3 Red Flags in Lubricant Supplier Agreements

Jeremie Edwards, Noria Corporation

Lubricant suppliers play an important role in asset management. A good supplier will ensure that your needs are met, and the right products are delivered consistently and on time. But like most businesses, a lubrication supplier’s top priority is their bottom line. That’s not to say that suppliers are trying to rip you off, but sometimes they may be selling you things you don’t actually need. Here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with your lube supplier to ensure you’re getting the products you need at a fair price.

1. Pressure for a “handshake” deal or lack of detail in an agreement

If agreements are not made with explicit and written documentation, there might be concerns about the validity of claims or promises made. Every detail of the lubricants provided should be clearly defined. Lubricant suppliers often offer training as well - this can be good, as long as the training isn’t biased. The best arrangements for supplier agreements provide clear technical details, and if training is provided, it’s better if it is created by an unbiased third party.

2. Focus on price

If the language of the agreement is focused on price comparisons and discounts, or if you’re pressured to buy in bulk, there might be a conflict of interest. The primary goal of the lubricant is to ensure that we can maintain the integrity of our equipment and meet or exceed our reliability goals. Don’t get me wrong, cost savings are a part of this decision, but if I spend 25% more on lubricants that last 50-75% longer, that higher initial cost may actually translate into a cost savings for the year. A good lubricant supplier will focus on getting you the right lubricants and then focus on price.

3. Technical expertise lacks clarity

Many lubricant technical specifications are a blend of hard data (viscosity, additives, base oil type, operating temperature range, etc.) along with some marketing language that describes the unique nature of the lubricant formulation and common applications. The lubricant supplier agreement should provide some further data validating expectations on lubricant properties, quality and delivery:

  • Cleanliness and dryness
  • Delivery times
  • Expediting fees
  • Ongoing technical support (industry specialization, etc.)
  • Software for managing lubricant supplies and reordering

If these details are absent, or if the language of the agreement is vague, don’t be afraid to ask questions and get clarifications. A good lube supplier is knowledgeable and has nothing to hide - they will happily provide you with all the details you desire.

Do your best to determine the methodology the supplier may use to recommend lubricants. Do they use a standardized approach to identify the right lubricant for the application? Do they focus on the application requirements, or do they simply match the properties of the lubricant currently in use? Are synthetics versus mineral oils selected based on the ORS? Are considerations like ambient conditions, risk of moisture/other contaminants, viscosity index, etc., part of their calculations? Have they had a conversation with you about the reliability goals and criticality of all your equipment? All of these factors play a role in our reliability and should be addressed.

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