- All Topics
- GearTalk Podcast
- Training & Events
- Buyer's Guide
When Energizer set out to implement an oil analysis program, emphasis was placed on making the most effective use of existing internal resources, including people, technology and management structures. This emphasis was tempered by the recognition that no existing internal expertise oil analysis was available, and that this would be balanced by the use of external resources as necessary.
Existing Assets and Resources
One of the key elements, the company's technology laboratory, was already in place and would prove to be of enormous value. A system was put in place to receive samples by mail, perform viscosity testing, particle counting, acid number, moisture by Karl Fischer, oxidation, and elemental analysis using inductively coupled plasma spectroscopy, then load the results into a custom-built database.
The requisite management and organizational structures were also already in place and required no significant modifications.
The program was piloted and introduced in one plant, whose maintenance team proved to be another keystone in the effort. The plant preventive maintenance (PM) coordinator undertook much of the hands-on implementation work. This position was later supplemented by adding an experienced equipment mechanic to the team.
The pilot program would serve two purposes:
Defining the Challenges
We focused on two areas: the nuts and bolts of how to build an oil analysis program at the plant level, and the complexities of actual lubricant testing and analysis. Attending public oil analysis seminars brought much of this to light and allowed us to sharpen the focus of the specific actions required to launch our pilot program.
This revealed an unanticipated challenge which required rethinking the launch and overall timing of the pilot program. The general lubrication management practices in place did not support the effective use of oil analysis. Specifically, better management of lubricant cleanliness would be required to utilize the value of oil analysis. Contamination levels were above moderate alarm levels, rendering that aspect of oil analysis ineffective. The decision was made to rebuild the implementation plan, emphasizing lubricant management and training at the outset.
Challenges in Hands-on Implementation
An unexpected challenge was obtaining suitable sampling valves for the applications. Through trail and error, we chose a valve that also required the use of a vacuum pump for collecting samples.
Management of time and priorities is challenging, and because none of the key roles were dedicated exclusively to this effort, time had to be wisely spent.
The lack of technical knowledge was relatively simple to address by using a direct approach. Attending public seminars on oil analysis, reading and internet research offered enough knowledge to begin the program. Once the general program plan was in place, before kick-off, the team consulted industry experts to ensure the plan's viability. Recognizing that knowledge and proficiency are gained over time, flexibility was built into the implementation plan to accommodate an increasing level of knowledge and ability.
The growth of the laboratory's involvement followed a similar path. An experienced analytical chemist was able to build on his existing skills and set up the laboratory as an integrated part of the program.
Generally, existing lubrication training within the organization lacked depth, was inconsistent and outdated. Providing a focused training manual was the first step in filling the gap, but the customization required of any existing training material was cost prohibitive. The solution was to write our own training manual, which was then distributed through all U.S. and international locations. Accompanying PowerPoint presentations in varying levels of detail were provided to assist in delivery of the training.
Preventive maintenance coordinators from some locations participated in a two-day immersion in Best Practices in Machinery Lubrication, as the catalyst for them to begin lubrication management practices in plants for which they were accountable.
A Question to Consider
Is oil analysis necessary, or even practical, for relatively inexpensive gear-driven manufacturing equipment components and conveyance? For example, how does the replacement cost of a single reduction gear reducer compare with a year's worth of oil analysis? If the question was stated in terms of expected life extension as a benefit of oil analysis, the answer would be that using oil analysis is a waste of time and money. Now frame the question in terms of process reliability. The answer takes on a whole new meaning and causes one to look at the cost of equipment failure in terms of downtime. Equipment was selected on the premise that when any component is integral to a piece of bottleneck equipment, or critically affects capacity during peak demand periods, it is a good candidate for oil analysis. Other noncritical equipment is also included in the program, where the breakdown avoidance potential and the ability to manage expensive synthetic lubricant changes by monitoring the actual useful life of the lubricant, bring value to this facet of equipment care.
Analysis of the samples was, for the most part, accomplished via teleconference. The analytical chemist on the team brought the laboratory lubricant analyst element to the program, while the author provided the machine lubricant analyst perspective. This resulted in a thorough analysis of each sample because the chemical properties and interactions were examined not only at a fine level of detail, but also for their relevance to the operating context of the equipment. A web-based reporting system was implemented to communicate information and recommendations to the plant's maintenance team for corrective actions.
The lack of experience of the analysis team was recognized at the inception of the program. This was addressed in part by consulting expert analysts on the first few sample sets. Initial sampling frequencies were set at one-month intervals to allow for the analysts to gain experience. Although this approach yielded less remarkable data point movements in trends monitoring, it was effective in building experience, and resulted in some early saves that helped build the program's credibility.
