Justifying the Value of an Oil Analysis Program

Noria Corporation

Have you ever been asked to prove your worth and the worth of your endeavors, or risk termination? This particular ultimatum occurs frequently in any precision lubrication program.

It occurred to me a few years ago (at a previous job) as I was meeting with a new maintenance manager to discuss the contract oil analysis program I was managing at his facility.

Like many new maintenance managers, he wanted to make a big impression on his managers, which in this case, meant saving money in the annual operating budget. At this facility of my previous employer, I had been doing contract oil analysis for more than two and a half years.

At this point, the program had effectively eliminated the occurrence of lubrication-related failures plant-wide and we were focusing on root cause oil analysis to help identify other possible issues such as misalignment and contamination. The program had repeatedly proven worthwhile and was heralded as a success by the few who really understood the goal.

During the maintenance manager’s first week, I received a voice mail explaining that our services were no longer required. Astonished, I called back to question the situation. Were we being replaced by another oil analysis company? Was the facility shutting down? Was there a lubrication-related failure we didn’t know about?

On Hold

When I called back, I was told that the old manager had been replaced and the new interim manager had put the program on hold indefinitely.

When I finally got in touch with the maintenance manager, he explained to me that the program had not been terminated, that they would still require us to make an annual visit, prior to the summer shutdown so they could determine which systems needed an oil change. Confident that I could turn this around, I pressed for a meeting.

I collected the data we had trended on every system and prepared for the meeting. We sat down and he began the meeting by asking me what it was we actually did. It was clear at this point that when he was looking for ways to cut his budget, he cut the programs he knew little or nothing about. I knew my job was going to be extremely difficult.

I proceeded to explain the monthly analysis and trending we had provided to his company for more than two years. I provided examples of trends for each piece of equipment and explained to him that we could expect to see 100 percent of the equipment falling within the target cleanliness, viscosity, moisture and acid number targets. Everything was operating normally.

He then asked me “What has this oil analysis done for us lately?” Stunned, I tried to explain that through oil analysis, we had not seen a failure in more than two years. And again he asked, “What saves have you made lately?”

I was fighting a losing battle. On one hand, I was dealing with an individual who was grossly misinformed on what proactive maintenance actually meant. He was driven mainly by dollars and cents. On the other hand, I had not set up any metrics to continuously evaluate the oil analysis program to be sure we had unmistakably reached and exceeded our reliability goals.

Ask Yourself

So what has your oil analysis program done for you lately? The key to management interpretation of a successful oil analysis program is two-fold. First, before the program is well underway, line up criteria to measure failures, oil consumption, cleanliness targets and other factors. Evaluate frequently and display the results in an obvious location.

Second, provide some kind of basic awareness training to everyone in the plant, from operators to management. Education and communication are two keys to success. The more people are aware of the program and how it can influence reliability and cost savings throughout the plant, the more accepted and valued the program will be.

As for the new maintenance manager, he soon became the previous maintenance manager.

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