The Pathway to Lubrication Excellence: Creating a Cultural Transformation

Drew Troyer

Have you had an eye-opening moment about your lubrication program?

Have looked around the plant yourself, had your plant surveyed or audited by consultants, or maybe common sense simply tells you that it is time to update your machinery lubrication practices?

You may have purchased various lubrication and oil analysis gadgets, tried synthetic lubricants and even trained your team on machinery lubrication and oil analysis, but the results for which you hoped are not forthcoming. The problem is that you are expecting a singular act or a combination of acts to produce a cultural transformation within your organization as it relates to machinery lubrication.

It won’t work.

You simply cannot shortcut cultural change within an organization. If this sounds familiar, read on.

There are several critical steps to achieving excellence in machinery lubrication. Figure 1 describes these steps.

Pathway to Lubrication Excellence

Figure 1. Pathway to Lubrication Excellence

First, benchmark and identify opportunities for improvement. Once this is done, an action plan to implement changes and transform the culture must be developed and implemented; that is the primary focus of this article. Once that is completed, a continuous improvement or maintenance program is necessary to protect against backsliding and to identify new opportunities.

Most organizations fail to implement lasting change because they attempt to achieve change through the acquisition of a gadget, device, synthetic lubricant or other product that is believed to produce instant gratification and success.

The various gadgets, synthetic or specialty lubricants and training can all serve a valuable role in the big picture, but only as supporting characters. Cultural transformation must play the starring role. Cultural transformation occurs when the current business-as-usual is replaced with a new business-as-usual that is deemed better or more effective. It represents a revolutionary, or at the very least a dynamically evolutionary change in behavior.

No single product or training course will accomplish cultural transformation because people resist change by nature. A cultural transformation requires a clearly defined and cohesive plan that may take a considerable period of time to fully accomplish. The flow model in Figure 2 illustrates a plan for transforming machinery lubrication culture at a plant or factory after the benchmarking has been completed and the opportunities are found.

It includes fully synchronized planning, design and installation and deployment phases. Depending upon the scope and the current state of the lubrication program, such a plan can take 12, 24, 36 months or longer to complete. Let’s discuss the plan’s components in more detail.

Implementing Lubrication Excellence

Figure 2. Implementing Lubrication Excellence

Plan for Lubrication Excellence

The first phase in the process is planning. Training is clearly a critical component of the cultural transformation process. All stakeholders require awareness training to understand what is about to happen over the next 12 to 36 months and why the organization is moving in this particular direction. The extent to which an individual requires awareness training depends upon the degree to which he or she will affect or be affected by the change. In addition to a general training course, it is appropriate to have open forum discussions with various groups and departments to discuss their specific roles.

Educating management and supervision is a must, particularly front-line and midlevel supervision. Upper management must support the program financially. Midlevel and front-line management have the unenviable job of holding the old business-as-usual together long enough for the new one to take hold. They need special support and encouragement, for their job is a tough one.

During the planning phase, it is also necessary to assess the organization’s computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) and other planning support systems to define how the new program needs to be structured from a document management and information flow perspective. During this assessment, planned revisions to the maintenance planning and support systems should be considered so the lubrication program design is synchronized.

Skipping this step could result in unfortunate and avoidable shortcomings in the lubrication program. For instance, it would be a shame to write text only-based procedures because the current system dictates it, when the CMMS system is in the process of being updated to a Windows-based system that will allow pictures, schematics and figures to be imbedded into the documents.

Metrics for the program need to be defined in the planning phase too. In the July 2002 issue of Machinery Lubrication magazine, I introduced the overall lubrication effectiveness (OLE), which is a composite metric that includes conformance to the PM plan, lubricant contamination targets and lubricant health limits. The OLE and its component metrics provide an excellent overall view of the plant’s machinery lubrication program and should be employed at a minimum. It may be appropriate to include other metrics on a case-by-case basis.

