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Change Your Lubrication Mindset

Jane Alexander | July 12, 2017

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Achieving desired goals requires an honest assessment of the status quo.

While physicians can diagnose health issues and recommend appropriate treatments, patients can often help themselves get better by changing some of their personal habits and/or lifestyle choices. Mike Gauthier of Trico Corp. (tricocorp.com, Pewaukee, WI) stated that the same holds true with equipment-lubrication issues. As he put it, most industrial operations “could gain a gold mine of benefits” through better management of lubricants and lubrication practices associated with critical equipment. “But only if they really want to change.”

According to Gauthier, if your plant is like countless others, with thousands of lubrication points spread out across multiple areas, the idea of changing its lubrication mindset, including simply getting started, might seem daunting. If that describes your situation, Gauthier suggests taking a graduated approach based, in large part, on an understanding of your organization’s current lubrication practices. He offers several tips for moving forward with this approach, along with sample questions from a 13-page self-assessment form that could help facilitate needed changes.

A graduated approach

“Sometimes,” Gauthier explained, “sites look at reliability programs on a scale of 1 to 10, and then fail to put a program in place because they could only hope to reach a 5.” The good news, he said, is that personnel don’t have to solve everything at once. Moreover, not every plant needs to achieve world-class status to realize a bottom-line boost in reliability.

A graduated approach can be a better option. It begins with identification of your most critical assets and the problems associated with them, establishment of key performance indicators (KPIs), and setting goals. If you can document the benefits of incremental reliability improvements, this typically creates all the buy-in necessary to get to the next level. “Start with one production line, building, or area,” Gauthier advised, “then build momentum from there.”


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Before you can set reasonable goals and a plan to achieve them, however, you must fully understand your current practices. That’s why an honest self-assessment is an essential first step. To that end, Gauthier suggests taking a moment to consider your site’s current maintenance strategy. How would you characterize it?

1. (Poor) Reactive—running-to-failure and fixing things when they break down

2. (Fair) Preventive—preventing breakdowns by performing regular maintenance

3. (Good) Predictive—periodically inspecting, servicing, and cleaning assets

4. (Excellent) Proactive—predicting when equipment failure might occur

5. (Optimum) Condition Monitoring—continuously monitoring assets while in operation.

Once you’ve come to terms with the overall maintenance strategy, it’s time to dig deeper into how the site tackles lubrication. To simplify the process, Gauthier recommends going through a detailed, lubrication self-assessment exercise. Sample questions include:

1. Storage, handling, and disposal: What system best represents your current visual aid for lubricant management?

• We have adopted a color-coding system or a similar system using shapes.
• We only use one grease, one hydraulic fluid, and one gear oil. A color-coded visual-aid system is not necessary.
• No color-coding or labeling visual-aid system has been adopted.
• Not sure.

2. Lubrication and re-lubrication practices: How are equipment-oil changes determined in your facility?

• Oil changes are initiated based on oil analysis provided by a commercial partner or independent oil-analysis laboratory.
•  Oil changes are initiated based on oil analysis conducted in the plant by certified lubrication technicians.
• Oil changes are performed based on a visual assessment done by our lubrication technicians.
• Oil changes are done on a calendar-based interval.
• Oil changes are done on an as-needed basis, due to a failure, a rebuild, or replacement.

3. Contamination control: What is the most common method for excluding contamination from sumps and reservoirs in your facility?

• Breather or vent originally installed by the OEM on the component.
• Normally closed, desiccating, and particulate-filtering breathers.
• No breathers of any type installed on any equipment.
• Standard, normally opened, disposable desiccant breathers.
• Standard particle filters on breather ports.
• Not sure.

4. Sampling technology: What location best describes where most oil samples are taken from your oil-lubricated equipment?

• Static oil reservoirs or sumps through the vent or fill ports.
• Turbulent zone in a representative location.
• Long runs of straight pipe.
• Downstream of system components and upstream of system filters.
• Not currently taking oil samples from any component or system at a regular frequency.

5. Lubrication-analysis program: Who is responsible for setting oil-analysis alarms and limits for the majority of your equipment?

• Not currently using oil analysis as a condition-based maintenance tool.
• Lab owned by our lubricant supplier sets all alarms and limits.
• We have not set any alarms or limits.
• We worked closely with a commercial laboratory to help define the most appropriate alarms and limits to help us achieve our reliability and production goals.

Often, according to Gauthier, the hardest part in improving management of lubricants and lubrication practices at a site is for personnel to be honest enough among themselves to acknowledge/admit to their current situation. “But if an organization is serious about changing its lubrication mindset,” he said, “this type of self-assessment will put it on the path to success.”

Mike Gauthier is director of Global Services for Trico Corp., Pewaukee, WI. To access the complete lubrication self-assessment described in this article, click here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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