Make Touchstones of Lubrication Excellence Shine

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

Almost subconsciously, our senses gather information on our surroundings. They recognize subtleties, discern unique features and examine characteristic details. This could be a glass of Spanish red, a seat on a flight to London or a test drive of a Tesla Roadster. Using our senses, we register facts and find nuances that collectively help us arrive at opinions and conclusions on quality, functionality, attractiveness, comfort and value. Perception is reality.

Computers with deep-learning algorithms fed by innumerable sensors are used to collect and process data. Notwithstanding, they are no match for our senses and our brain. Artificial intelligence is better at augmenting our intelligence but not replacing the cognitive ability of our brain flanked by human senses. If you think I’m wrong, try having a conversation about your favorite sports team with Alexa or Siri. Or ask a simple question like, “Can a fish be taught to ride a bicycle?”

This high level of human perceptiveness is applied to our work environment and maintenance culture. Let me give you an example. In criminology, there is a concept known as the broken windows theory. It states that “visible signs of crime, anti-social behavior and civil disorder, such as broken windows in abandoned buildings create an urban environment that fosters further crime and disorder, including serious crimes.” In other words, the perception of a neighborhood in decay bolsters criminal behavior.

Another example: let’s take the workshop that’s attached to my garage at our family home. It’s a microcosm of the broken windows theory. If I keep my workshop tidy and everything organized, other family members who use it will do the same. However, the moment I leave behind a mess from a recent project, these same people will soon add to the mess. They will certainly not clean up my mess, nor will they clean up after themselves. Tools and scrap will be scattered about.

Of course, what I’m referring to is innate to our human psyche. You don’t have to be an industrial psychologist to grasp the veracity of my message. Perhaps you have plenty of your own examples to corroborate. But here’s the deal: in a plant environment, the touchstones of excellence go far beyond a clean and orderly state. Tidiness is important, but it is not enough. It is preposterous to think that anything close to excellence in maintenance, reliability and lubrication is achievable where conspicuous or even subtle symbols of “broken windows” exist. This subject is so important that I thought it worthy of my column today.

Broken Windows in the Context of Reliability

Broken windows” is the precursor to a broken culture that leads to waste and neglect. A broken culture is the precursor to broken machines and exacts its toll on an organization - financially and culturally. It’s the cycle of repair and despair. It’s been said that “reliability is 80% culture and 20% everything else.”

Many maintenance organizations attempt to fix the problem by making superficial changes. They might come up with a slogan, pass out t-shirts, invest in a sexy instrument or send somebody to a conference. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. These aren’t real fixes by themselves. They are token or imaginary fixes, and they spawn distrust.

Real fixes require critical mass. You have to cross the chasm, fully and completely; no pretending, no lipstick. Folks, you can’t put a Band-Aid on cancer.

Maintenance teams are wise to the difference. They will make you pay. So, what are the symbols of broken windows in the context of maintenance, reliability and lubrication? The first thing that comes to mind is pretending to save money by buying cheap or simply not investing. I don’t mean going wildly overboard. It’s always about optimizing, not maximizing.

Look around you; what do you see? How do your machines appear? Are they ready for the antique roadshow? Are they cobbled together with baling wire and duct tape? Next, look at your lube room, tools, transfer containers, instruments and accessories. Are they dated, broken and collecting dust? How about the lubricants? Are they tidy, tightly sealed and fresh, or have you applied the FISH principle (First In, Still Here)?

Are planning and scheduling proactive or reactive? Nothing breeds a dysfunctional culture more than Whack-A-Mole maintenance. Does your team still utilize paper-and-pencil methods, or are modern dynamic routing apps on mobile devices in use for inspection and PMs? The list goes on.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The images that follow are examples of touchstones that drive excellence. They are an ensemble of things done right. Good choices induce good outcomes. There is not just a single “right way,” so consider your options too. But remember, optimizing rarely involves doing nothing at all. Make real, lasting change, but keep improving. Be a Kaizen-driven organization and take action.

Finally, if you have ideas you want to share, please forward them to me at jfitch@noria.com.

Symbols of program decay (broken windows) promote a dysfunctional culture.
This leads to breakdown maintenance and more decay.

In lubrication, excellence can be clearly defined. It shouldn’t be ambiguous. Contact the ICML for their recently published ICML 55.1 standard. Aligned to this is Noria’s Ascend™ Chart, which tracks the progress from the current state of lubrication to the optimum reference state (excellence).

An Image of Lubrication Excellence

  1. Ultrasound to optimize the timing and application of grease
  2. Cloud-based auto-schedule dynamic lubrication and inspection routing tools
  3. Modern lubricant storage and handling products and practices Universally applied lubricant identification tags
  4. Dynamic metrics on work and reliability management
  5. Training for all professionals and trades on lubrication and oil analysis
  6. ICML certification of competency, oil analysis, lubrication practices, lubrication engineering
  7. Machines readied for Inspection 2.0
  8. Machines readied for live-zone oil sampling, modern onsite and laboratory oil analysis
  9. Machines readied for optimum lubricant selection and contamination control hardware
  10. Where applicable, online sensors for real-time condition monitoring


Click image to enlarge.

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About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advise...