Lubrication Standards Manual — The Need for Documentation

Wes Cash

Lubrication Standards Manual — The Need for Documentation


Everyone remembers their first car. The feeling of freedom coupled with a light tinge of fear going down the road is an experience that is hard to forget. Equally hard to forget is when that first car requires maintenance or repairs. In my case, the car was a 1983 Jeep Wagoneer, and there was no shortage of repairs that had to be made.

One day my dad brought me a Chilton’s manual for that particular vehicle. It was filled with how-to’s, diagrams and troubleshooting guides. It made the jobs significantly easier to perform but also provided much-needed specifications on items such as torque, tolerances and other specs to make the vehicle operate better and more reliably. Chilton has shifted primarily to an online platform now, but I still have that physical manual.

The idea of having a manual serve to enhance understanding and performance is not a new concept, but it’s one that isn’t employed as much in the industrial space as it should be — especially as it relates to lubrication. Most facilities may have operating manuals for a piece of equipment that have some instructions related to lubrication, but many do not go into the level of detail required to ensure the reliable operation of the equipment. Nor do many facilities have a set of standards that relate to the lubrication activities required to sustain the program. This is why having a lubrication standards manual is a key component of a lubrication program.

A standards manual should be a living document that outlines each aspect of the lubrication program and then provides guidance for how activities should be performed. The idea is that it will serve as a repository of information that can be called upon when needed and as a way to keep the program in a consistent state. With employee turnover or changing priorities, the standards manual becomes a time capsule of how work should be done and managed and even who does the work.

While this is a good practice to get into for a single facility, it is often beneficial to establish a corporate-wide standards manual that will help provide consistency across a fleet of facilities. This also provides a conduit to mine the plants to find which programs are more established and record those practices to share with everyone else. It’s incredible how often you see two plants owned by the same company with a huge difference in their lubrication programs. When done correctly, a corporate standards manual will bring the stakeholders from the different plants together to create a document that will be shared with their peers to elevate everyone’s program.

Documentation is a requirement for most ISO-certified companies. For instance, ISO 9000 and ISO 55000 both have documentation requirements that you can compare your activities against. Lubrication should not be any different. The standards manual can serve as an internal audit tool used to create consistency in activities. On a set periodicity, current practices can be compared to the written manual, gaps can be identified, and corrective actions can be taken to remediate any issues. The inverse is also true: if what is being done in the field is a better practice than what is documented, the standards manual should be updated to reflect it. This keeps the manual current, making it a truly living document.

The first worldwide lubrication-centric standard for lubrication programs, a document called ICML 55, was written by over forty subject matter experts in lubrication and reliability and launched by the ICML. Within its text, it calls for documented standards. It states, “The organization shall create, execute and maintain a lubrication manual that clearly specifies the aspects associated with the execution, management and continual improvement of the organization’s lubrication policy, strategy objectives, and plans.”

While documentation alone won’t improve field practices, it does start the process of improvement. Some view the standards manual development as an exercise to puts the goal of how the lubrication program will run on paper. With this mentality, some ask, “What should be found in a standards manual?” It’s a good question, and in order to build a thorough manual, you will want to think of the lubrication program wholistically. Below are several key areas to document.

  • Lubricant Selection — Selecting the proper lubricant is key to machine health. Doing this properly requires balancing the needs of the equipment, the number of lubricants onsite, the price of the lubricant and the supplier’s ability to provide the lubricant in a timely manner. A mechanism for selecting, consolidating and reviewing your supplier should be included.
  • Lubricant Reception and Storage — Incoming lubricants may be contaminated or compromised, which makes them unfit for use. As they are stored, they can deteriorate and become even more contaminated. Documenting aspects such as testing incoming lubricants, lube room requirements and inventory management are key for this stage.
  • Lubricant Handling and Application — Getting the lubricants to the machines and applying them in the correct manner is where many programs fall short. This area represents the biggest area of improvement for most companies. Key things to document here are tools and devices used to apply and transfer lubricants, how tasks are performed, how they are managed and recorded, and how the machines are set up to receive lubricants in the best way possible.
  • Contamination Control and Lubricant Reconditioning — Most machines fail due to some contamination-related mechanism. The same is true for lubricants. We must ensure that we are outfitting the machines and people with the best tools and accessories to combat this. This section will be all about filtration, contaminant exclusion and setting tangible contamination level goals/alarms.
  • Condition Monitoring, Lubricant Analysis and Troubleshooting — There are many different predictive methods available, and they all must be harmonized to get the maximum benefit. In this section, you should document sampling activities, lab selection, methodology for integrating all predictive tools and inspections, RCA strategies, and alarms and limits for each test.
  • Energy Conservation, Health and the Environment — An important area that continues to get more scrutiny, especially as it pertains to lubricants. We have to be able to do our work in a safe manner that doesn’t impact the environment, all while lowering the carbon footprint of the facility. All of these aspects should be documented, such as lubricant disposal, lubricants to be used for energy conservation, safety guidelines for all tasks, and active management of leaks.
  • Staffing and Task Accomplishment — In many facilities, lubrication is a shared task between many departments. This can lead to a lack of accountability and tasks not getting accomplished. It should be written out who is responsible for each type of lubrication task, how the task is to be performed, and the system that is involved in the management of the program.
  • Stakeholder Training — Lubrication is often regarded as a menial task, and formalized training in that area doesn’t happen to the level it should. Too often, it is simply an apprentice-style training where bad habits are passed down. Training should be targeted to the job being performed, and expected trainings and certifications per job title should be developed and documented.
  • Program Metrics — Failing to track anything within the program leads to ambiguity about what is happening and makes it hard to know where to improve. For each of the key areas of the lubrication program, a set of key performance indicators (metrics) should be decided on, and the mechanisms to track them established.
  • Optimum Reference State — Throughout the entire document, we don’t have to treat each piece of equipment or each task the same way. Activities, tasks and tools should be selected based on impact and cost. A common way to do this is based on machine criticality and manpower requirements.

By taking the time to develop the standards, you can establish a baseline of expectations for all members of the lubrication team. Without having a plan or anything on paper, the status quo prevails, and a continual cycle of reverting back to bad habits wins out. It’s not enough to just write the document, put it into action and get your team’s involvement in its development. This is one way to start a grassroots improvement initiative in your plant.


References: ICML 55.1 page 50

Subscribe to Machinery Lubrication

About the Author

Wes Cash is the director of technical services for Noria Corporation. He serves as a senior technical consultant for Lubrication Program Development projects and as a senior instructor for ...