Although analysis support was initially provided at a central level, the intent was to enable analysis at the plant level for larger plants with greater sample volumes. To enlist the support of local managers, resource requirements were laid out to clearly outline the time investment required for analysis. The local PM coordinator at the pilot plant attended oil analysis training and was involved in each analysis session. Because the project leader was on-site, mentoring and coaching were easily accomplished.
Hands-on Lubrication Management
A key accomplishment was implementation of the actual physical changes required in the handling and management of the pilot plant's lubricants. The success of this phase is credited to the PM coordinator and a seasoned equipment mechanic who completely redesigned the lubricant storage area and lubricant-handling practices, including integration into the CMMS.
By utilizing their understanding of lubricant application, the plant team no longer depended on the recommendations of the lubricant vendor, and was able to take back control of their inventory.
A separate phase of the program addressed roll out of lubrication management at international facilities. The barriers of communicating the message and training to the same standards were overcome by using web-based training. This consisted of one-year licenses for individuals at seven separate international facilities to access a modular internet-based training program. Proficiency tests were established for each module, and Energizer set a minimum passing score for completion of the course. Actual time users spent logged on to the training site was available, as were test scores and technical support.
Following completion of the on-line training, location leaders could access the company lubrication manual as well as the on-line training material as source material for plant training and implementation. With varying degrees of success, this approach seems to be effective, although complete implementation of all program goals has not yet been achieved.
Unfortunately, with many successes came some pitfalls. Some of these were anticipated, others were not.
Although buy-in was achieved relatively quickly at the pilot plant, it was not initially as successful at other facilities. The status quo suggested the level of success attained through existing maintenance programs did not require enhancements provided by improved lubrication management and oil analysis. This proved to be one of the most challenging obstacles to overcome. Additionally, maintenance staff was already stretched thin, with other improvement initiatives competing for the same resources. In many cases, a complete cycle of improvement initiatives was necessary before required resources were planned for long-term goals.
A Person-dependent Program
With the exception of the pilot plant, the project depended heavily on the project leader for its success. When the project leader moved to a job outside the central maintenance group, there was a slack in the pace of improvements. In hindsight, the project should have required more systems-level changes up front, rather than the incremental step-by-step execution plan.
Successes Balance between Self-reliance and Utilization of External Expertise
As previously discussed, a large emphasis was placed on leveraging existing internal assets to their fullest potential. At the same time, the benefits of experience and time-tested practical expertise were not ignored. A key to maximizing this balance was the grounding in reliability principles already instilled and practiced in both the project manager/sponsor and the project leader. Although initially largely unfamiliar with good lubrication management and oil analysis, both roles working together were able to achieve the desired results. Other members of the central maintenance team, although not actively involved in this project, were able to provide support on the periphery of the project, where their own areas of expertise overlapped the project.
Cooperation of Cross-functional Team Members
Together, the maintenance group and technology lab built a successful oil analysis program. The two previously unconnected entities were able to form a competent oil analysis team that was able to prove the value of the program through many timely "saves." It is difficult to imagine a more effective way of developing competence in oil analysis than to have a chemist working with a reliability resource. The pace of implementing almost every aspect of the analysis program was matched with our pace of learning, thus ensuring we didn't get ahead of ourselves in what we were capable of achieving.
Lubrication Training Manual
The challenge with training material is to include only relevant information, while foregoing irrelevant or unneeded material. The result of the company-specific training manual is a sharper focus on material relevant to the equipment used, with no need to waste time sifting through material to extract what is applicable.
Fine-tuning Existing Maintenance Strategies
Attempting to explain maintenance strategies on older equipment that has been in service for many years can be perplexing. Likewise, there were a few tasks which were questionable. For example, an oil change frequency for a component used on multiple similar machines had been in place for as long as anyone could remember, however, the task could not be explained. Although none of these particular machines is independently critical, the total maintenance spending for the group was significant. To determine the optimal oil change frequency, oil analysis was performed on a sample group. After one year of analysis, an effective oil change frequency was specified, and oil analysis was discontinued. The oil is now changed more frequently, but total maintenance spending for the group is expected to decrease. Confidence in the expected benefits is based on understanding the failure modes affected by the oil change frequency.
One method of measuring the value of a tool is in measuring the effectiveness of that tool in the same currency in which the success of the supported business entity is measured. Lube management and oil analysis show their true worth where uptime is king and where the maintenance dollar is pushed for all its worth.
Energizer chose the route less-traveled in developing lubrication management and oil analysis programs. This required a certain level of vigilance to ensure that we did not wander too far off the path, while guiding ourselves. While most of the assessment, development and planning was accomplished internally, the risk of wasted effort was relieved by the use of external expertise at critical points to ensure positive results.