Lean Maintenance Lubrication-Focused

Terrence O'Hanlon, ReliabilityWeb.com

Wasted material, wasted motion and wasted time drastically affect bottom-line profitability. Waste drove Henry Ford crazy! The famous automobile-manufacturing pioneer made a notable effort to eradicate waste within his organization.

Precision lubrication, oil analysis and other maintenance activities focus on ensuring reliable operation and avoiding equipment malfunctions. Most of these programs are focused on eliminating waste. In reality, however, the transition from a reactive to a proactive or condition-based program is made easier when a preliminary focus is applied to eliminating waste in the lubrication delivery and management system. This is especially true for companies that already run a Lean Manufacturing system.

Lean Manufacturing

Toyota engineers in Japan who studied Henry Ford’s efforts in the area of waste-elimination further developed and perfected Lean Manufacturing, which is now flourishing throughout the United States and Canada. This effective system defines the seven common forms of waste and includes a process for continuous improvement.

Lean Maintenance

Lean Maintenance* is a term that has been used by many companies that are beginning to blend the techniques of Lean Manufacturing with maintenance experience. Unfortunately, most lean experts don’t take advantage of the resident knowledge of the maintenance operation.

Without a maintenance background, an operations consultant finds it difficult to analyze waste in a maintenance operation; just like a maintenance consultant might find operational waste difficult to spot. Lean philosophy defines waste as “anything that does not add value to the product, process or service.” In a Lean Maintenance system that is focused on lubrication, sources of waste usually consist of outdated lubrication procedures, overstocked and redundant lubricant inventory, as well as wasted labor, time and transportation.

Why Lean?

Maintenance operations may be wasting up to 25 percent of available labor. Some plants find that up to 60 percent of wasted maintenance labor results from activities that add nothing to the plant’s output factors or overall performance measurements.

Value Stream Mapping

A thorough and analytical understanding of a process makes waste easy to identify. One tool that is useful at the beginning of the Lean Maintenance implementation is value stream or process mapping. This process pinpoints sources of waste and is utilized to develop a more efficient and effective process or task. A group of stakeholders, people who are directly affected by the changed process, are selected for that part of the mapping.

A typical group may include maintenance personnel, operations personnel, supervisors, engineers and perhaps people from purchasing or accounting. Each person who performs a function in the process explains his activity, which is then drawn or noted on a large sheet of paper tacked to the wall. As the sheet fills with each individual’s tasks and the entire process becomes visible, wasteful activities such as delays are easily identified.

Processes or tasks are then mapped in sequence, which can be enlightening for someone who performs only one part of the process because it gives him a more well-rounded understanding of what happens prior to or subsequent to the assigned activity. After the process is mapped, an improvement process is implemented which should help eliminate waste.

When all participants are consulted in process mapping and a “what is” scenario is developed, there is frequently a consensus that the current methods are not optimal. Often, several obvious improvements become readily apparent. Process mapping helps provide a big-picture perspective. This is especially true when the process crosses multiple disciplines such as purchasing, maintenance, production and engineering. The team can then develop the “to be” map as well as create an implementation strategy.

To become effective at identifying sources of waste, it is useful to fully understand the seven forms of waste that exist in the maintenance operation:

1. Overproduction

Overproduction is a key waste observed in manufacturing facilities. In maintenance practices, this waste often appears because preventive and predictive maintenance tasks are performed at intervals more often than is optimal. Unnecessary predictive maintenance procedures are 100 percent wasteful!

Everyone has heard a story of a bearing that failed due to lack of lubrication and caused an entire process to shut down unexpectedly. Ever since then, an operator, a maintenance person and sometimes even a supervisor each apply lubrication to ensure that the bearing never runs dry again. The result is not only wasted and redundant time and effort, but it is also creating a situation that could cause the bearing to fail due to overlubrication. In this situation, using condition-based lubrication techniques such as ultrasonics or acoustics will ensure delivery of the right amount of lubrication at the right time.

2. Waiting

Areas of waste related to maintenance activities include maintenance personnel waiting for production personnel to issue work permits and work order backlogs. Excessive maintenance work backlog results in slow response, unexpected breakdowns and a high reactive labor percentage. Waiting for tools, parts, documentation, transportation and other items is also wasteful. Waiting is not a value-added activity and must be eliminated or greatly reduced.

3. Transportation

Ask anyone in the plant what he sees maintenance people doing and he will often answer - walking or driving around. Tools stored far from the job or task at hand commonly use repetitive parts that have not been preassembled or kitted, documentation that must be found and work orders for machines that are not available for shutdown. Each activity requires transportation and most do not add value to the maintenance process.

