Lubrication Excellence and Contamination Control Demands a Clean and Tidy Workshop

Dr. Debasish Mukherjee


In various industry sectors, individuals draw upon their collective work experiences to shape work processes and procedures. Over time, some practices become obsolete, while others become ingrained and recognized as industry best practices worldwide.
This article aims to enlighten readers about specific lubrication best practices that offer tangible benefits, such as reduced maintenance costs, increased machine uptime, minimized impact of failures, and enhanced overall reliability. While numerous such practices exist, our focus will center on the construction and mining sector. However, it's essential to note that these practices are easily adaptable to other sectors, including steel, cement, power plants, and paper mills.


Let us first assume that following facilities exist at your plant or mill. Our discussion will gradually proceed based on the utilization of these facilities:
  1. Wash and sanitization station
  2. Assembly area
  3. Disassembly area
  4. Testing area
  5. Parts storage
These facilities are applicable for major components like engine, hydraulics, transmission, gearbox, etc. The importance of safety, housekeeping, and training cannot be ruled out.

A. Housekeeping

Good housekeeping is essential for any facility across the globe. It can function as a showroom of sorts for customers. The initial impression the customer gets should ideally generate positive feedback. 
Good housekeeping increases the efficiency of the plant. The “wow” expression from the customer could be the difference between landing a contract or being lumped in among “the rest”.
Housekeeping is a daily activity. There must be a dedicated housekeeping team, disciplined and taking the right precautions to keep the facility clean and contamination-free. Accumulation of dust on floor, work benches, racks and shelves, visual cobwebs are indications of poor housekeeping and can impact the overall functioning of the plant. 

Training Program

Training and education are essential part for the success and growth of any organization. Trained employees feel empowered and if the situation calls for it, can be prepared to take quick, simple action without waiting for their boss’s approval. 
Training must be imparted from the bottom to the top of the company, with different training modules for each level. This is a program that consists of formal classroom training along with on-the-job training. 
It must be structured, systematic, consistent, and on-going. Each training session must be documented — from the names of trainers, trainees, date and time of training, and the topics covered during the session.

B. Shop activities

1. Work Bench 

a. Top of the bench must have a thick durable plastic coating in order to prevent direct metal-to-metal contact. This is especially true for sensitive parts.
b. Daily cleaning habits must be adopted.

2. Air Supply Lines from Shop Air Compressor 

a. Filter, regulator, and lubricator (FRL) must be fitted at each point of use to ensure consistently clean, dry air. Lubricator must be used to clean pneumatic tools. 
b. Airborne contaminants are found to be in the range of 1-10 micron size. Air filters must be in the same micron range.
c. There must be a maintenance process that includes:
  • Daily water draining
  • Daily pressure check
  • Frequent air filter replacement 
  • Maintenance tag at the point of use
  • Documentation in hard- or soft-copy format
A clean work area and air compressor are demonstrated here:

3. Parts and Critical Components Ready for Assembly

a. Every single part, component (small and large) must be stored off the floor.
b. Strong, durable plastic pallets may be used while keeping in mind safety and security.
c. Pallets must be free of dust/dirt.
d. Components must be properly covered with shrink wrap to prevent settling of dust.
e. Dedicated stands must be locally fabricated to keep large components like engines, crankshafts, camshafts, etc.
f. All open ports must be adequately protected using proper size caps and plugs prior to assembly.

4. Workshop Floor and Walkway

a. Shop floor may be sealed. This will prevent oil from sticking to the floor or from seeping down into the soil.
b. If degradation of the floor is noticed, these must be repaired quickly to prevent the debris from contaminating other parts and components inside the shop.
c. There must be yellow lines bordering the shop or plant that restrict outsiders from being able to walk through. 
d. In some parts of the world where sawdust is used to cover oil spillage, the use of oil-absorbent pads and lint-free clothes are strongly recommended instead. 

5. Component Wash Area

a. Any used oil must be drained completely in a waste oil container for disposal.
b. Washing machine with automatic soap solution, high pressure, and hot water — these conditions will ensure proper cleaning of dirt, mud, and other debris.
c. Again, good housekeeping of the entire wash area is strongly recommended.

6. Parts Storage Area

a. Oil filters must be properly protected with their original packaging and opened only prior to use. If left unprotected, filter pores will be contaminated with dirt and dust.
b. Filters must be repackaged if the original packaging is damaged.
c. All hoses and tubes in contact with fluid must be protected with proper size caps and plugs.
d. A sufficient quantity of caps and plugs must be in stock.
e. Hose-cleaning gun, projectiles, and accessories may be procured for adequate cleaning of the same when found unprotected.
f. O-rings and seals must be stored in ziplock bags in closed cabinets. These bags must not be stapled to prevent dust ingression through pin holes.
g. Again, an aggressive housekeeping program in this area must be in place.
These images below illustrate how parts and fluid-carrying hoses can be stored with protection and how workplace cleanliness is maintained:

