Delivery Systems July/August Lubrication Management & Technology

Developing An Effective Lubrication Management Program

EP Editorial Staff | August 8, 2013


Improving a site’s lubrication program can be the single greatest factor in decreasing unplanned downtime. It also provides the greatest ROI.

By Brian G. Richards and Paul Michalicka, SKF USA

The potential bottom-line benefits of proper lubrication are often overlooked. This is true throughout the industrial world and in countless applications, from machine tools, off-highway and pulp and paper to steel, railroad and wind turbines. If no effective lubrication program is in place, an operation is likely to experience significant unplanned downtime at a substantial cost to its bottom line—and, potentially, its customers. Conversely, the right lubrication process can provide opportunities to improve profitability by reducing costs and boosting reliability, increasing the overall life cycle of equipment, and, ultimately, turning out products at a more competitive rate.


As noted in the above pie chart, the cost of lubricants typically represents 1-3% of a maintenance budget. Contrast that fact to the impact of improper or insufficient lubrication: The cost of failed components and overtime due to machine downtime can total as much as 40% of maintenance dollars spent. This fact highlights the importance of a well-functioning, proactive lubrication management program.

There are a variety of reasons why machine components fail prematurely, including imbalance, misalignment, corrosion, overload, etc. The most frequent causes are related to lubrication: As the second pie chart notes, approximately 50% of premature bearing failures are due to issues such as too much or too little lubricant; lubricant contamination or cross-contamination with incompatible lubricants; lubricant-chemical degradation; and use of the wrong type or grade of lubricant. 

Many facilities strive to minimize the number of lubricants they stock and use, both to reduce cost and lessen the chance of misapplication. However, each machine has a distinct set of parameters that should be used to select the appropriate lubricant based on environment, temperature, speed, bearing type, manual or automatic lubrication, etc. A well-defined lubrication management program lets a site optimize selection while minimizing the number of lubricants utilized within the plant.

Doing it the right way
By leveraging proper lubrication techniques, machine uptime and service intervals may be extended and maintenance and operating costs can be lowered, greatly improving the overall life cycle of the equipment. Depending on the equipment in place and the manufacturing process, manual lubrication, automatic lubrication or a combination of both may be employed on a single piece of equipment.

Lubricant is applied and maintained through a range of application methods, from simple lubrication solutions such as grease guns, single-point lubricators and multi-point lubricators, to fully automatic lubrication systems capable of maintaining adequate lubricant film integrity from a single point to 2000 lubrication points. Automatic lubrication systems range from single-line, dual-line or multi-line, as well as progressive, circulating oil, oil and air and minimal-quantity systems. It can be a complicated task to determine what methods should be used to accomplish proper lubrication throughout a facility, but assistance is available. 

One of SKF’s five platforms is lubrication, providing customers with a full range of services—from evaluating and specifying lubricants to fully autonomous lubricating solutions. In 2012, the company implemented its Lubrication Management Program to help customers learn what they could gain by implementing a sound lube plan. (Though similar processes were in place prior to that date, they weren’t part of a single, comprehensive program necessary to provide the level of service and knowledge that SKF is capable of delivering based on its unique perspective and extensive tribological knowledge as a leading bearing manufacturer and its position in the centralized lubrication systems arena under the Lincoln brand.) 

SKF’s Lubrication Management Program consists of five main steps:

  • Client needs analysis
  • Lubrication audit
  • Improvement proposal
  • Design and implementation
  • Optimization

Client needs analysis. . .
This analysis usually takes place during a one-day visit in which the customer answers 40 basic questions. SKF will provide an appraisal of the maturity level of the customer’s lubrication program. Strengths and areas of improvement are identified.

Lubrication audit and improvement proposal. . .
The audit will take approximately three to five days, and customers provide answers to 270 questions. A thorough report is generated which evaluates the current lubrication program and its efficiency. Recommendations are made to improve the customer’s lubrication practices. An optional module of the process includes using SKF’s potential savings calculator to estimate the losses related to lubrication and determine the potential savings from investing in an SKF lubrication management program.

Design and implementation. . .
Upon customer approval, SKF moves forward with the improvement proposal. This may include components such as lubrication planning and scheduling design, lubricant analysis program design, standard procedures generation, storage room design and training, as well as lubrication tools and automatic lubrication system recommendations. In addition, the customer may request a root cause failure analysis, EAM/CMMS (Enterprise Asset Management/Computerized Maintenance Management System) data population and SKF integrated maintenance solutions.

