Lubrication Lubrication Management & Technology

The State of the Lubrication Nation

Ken Bannister | December 14, 2014

While our in-depth study of lubrication practices in North American industries provides some good news, it also reveals much room for improvement.

Lubrication plays a significant role in the success of any industrial plant or facility that operates moving equipment. With the “wheels of industry” literally relying on lubricant film mere microns in thickness, it is essential to recognize the need for good lubrication practice and implement a quality lubrication-management program.

As noted this month in the “From Our Perspective” column, thanks to studies performed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Dr. Ernest Rabinowicz, we know that up to 70% of all moving equipment failures (loss of bearing surface usefulness) are caused by mechanical wear and corrosion, which can be directly and/or indirectly attributed to ineffective lubrication practices. Both of these practices, we also know, are entirely preventable with Good Lubrication Practices (GLP).

In practical terms, the impact of lubrication is astounding. GLP translates into asset availability, reliability, uptime, throughput, energy savings, carbon footprint reduction and profit. The Rabinowicz law states that “every year, 6% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is lost through mechanical wear.” Applying Rabinowicz’s law to the 2014 estimated third-quarter U.S. GDP of $17.5 trillion, mechanical wear losses could amount to more than $1 trillion this year!

Determining North America’s ‘State of Lubrication’

To benchmark the current state of lubrication in North America, compared to accepted industry lubrication best practices, we created a comprehensive 37-question “State of the Nation’s Lubrication Practices” study and invited Lubrication Technology’s virtual subscribers to respond. To date, we have received 112 complete responses to this detailed survey, all from North America-based lubrication professionals.


As depicted in Fig. 1, all major Industry types are represented, with Manufacturing as the largest sector at 32%. This is followed by the combined Natural Resources sector at 18% and the Automotive sector at 9%. The combined Food and Drug sector make up an additional 9%, with the Facility Management sector next at 8% and residual industries (the Other/Fleet sector) making up the final 24%.


The answers to all 37 questions were tabulated and averaged for all industry type sectors collectively, and for each specific industry sector, and scored out of 100. Table I shows how the nation scored on its lubrication practices.


At an overall score of 43, these North American industry sectors have much room to improve on their lubrication practices. By a significant margin, the Natural Resource sector, with a score of 54%, leads the way. The good news is that both the individual answers and score levels demonstrate that lubrication awareness has been established.

System Review (Fig. 2)


Individual questions in the survey are grouped into six lubrication-management program elements to enable the reader to understand specific areas requiring improvement. These elements are: System Review, Lubrication Personnel, Work Management, Contamination Control, Application Engineering and Safety. The first, System Review, asks if the company has had its lubrication practices professionally audited in the last three years. Professional audits open lubrication methods, processes and procedures to review by an independent resource skilled in developing best-practice lubrication programs so a customized improvement action plan can be developed.

Figure 2 shows that only 21% all sectors had been audited in the last three years. The most-audited sectors seem to be Automotive and Natural Resources, with 30% of both groups having been audited. The least audited is the Other sector, at 11%.

Another System Review component is the professional lubricant-consolidation exercise/program in which all lubricants on site are documented and analyzed to determine their necessity. This exercise is designed to consolidate and minimize the number of required lubricant SKUs, thereby reducing carrying and purchase costs, storage real estate, and the chance of causing lubricant cross-contamination through use of the wrong lubricant. This usually occurs just after or as part of the audit and, in this case, figures came out the same as those who say they were recently audited, with just 21% of all sectors performing a lubricant-consolidation exercise.

Lubrication Personnel (Fig. 3)


Only 28% of all sectors combined use dedicated lubrication personnel, and only 12% of all sectors combined use only professionally certified (by ICML, STLE or ISO) lubrication personnel to administer their programs. Again, the Resources sector leads with 30% of this group using only professionally certified lubrication personnel. The Facilities sector comes in second with 20%. Manufacturing ranks the lowest: Only 1% of this sector’s lubrication personnel are professionally certified.

