labeling - allowing for stronger visual change management - and the advancement of filtration options between micron rating, beta ratios and filter types.
It is universally understood that most sites genuinely have the desire to improve their lubrication programs. While this task can be somewhat daunting, identifying and understanding the developmental steps of each lubrication-related task will greatly aid in how much time, money and effort should be provided to each one. The practice of walking through these simple steps in each of your lubrication areas may seem pedantic, but doing the little things right systematically aids in addressing overlooked or underemphasized aspects of a site’s program. Hopefully, a review of a few examples inside the Ascend Chart’s Lubricant Handling and Application Devices - H3P section on exactly what this practice looks like regarding grease gun development, oil transfer and bulk oil filtration will encourage and support you in all of your future machinery lubrication endeavors.