Optimization. . .
Optimization of the program involves maintaining contact between SKF and the customer during the implementation and evolution phases of the recommendations, as well as communication regarding the achieved results.

Covering all your bases
Regardless of whether a customer chooses to work with SKF or another entity, a comprehensive lubrication management program should address the following:

  • Logistics and supply chain
  • Lubricant storage and handling
  • Lubricant selection and application methods
  • Analysis
  • Contamination and condition control
  • Lubrication task planning and scheduling
  • Lubricant waste handling
  • Training

Logistics and supply chain. . .
When selecting suppliers necessary to augment the lubrication management program implementation, consider “partners” capable of providing a full range of goods and services, including lubricants, lubricating systems, lubricant analysis, failure analysis and services that may need to be outsourced due to manpower constraints or specialization not found within the facility.

0708skf3Lubricant storage and handling. . .
It’s recommended that the lubricant storage area be a safe and controlled environment that complies with health and safety regulations. Required documentation must be available and accessible. The area should be equipped with spillage and fire-control devices.

Another important task is to determine if your dispensing tools and equipment help to minimize the ingress of contaminants. Lubricants and tools should be properly identified to avoid cross-contamination.

Lubricant selection and application methods. . .
Customers need to confirm that their lubrication technicians are trained to select and apply lubricants and that those technicians have the proper tools and safety equipment for the job, as well as written procedures. How is the decision made to use manual or automatic lubrication? Do the technicians have lubrication system knowledge?

Lubrication analysis. . .
Customers should know if their lubricant sampling plans, procedures and analysis are defined for each critical asset and if they include primary and secondary tests. Test results should be tracked and examined for trends. Sampling ports should be identified, labeled and prepared, and samples should be taken in a reliable and consistent, external contaminant-free manner, following written guidelines and procedures.

Contamination and condition control. . .
Contamination in lubricants accounts for approximately 25% of all lube-related bearing failures. Only clean lubricants should be used on machines, so it’s essential to know what procedures are in place to avoid contaminants being introduced to new lubricant. How are sources of contamination identified and controlled? Are ISO cleanliness codes and water-level content defined for critical assets and how often do you control these levels? In addition, it is key to have a defined plan for spillage and leakage control in place.

Lubrication task planning and scheduling. . .
The actual act of lubricating, filling or visually monitoring a specific asset within a manufacturing facility requires planning and scheduling. The plan should be mapped out defining the points, lubricants required, frequency and quantity needed for re-lubrication, refilling or changing the lubricant, as well as the personnel and procedures required to perform and document the specific lubrication task.

Lubricant waste handling. . .
Adequate procedures for disposal and handling of used and/or contaminated lubricants need to be defined and monitored to confirm that all applicable environmental regulations are met. This process also can provide verification of consumption trends within a given facility.

Training. . .
All effective lubrication management programs require specific training ranging from the physical activity of applying the lubricant, the effects of misapplication and proper audits. In addition, training should include development plans necessary to maintain, monitor and improve the lubrication management program being implemented.

The lubrication process is an essential component in the operation of every production facility. Implementing a well-defined lubrication management program can help to maximize potential bottom-line benefits received from proper lubrication techniques. LMT

Brian Richards is a Business Development Manager with the SKF Lubrication Business Unit. Paul Michalicka is SKF North American Area Manager of Maintenance Products. Email: and/or 

Success Stories

Following are examples of two companies that utilized the SKF Lubrication Management Program to improve their lubrication practices:

Oil Platform: During a routine oil sampling from a compressor on an oil platform, suspicions were raised when results identified continuing levels of organic debris in the oil before and after the filter element. Lubricant analysis indicated a large amount of bacterial growth in the oil tanks, which was blocking the filters and causing bypass valves to be utilized. SKF recommended that the oil tanks be fully drained and flushed to eradicate bacterial growth. The tanks were then treated against further infestation with desiccant breathers fitted to reduce the risk of condensation buildup.

Aluminum Plant:  The customer realized the opportunity to reduce unplanned downtime and grease consumption by means of proper lubrication. After evaluating the plant’s current lubrication practices, SKF personnel helped the customer to establish industry standard practices across the plant. By implementing these practices, the customer benefited from extended re-lubrication intervals, reduced grease consumption and reduction of overall maintenance costs. In addition, the plant was able to minimize physical risks when performing lubrication activities and minimize the contamination and cross-contamination risks during re-lubrication.



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