Certified and dedicated lubrication personnel appear to have made a difference with the Resource sector’s overall results.

Work Management (Fig. 4)


Surprisingly, only 39% of respondents say they report all lubrication-related instances of machine failure or downtime. This may explain why only 42% of lubrication work is formally managed and tracked in a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) on a work order and, of those, only 28% are specifically typed (designated) as lubrication work orders for reporting purposes.

Lubrication work orders are only effective if the work actually gets scheduled and completed in a timely manner. Only 28% of all respondents say they complete their lubrication work within 48 hours of WO issue and 29% of respondents review their lubrication PMs for task and schedule effectiveness on an annual basis.

Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), designed to promote work consistency, are in use across all sectors for lubricants. According to the survey, SOPs are used at receiving by 42%; for manual bearing lubrication by 31%; for rotating lubricant stocks by 30%; and are used when taking oil samples for testing purposes by 26%. Again, the Resource sector is the predominant user of SOPs.

Oil analysis is used by 30% of respondents to determine oil-change intervals based on oil condition, and 43% say they perform regular quarterly (or less) cleaning and system checks on their automated lubricant-delivery systems.

Contamination Control (Fig. 5)


Contamination control is arguably one the most critical aspects of lubrication management. Water, dirt and air all play their part in contaminating and destroying a bearing surface area and, unfortunately, much of it is introduced during the maintenance process.

From new, oil is relatively dirty and must be received correctly and filtered prior to use. Only 22% of all sectors have a lubricant cleanliness agreement with their oil suppliers. More than half—53%—say they do NOT reseal their bulk containers once opened to draw lubricant, and only 22% pre-filter their bulk oil prior to use. There are major opportunities for improvement in this area.

The better news is that 51% of all sectors use dedicated transfer equipment to eliminate cross contamination of lubricants, and 55% of all sectors use transfer equipment with closeable lids and spouts. It was great to see that 75% of all sectors store their lubricants in dedicated areas protected from the outside elements, and encouraging to see 61% of respondents always change/clean their filters when an oil change is performed.

Application Engineering (Fig. 6)


A crucial part of GLP is documenting all bearing-point locations and types, so their lubricant requirements can be calculated for application purposes and to help avoid over-lubrication of bearing(s).

Although a crucial part of the lubrication program, the process of locating lubrication points and identifying lubrication types is performed by only 36% of respondents. The Manufacturing sector takes the lead here with 57%, and the Automotive and Resource sectors are right behind with 55% and 53%, respectively. Unfortunately, only 45% of respondents say they have schematics or drawings for their lube systems, and only 9% have lubricant requirement sheets for every bearing in the plant.

The ramifications of the above figures are reflected in the 60% of respondents who say they experience grease leakage from bearings on the floor, and the 41% who experience noisy bearings, hallmarks of ineffective lubrication practices.

There appears to still be a lot of manual greasing performed, yet only 41% of respondents use only one grease-gun type in their plant to eliminate the delivery and pressure issues that arise when different grease-gun types are used. Furthermore, only 6% of respondents measure and label their grease-gun output in cc/ to enable engineered delivery to the bearing point, which is stated on only 20% of all greasing work orders.

Safety (Fig. 7)


Almost every survey respondent indicated that his or her company is concerned about workforce safety. For example, 90% say they have easy access to lubricant Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS). Additionally, 87% of all sectors operate a formal spill program, and 76% operating a formal waste-lubricant program. This is good news for personal safety and the environment!


Many of our study’s respondents are aware of the elements required to achieve a successful best-practice lubrication-management program and reap the benefits such programs offer and deliver. In upcoming issues of Lubrication Technology, we will address these issues in greater depth and discuss how to build on the foundation that many readers may already have in place at their facilities. The goal, regardless of sector, is to move all industries toward GLP.


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Ken Bannister

Ken Bannister

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