7. Fluid Storage, Handling, and Dispensing

a. Oil barrels (208-liter capacity) may be stored vertically or horizontally. If stored vertically under the sky, then barrel covers must be used. Top of the barrels must be cleaned daily to prevent accumulation of dust and water. When stored in horizontal position, we must make sure that the bungs are in the 3 o’ clock and 9 o’ clock position.
b. When the barrels (oil and fuel) are half filled, one of the bungs must be equipped with a small desiccant breather.
c .For larger storage reservoirs, both inlet and dispensing line must be equipped with proper sized oil filters and desiccant breathers to maintain cleanliness of the fluids.
d. The drain valve must be positioned at the lowest point of the tank.
e. Consistency, documentations, maintenance tags are obvious part of this activity.
f. Reservoir cleaning frequency must be established to avoid contamination from bottom sediments.
g. Smaller volume may be dispensed through a sealable & reusable (S&R) plastic container.
h. New oil transfer to machine sump from the storage tank or reservoir may be done using an oil transfer pump and a proper micron-size filters.
i. Hydraulic, transmission, and gearbox oil may be cleaned using a filter cart during scheduled preventive maintenance intervals.
j. It is practically possible to bring down particle count data to ISO 18/16/13 (or NAS 7). The facility can think of increasing the life of the oil along with the life of the component. This happens because the component will run with relatively clean oil for a longer period of time.
k. Again, all data, and observations are to be documented meticulously for future reference.
l. All fluids in the facility must be monitored closely in terms of cleanliness level. Immediate actions must be taken if the target cleanliness level is not achieved for any fluid.
m. SOPs and checklists may be displayed at various strategic locations in the shop.
Wash area, dispensing clean fuel, fluid filtration, and cleanliness check of fluids are displayed in the following images:

These are some of the most fundamental best practices available in public domain 1-11. Caterpillar Inc., US, has customized these practices primarily for its mining dealerships across the globe. Senior leadership must be on-board to launch an all-out assault against harmful contamination. Investment is required.

As shown in Tab 1, many of these expenses are consumable in nature.

Click to enlarge

A few CAPEX investments are necessary. However, these high value items may be procured in a planned phase wise manner. Floor sealing is an expensive activity. This expense may be incurred in later phase. Let other practices during this period, such as procurement of consumables, cleaning and housekeeping, protection of filters and hoses, modification/retro fitment jobs, and collecting data all fall into place. 
Tab 2 and Tab 3 summarize which work practices will be obsolete and which best practices will be implemented.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge


C. “Failure is success in progress.”

The practices described above may be implemented initially as an on-going reliability initiative. Gradually, over time other practices may be added to the process. These practices, when implemented successfully, confirm the importance of a two-way proactive approach to maintenance: 1) The prevention of contaminants to invade the system and 2) The removal of contaminants already present in the system. 
Contamination-control practices and best lubrication practices are virtually one in the same. Two service shops are shown in Fig 4. I, personally, would prefer to approach the shop from the left to get my machine components repaired. I strongly believe readers will concur with my observations.
This is a neverending journey. Organizations who dare to participate in this journey have to keep moving continuously. First, there will be paradigm shift in work practices before efforts for continuous improvement begins. It requires a dedicated team with laser focus and equally committed leaders and managers.                             
As explained above, shop personnel are not doing different jobs; they are doing the same jobs in a different way. This change and culture transformation has a huge impact on the entire team. 
Initially, there may be tremendous resistance to accept these new practices. Rigorous training and education coupled with strong leadership at this juncture are extremely pertinent. 
There will be failures, fumbles, disappointment in this journey towards new normal. But adopt the saying, “Failure is success in progress”. See your commitment to implementing best practices at your plant as a success in itself. 
Yes, it’s a continuous endeavor towards optimum machine reliability. But nothing is more worth it in the long run, for your machine, plant, and overall business goals and objectives.


The author is grateful to Gailwell Commosales India Pvt. Ltd., and Caterpillar Inc., U.S., for providing the opportunity to be actively involved in condition monitoring, contamination control, and lubrication best practices.
1. https://www.cat.com/en_US/blog/keeping-things-clean.html 
2. https://caterpillar.scene7.com/is/content/Caterpillar/C10467203
3. https://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/1337/contamination-control-guidelines
4. https://www.e-mj.com/features/clean-machines-cut-operating-costs-with-contamination-control/
5. https://www.canadianminingjournal.com/featured-article/underground-maintenance-at-glencores-nickel-rim-south-mine-gets-five-star-rating/
6. https://www.mobilehydraulictips.com/hydraulic-system-contamination-causes-and-solutions/
7. https://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/32119/the-benefits-of-contamination-control-training
8. https://www.a3p.org/contamination-control-strategy-practices-a-case-study-of-a-ccs-implementation/
9. https://www.machinerylubrication.com/Read/497/mobile-equipment-contamination
10. https://www.finning.com/content/dam/finning/en_ca/Documents/Parts/Maintenance-Products/Contamination-Control/Bulk-Lubricant-and-Storage-handling.pdf
11. https://carolinacat.com/content/uploads/sites/2/2019/11/Cat-Hydraulic-Systems-Management-Guide.pdf
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About the Author

Dr. Debasish Mukherjee is a freelance consultant working mainly in lubrication and contamination control. He graduated with honors in 1976 from Burdwan University in West Bengal, India, then ear...