How to Chart Your Lubrication Program’s Success

Ashley Mayer

When I am on-site at a client’s plant to perform a lubrication program management audit, there are a few things I immediately look for that indicate the state of the program. They include the following:

  1. What does the lube storage room look like?

  2. What grease is used in the fan and other high-speed bearings?

  3. What program management metrics are in use?

  4. How conspicuously are the metrics displayed?

When one enters an industrial facility through the front gate, what does he see first? Most likely it’s a billboard detailing safety achievements in the plant, such as the number of days worked since the last disabling injury, or the targeted number of accident-free shifts. In 1974, there were 0.58 fatalities per 1,000 workers per year in the mining sector.

Thirty years later, that figure had been reduced to 0.12, a reduction of nearly 80 percent. Viewing an industrial facility, it’s hard to look around without seeing some safety-related signage. High-visibility safety campaigns have contributed to improving organizational cultures and perceptions of this vital subject.

Another important part of a business is profitability, yet profitability strategies such as world-class lubrication management do not get the same high-profile treatment as safety. If conspicuousness has worked so well in the safety arena, what prevents its success in the field of maintenance in general, and lubrication in particular?

It would be an interesting exercise to measure return on assets versus the conspicuousness of key lubrication metrics. If one could define a way of quantifying the “conspicuousness”, this exercise would tell the story. There is no doubt that those plants who do chart their progress with particular attention to detail are ahead of the pack when it comes to lubrication excellence.

This is where oil analysis comes into its own. An oil analysis practice should be viewed as a measure of the health of a lubrication program, rather than a downtime scheduling tool. Many of the metrics or key performance indicators (KPI) that are easily charted come straight from the oil analysis reports.

Here are some possible KPIs:

  • Oil consumption ratio2

  • Particle counts on a component-type basis (gearboxes, circulating systems, compressors etc.)

  • Water contamination levels on a component-type basis

  • Filter usage

  • Overall lubrication effectiveness (OLE). OLE is the product of the percentage of lube PM conformance, the percentage of contamination target conformance and the percentage of the fluid health conformance.

Here are additional KPIs that could be used on a general maintenance level, less related to lubrication:

  • Mean time between failure (MTBF)

  • Planned downtime

  • Unplanned downtime

So why does conspicuousness make a difference? Here are a few reasons:

  • It is the ultimate statement of commitment to excellence. If you as a maintenance team member are going to post your name and reputation on a billboard at the entrance of the plant, then everyone will know about your successes and failures.

  • It encourages buy-in from everyone in the plant. The company secretaries know what hard hats and safety boots are used for, even though they’ve probably never had to wear them. If they were frequently exposed to charts of gearbox cleanliness in the mill, they would soon learn the meaning of a particle count.



Maybe it’s time to develop a formalized signage system for lubrication. Imagine having two signs next to each other; one demanding the use of ear protection next to one discouraging the use of funnels. (Funnels are not regarded as a best-practice method for oil application.) The repetition of such visual reminders soon becomes a familiar part of the environment.

The organization passes from a high-effort state of conscious competence to a low-effort state of unconscious competence. Refilling a component with a dedicated sealable-and-refillable container instead of a re-engineered coffee can becomes as natural as donning a pair of safety glasses.

Conspicuous charting has some risks: a manager can put himself and his team on the line. But the successes and rewards are well-documented. So challenge your team to make that commitment! Stake your reputation on it and show everyone in the plant, employees and visitors alike, how well everything is going. Fame is a function of visibility; obscurity is that of the reverse.


  1. Mining Safety and Health Administration, Department of Labor.

  2. The oil consumption ratio is the ratio of total lubricant usage over a given time period to the total volume of lubricant required by all the components on the plant. Aim for a figure of 0.1, although this will be industry-dependent to a certain extent.

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