Pursuing Lubrication Excellence at Boeing

Mark Calkins, Everett Equipment Services

The Everett manufacturing complex for Boeing Commercial Aircraft covers 98.3 acres and encloses 472 million cubic feet of space. Included in that manufacturing space are approximately 7,950 pieces of equipment supported by the Equipment Services organization.

Most of this equipment requires some form of lubrication or coolant servicing. Approximately 10,000 airline lubricators also require calibration and refilling on a regular schedule.

Oil Shop
Figure 1. Oil Shop.

Facilities management at Boeing takes the lubrication of equipment seriously and considers it to be a fundamental element of an efficient maintenance program. Over the years, more emphasis has been placed on oil cleanliness.

Boeing signed a national supplier contract with Conoco in 2000 to provide lubricants with rigid cleanliness specifications. As the maintenance program matured, additional emphasis was placed on the application methods and verification of the correct lubricants for each application.

Lubrication technicians have been a key part of this evolution and have taken the latest concepts and embraced them with enthusiasm and a passion for perfection. The shop from which they now operate is proof of that dedication and perseverance.

Oil Shop Makeover

Fifteen years ago, the oil shop was typical of what was commonly found throughout the industry. The employees at Everett took a special pride in their area and kept it clean and relatively orderly; however, the improvement the current team of lubrication technicians has achieved is inspiring. The area is spotless and extremely well-organized (Figure 1).

All products are labeled for content and are color-coded based on the lubrication purposes. For example, gray for way oil, green for gear oil, blue for spindle/hydraulic oils, purple for ATF fluids, orange for coolants and black for other miscellaneous products.

Coalescing filters are installed on each barrel of lubricant to eliminate moisture from entering the barrels when lubricant is dispensed (pneumatic oil pumps are installed on each barrel). The barrels are orderly and arranged on spill containment trays with absorbent pads on the top of each barrel.

Dedicated pumps are used to dispense lubricant from each barrel so they are never open to the atmosphere, and therefore potential for cross-contamination is significantly reduced. A visual management chart detailing the shop lubricant inventory is located at the entry of the Lubrication Resource Center for easy identification and product location (Figure 2).

Figure 2

All lubricants are transferred from the barrels to color-coded, sealable and refillable containers. Colored lids were purchased to correspond with the lubricants. These containers are stored in a secured location to prevent possible contamination of the lubricants. A cart to transport the containers has been designed so the lubricants are never exposed to the industrial atmosphere.

A noteworthy breakthrough in the Everett site lubrication program occurred when the Equipment Reliability Improvement Team (ERIT) sponsored a lubrication-awareness fair at the Auburn facility.

The technicians attended that seminar and returned with renewed enthusiasm and many new ideas to improve their work area. Since then, they have continually refined their processes with the support of Everett Equipment Services’ reliability engineers and Conoco technical service engineers.

Storing and Handling Grease

While the facility once had countless types of greases for specific applications purchased from different suppliers, all lubrication products and stock are now essentially sole-sourced, with only three types of grease for all applications.

Polyurea grease is used for motor bearing applications and either EP 1 or EP 2 grease is used for everything else. Wherever practical, the greases are purchased standard in 14-ounce tubes and stored in a cabinet along with dedicated grease guns.

For most roller bearing applications, the technicians use acoustic grease guns to ensure the proper amount of lubricant is applied. A battery-operated grease gun was also purchased to ease grease application in tight or awkward spaces.

Tool kits have been assembled so that replacement grease fittings, spare grease cartridges and other regularly required parts are included in the kits.

A grease compatibility chart has been developed by reliability engineers and is prominently displayed to reduce the mixing of incompatible greases. It also supports the concept of limiting the stocking of multiple grease types in order to reduce the potential for misapplication.

Mechanics have different grease preferences for a number of reasons, including history and relationships with suppliers, but seldom are these preferences based on engineering criteria or application specifications. This mindset has been a difficult trend to overcome, but most employees have gradually accepted the fact that designer greases are not required.

Over time, the lubrication technicians have installed color-coded product labels on all oil reservoirs and the majority of application points to identify the proper lubricants and frequency of lubrication.

For grease points, self-adhesive labels are generated and installed, and then signed-off when serviced indicating when the point was last been lubricated. Grease pencils are used so that the last date can be wiped off and the new date recorded. The technicians follow a lubrication standard to establish frequencies and determine the amount of grease for bearings.

A software template enables technicians to print lubrication charts for each major asset, which are then laminated and attached to the asset with tie-wraps.

Oil Sampling Perfection

The lubrication technicians have been trained to properly draw oil samples for oil analysis purposes. For many years, the Everett manufacturing complex had a strong condition-based maintenance (CBM) program in place with its own oil analysis program, but because of recent severe cutbacks, the plan was restructured.

Because of the lubrication technicians’ dedication and interest, they are now involved in taking the oil samples, and the analysis will be performed in an in-house fuel and oil lab. A special workstation is currently being set up to facilitate this process.

There is also a workstation established for rebuilding and calibrating the inline, airline lubricators used throughout the factory’s tooling fixtures. All required rebuild parts are organized and stocked in the cabinet.

When a lubricator leaks or fails in the factory, a precalibrated, rebuilt replacement is waiting. Most of the older, hard-plumbed lubricators have been replaced with units designed with quick-disconnects for ease of replacement.

Today, the shop is no longer named “the oil crib” but more accurately named the “Lubrication Resource Center” to reflect the employees’ professionalism. Photographs of the technicians pictured in Figure 3 are posted on the entry door for easy identification, and to show recognition for their accomplishments.

Figure 3. Greg Southard,
Richard Hinderman,
Larry Simpson and Dirk Strange.

It has become a regular occurrence for team members to identify opportunities for improvement or vision for progress, and enlist the support of management and fellow technicians to achieve their quest for excellence.

Management is proud of these outstanding employees and their efforts, which are recognized throughout the company’s many maintenance organizations as being an example of the professionalism and organization. They serve as a reminder that excellence is not a goal, but a journey.

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