Building Reliability On A Foundation Of Lubrication

EP Editorial Staff | June 1, 2012


The innovative approach to lubrication that one paper mill took improved conditions of its machines and its bottom line. That type of success is why a similar approach was rolled out to seven other sites across the corporation.

Although plants spend billions of dollars annually on equipment reliability initiatives, many overlook lubrication as an area of opportunity worthy of renewed focus. One notable exception is the NewPage Paper Mill, in Duluth, MN*, which considers lubrication to be a foundational component of its equipment-reliability and best-practices program.

These days, the mill is enhancing plant performance with an approach to lubrication that provides benefits and efficiencies that extend well beyond traditional approaches such as using spreadsheets or the preventative maintenance (PM) capabilities of CMMS or ERP systems.


100,000+ annual lube tasks
Lubrication is often viewed as nothing more than a quick series of simple, repetitive tasks like hitting a grease point or topping off a reservoir. However, a single plant can have hundreds to thousands of pieces of equipment, each with multiple lubrication points. In turn, each lubrication point can have multiple tasks, all performed at varying intervals. From daily lubing, to semi-annual oil sampling, to yearly tank draining/replacement, the lubrication tasks that must be performed annually in a facility can—amazingly—number in the hundreds of thousands.

To address this issue, many plants utilize spreadsheets or CMMS systems in an effort to manage lubrication. Unfortunately, although CMMS systems work very well for managing PM and corrective jobs at the equipment level, they are not built for detailed tracking of individual lube tasks. On the other hand, information contained in such details—when properly structured to the specifics of lubrication—can enable best practices to improve machine condition, extend life and uptime, identify equipment issues early and boost employee productivity (and can do so in a way that both experienced and inexperienced personnel can easily follow).

Case in point
“With the volume of activities that need to be performed and the complexity of managing all these different types of activities with different lubricants, time frames and procedures, we have to be able to store and easily access detailed information on each lube point,” says Tammy Needham, Machinery Lubrication Technician at NewPage’s Duluth operation. NewPage is the leading producer of printing and specialty papers in North America, with a total annual mill production capacity of about 3.5 million tons of paper. 

Needham oversees all aspects of lubrication including lube tasks, inventory and testing for the site’s paper machine. In addition to having 25 years of real-world experience, Needham has continually sought out training opportunities to upgrade her lubrication knowledge and is certified as a Machinery Lubricant Technician (MLT) and Machinery Lubricant Analyst (MLA).

“When I started in lubrication, I immediately realized the benefit of handling all the lubrication tasks on time and getting the right amount of grease into the right place every time to increase the longevity and reliability of our equipment,” recalls Needham. 

Several years ago, her manager decided it was time for the Duluth plant to upgrade to comprehensive lubrication tracking and management software. After investigating several options on the market, the mill selected LUBE-IT, from Generation Systems.

With the LUBE-IT system, each lube point is inventoried by component type, location, capacity, number of fittings and lubricant to be used. Each lube point is then associated with the individual tasks required. Details for each task include the activity to perform, frequency, duration of each task, route, procedures and shutdown requirements. Using this essential information, the software continuously manages lubrication throughout the plant by tracking the status of each individual task. This is in contrast to outmoded approaches such as spreadsheets, or tracking collections of tasks across an array of CMMS PMs. 

Each week, the LUBE-IT system’s automatic work planning process evaluates every task, individually releasing only those that are appropriate. Tasks not previously completed are highlighted as past-due and included within the current week’s work. 

For Needham, the advantage of this type of approach is to reinforce a culture of excellence and protect the accumulated knowledge and best practices of the lubrication program at NewPage’s Duluth site-—instead of depending on human memory.

With all of the details documented in the system, plant personnel and management also have one-click access to the history of any lubrication point, which can be invaluable for failure analysis. This includes when individual tasks were completed, a reason if not completed, the number of weeks past-due, who was assigned, the lubricant used and notifications of equipment issues identified during the lubrication activity.

Benefits of optimization
Optimized lubrication routes are another benefit of having detailed lube-point information and can dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of maintenance. 

Using information in the system, the LUBE-IT program sets up a labor-efficient, step-reducing route from a start to an end point assigned to specific personnel. Each lube task along that path—incorporating all tasks due to be completed regardless of frequency—as well as the various types of lubricants that will be required are outlined in a logical walking sequence. That’s a real boon from the standpoint of technician efficiency. 

According to Needham, “You can move from a pump to an agitator to a hydraulic system all in walking sequence with detailed information on each lube point on the route, what lubricant is required and so on.” 

Needham also finds the routing feature to be a useful reminder with regard to tasks that are required less frequently (like semi-annual or annual lubrication activities). Moreover, the routing system is so efficient that basic care tasks not related to lubrication, such as cleaning a piece of equipment or adjusting a shim along the route, can be incorporated.

With LUBE-IT, safety-related pro-cedures and requirements also be associated with a specific task and clearly presented to personnel prior to performing the task. Needham explains it this way: “If there is a safety procedure that needs to occur before the lube task, a technician can look at the sheet and see exactly what steps needs to occur first. I want to make sure that nobody is going to get hurt.”

Management feedback 
Needham points to the fact that NewPage management now has access to detailed reports and KPI information relating to the lubrication effort that it never had before. The feedback she has received from management has been extremely positive. Although she’s been working with LUBE-IT for over a decade, the capabilities and detail in the program have dovetailed nicely with NewPage’s recent corporate initiative to improve efficiency and equipment reliability in all of its seven plants.

“There has been a big push lately to really get everything documented,” Needham says. “Management felt that by really looking closely at the lubrication aspect of all its plants they could discover some cost savings and ensure the equipment lasts longer.” She clearly credits management support for the site’s ability to accomplish many of it lubrication goals. 

Needham’s success with LUBE-IT was instrumental in NewPage’s decision in early 2012 to purchase the software for additional sites. “Being able to put down all this detailed, documented information in one place that was easily accessible is a tremendous benefit to our company,” she observes. “It is so foundational to our entire lubrication effort that I don’t believe you could put a price tag on it.” LMT

Bill Correll is Vice President of Business Development for Generations Systems, Inc., based in Issaquah, WA. 

*The New Page Duluth Paper Mill is owned by NewPage Wisconsin System Inc., an affiliate of NewPage Corporation, a leading North American producer of printing and specialty papers.





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