4. Process Waste

When performing reactive or breakdown maintenance, repairs are typically conducted to return to productivity as soon as possible. This is counterproductive to performing a longer-term or higher-quality repair. Planning and scheduling for maintenance is like setting up for production. It is key to eliminating process waste - the opportunity cost of lost production.

5. Inventory

A typical maintenance inventory storeroom generally consists of 65 percent needed material and 35 percent obsolete or rarely used material. Consolidating lubrication supply and minimizing the number of suppliers used will eliminate the waste caused by obsolete and redundant inventories.

6. Motion

Wasted motion/unnecessary processes in the maintenance operation usually revolve around preventive maintenance tasks that do not add value to the output. For example, a quarterly oil change on a machine that has not been operated in three years should be extended based on actual lubricant condition as determined by oil analysis.

7. Defects

Job recurrence due to improper repair work or a design flaw or failure - forcing function is a huge source of waste. Using tools like root cause analysis can ensure that the proper action is taken to eliminate the source of the defect. Proper machinery lubrication training and detailed lubrication procedures can assist in eliminating defects.

Reasons for Waste

The primary goal of any company should be to maximize the outputs that bring money in the door and minimize expenses that carry money out the door. Metrics that are department-specific without regard to the overall business goal will suboptimize the entire system. Organizations perform to the standards by which they are measured. It is possible that finance, production and maintenance may all meet or exceed their measurement criteria while suboptimizing the rest of the company. One hundred percent completion of planned tasks using excessive overtime or contract labor, that were unnecessary in the first place, provide a good example.

Record Keeping

Accurate, relevant and comprehensive records are instrumental to maintaining a waste-free environment. An effective computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), laboratory information management systems (LIMS) and/or lubrication route software system is essential. These systems should be able to seamlessly work together and share information. Many companies are starting to use Web-based software applications designed to interact with a number of computer and software formats. This software should be easy to learn and easy to use with some basic level of training. To have real value, software must be able to produce reports that are meaningful to operations.

Lean Maintenance as a Process

Lean Maintenance is a journey not a destination. It is an ongoing process of continuous improvement. A lean system requires that you set priorities for delivering value and eliminating waste. When a lean process includes all functioning members of a process combined with open, honest and blame-free communication, huge gains in productivity and profitability can be achieved.

* The Lean Maintenance concept has recently been formalized by Greg Folts of the Marshall Institute in Raleigh, NC. Mr. Folts has a unique background based on several years in manufacturing, quality and maintenance, which contributes to his ability to bring the concepts of Lean Manufacturing to Lean Maintenance.


Simple Lubrication-Related Steps You Can Implement Today

  • Consolidate the number of lubrication products used. Duplicated or excessive lubricant inventory is waste.

  • Consolidate the number of lubrication suppliers to eliminate waste in purchasing. Select a lubrication supplier who can assist you in consolidating and supply the best products for your requirements.

  • Create a visual workplace. People understand and follow simple visual cues.

  • Use tags - Each machine should have a clearly visible tag stating the type of lubrication, frequency of adding lubrication and any other information that would be useful to ensure effective and reliable operation.

  • Use posters and signs - Motivational and educational posters illustrating proper lubrication procedures and oil sampling techniques, like those seen below, will reinforce training concepts in the field.

  • Use color - Improve lubrication storage by using strong visual cues such as color-coded containers and large typeface labels. Consider painted outlines to show where drums or lubrication dispensing tools should be stored.

  • Create visual document storage - Improve documentation storage by making it neat, organized and accessible. Have the system clearly show when a file is out or missing.

  • Use visual cues for normal - Use visual cues to show how things should be in a normal state. Painted outlines or foam cutouts work well.

  • Use visual cues to indicate status, next inspection due date, etc., - A sight glass, like this one can be an excellent visual indicator.

  • Perform condition-based oil changes and use other tools such as ultrasonics to drive relubrication intervals to maximize lubricant life and minimize unnecessary maintenance manhours.

  • Create a simple and uniform work request system that provides visual cues for operators, maintenance staff and supervisors. As an example, one company converted a time card rack to hold cards that had been color-coded. If an operator felt that a maintenance work order was necessary, he could turn the card to show red side so everyone could see that service was needed.

  • Use root cause analysis techniques to avoid repetitive failures and to solve problems permanently. Some systems use software to guide the analysis and take advantage of the lessons learned from previous root cause analysis.

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