Design and Install Lubrication Excellence

There are four major activities in the design and install phase of the transformation process: design, installation, documentation, and coaching and ad hoc training. The design aspects are technical in nature and require individuals with special skills and experience to complete. Following is a general discussion about the various aspects of designing lubrication excellence. It is by no means exhaustive.

Lubrication/Relubrication PMs

Often lubrication PMs that should not be in the system are in it. In other cases, important lubrication PMs are missing from the plan. In still other cases, the manner in which the PM is completed needs to be changed to reflect new best practice or to incorporate new technologies that improve the efficiency or effectiveness with which the task can be completed.

Contamination Control Systems

Contamination, in its various forms, affects machine wear and lubricant degradation rates. Lubricant contamination control is an effective mechanism by which to build reliability and life into mechanical systems and lubricants. For example, as particle or water contamination levels decrease, the life of bearings and pumps increases. This relationship has been extensively researched. The objective for designing a contamination control program is two-part: define the optimized targets and select the optimum combination of contaminant removal and exclusion methods for the application.

Oil Analysis and Inspection Systems

The oil analysis and inspection program is the scorecard for a controlled and managed lubrication program. It ensures that contamination control and lubrication management efforts are effective. Likewise, oil analysis provides advance warning, which enables a decisive and targeted response to abhorrent machine and/or lubricant conditions that could compromise reliability. The oil analysis test slate, sampling methodology, test interval and alarms and limits need to balance program effectiveness and resource allocation.

Lube-Handling Systems

Many lubrication problems begin with poor handling and inventory practices. It is necessary to optimally design a lubricant purchasing, storage and handling process. The process should include methods to optimize inventory levels and economic order quantity (EOQ), tag and date-stamp lubricants, receive deliveries, store bulk oils, store drums and other small containers, prepare lubricants for service, manage intermediate storage and transfer containers/hardware, dispose of used lubricant, etc.

Lubricant Selection/Specification

Occasionally, it is necessary to adjust the lubricant selection. Several reasons may prompt such a decision. For example, the OEM’s suggested specification may not consider the application and/or environment severity. Therefore, consolidation benefits may exist, overconsolidation may have occurred, a change in PM method may justify a long-life synthetic or other specialty lubricant, etc.

Likewise, it may be necessary to clearly define lubricant requirements to equipment OEMs - for example, initial charge grease in a motor’s bearings. Regardless of the change, the objective is the same: achieve the best lubrication you can for the money, balancing the benefits against the costs.

Once the various aspects of the new lubrication program have been designed, it is usually necessary to purchase and install hardware, and in some cases, software and instruments. The proper installation of the hardware is critical.

For instance, if a procedure to perform a scheduled annual oil change with quarter filtration is replaced with a procedure requiring the use of an off-line filter cart and sampling for oil analysis, but the quick-connects and sampling hardware aren’t installed, it is impossible to deploy the new method. This is where the awareness training really pays off.

If management understands why money has to be spent to purchase the hardware, and front-line super vision, mechanics and operators understand what is happening and why, you have a much better chance of accomplishing the desired changes. If management doesn’t understand or isn’t on-board with the program, this phase can be quite challenging – to the point that the in-plant program manager might simply give up and move on to another improvement project.

This installation phase requires patience. Equipment modifications must often be fit into outage schedules. It may take a year or more to make all the modifications. Some can be completed while the machine is running. Others require a shutdown. Still others require disassembly. Group the modifications accordingly and prioritize tasks within each group to ensure that the most important modifications are completed first.

It is often necessary to document all the new lubrication procedures that incorporate best practice in parallel with installation. For decades, managers of plants and factories have allowed the knowledge about running the place to walk out the door when people retire, quit, become ill or unable to work, or even change jobs within the company.

Documented procedures clearly define methods and best practice, ensure consistency and continuity, define training and certification requirements and serve as a baseline with which to enforce and/or reinforce best practice. Likewise, documented practices serve as the baseline for continuous improvement. Procedures and practices are the written manifestation of the new business-as-usual and are therefore critical to the cultural transformation.

A lack of coaching and ad hoc training during the design and installation phase predestines a lot of programs to failure. In addition to the upfront awareness training and discussion, it is necessary to use the design and installation process as a training opportunity. During this phase, ideas that were revealed during awareness training really crystallize and take shape for team members. In addition to solidifying their understanding of lubrication excellence, team members involved in the process begin to take ownership of it. Once the team members feel a sense of ownership in the new business-as-usual, you are 80 to 90 percent closer to your goal of cultural transformation.

If you fail to involve the team members during this critical period, you can expect your new procedures to sit unused in a computer file. You can also expect the awareness training, which has a shelf life, to wear off. The organization will never gain a sufficient momentum to break away from the inertial pull of the old business-as-usual.

And don’t try to force the new business-as-usual on the organization using old-style militaristic management methods. The organization usually backslides to the old business-as-usual within a short period of time when the program leaders manage the program with a heavy hand. The opportunity to transform the machinery lubrication culture will be lost, forcing you to start the process over.

As important as coaching and ad hoc training are, equally important is the management review process during the design and installation phase of implementing lubrication excellence. Managers tend to engage themselves in these programs primarily during the beginning of the process. If they like a proposed program, they support it with resources, assign it to a project manager, wish him or her luck, then they move on to the next deal - often never looking back. This works for some projects, but not when you are attempting to transform the culture of your lubrication program.

You must keep management engaged. If you are the program manager, hold regular review meetings. During a one to three-year implementation, you need conspicuous involvement from management to send a message to the organization that this project is still a high priority. Likewise, it is likely that unexpected obstacles will produce delays or require that management approve additional resources. These obstacles are much easier to deal with if management is involved throughout the process.

Deploy Lubrication Excellence

Upon completion of the design and installation phase, and after procedures are written, it is time to deploy lubrication excellence. The new procedures within the CMMS and other planning systems must be completed and tested. Then, task-based training begins. Hopefully, some of this training is conveyed while coaching the team in the design and install phase.

However, formal and on-the-job training must be completed to teach team members the new procedures and to assure a smooth transition. Invariably, procedures require revision during the deployment phase. Perhaps the interval is wrong or the method is not quite right or lacks clarity. In any event, tweaking of the program is usually required.

Roll out the OLE and other performance metrics in earnest during the deployment phase. These metrics serve as your barometer. If the OLE is going up, progress is being made. If the OLE trends downward, the cultural transformation didn’t fully take hold. The further it slides, the harder it will be to correct. Catch it early to avoid a salvage job. The objective is to reach and maintain the OLE goal, then begin to question the feasibility of even higher goals.

A good maintenance program also makes sense. This should include periodic benchmarking evaluations to uncover areas where the cultural transformation didn’t take hold, or to identify new opportunities that weren’t addressed in the original implementation plan. Also, because technology changes, it makes sense to reevaluate your program from time to time. The evaluation may look like the audit that caused you to seek change in the first place (see Figure 3).

Lubrication Benchmark Audit Diagram
Figure 3. Lubrication Benchmark Audit Diagram

Today, managers and owners must look to maintenance and reliability to improve profits in their plants and factories. In many industries, the global economy affords no options to improve profitability except for the process itself. For most, improving lubrication practices represents “low-hanging fruit” that is ripe for the picking. Many have attempted to shortcut the pathway to lubrication excellence by purchasing special lubricants, instruments or other gadgets. Regrettably, but predictably, many have failed.

While these products and services are often a part of the transformation process, real and lasting improvements to lubrication practices require a planned effort that is designed to replace the old business-as-usual with a new, more productive one.

Don’t expect these changes to come overnight. The inertia of the old business-as-usual is an impressive force at most plants. To succeed, you must engage in sustained effort to transform the culture and usher in the new business-as-usual.

Learn how Noria can help you through these steps to lubrication excellence with their Lubrication Program Development Services.

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