On The Floor

On The Floor: Real-World Lube Programs — Big Differences Still

Jane Alexander | July 18, 2016

Lubrication strategies are an ongoing focus in our pages, thanks, in large part to contributing editor Ken Bannister and other experts in the field. This month, we wanted to dive a little deeper into actual lube practices at EP Reader Panelists’ sites. We asked these questions:

• Who set up their sites’ current lubrication program/schedules (or those of their clients/customers) and how are they working?
• When was a plant-wide (or section-wide) lubrication review last performed, who performed it, and why?
• What are qualifications for lubrication personnel at these plants?
• How understanding/supportive is site management with regard to lubrication best practices and training and qualification of lubrication personnel? <

Edited for clarity and brevity, here’s what several respondents told us. What’s clear is that sites aren’t all on the same page in their approaches.

Maintenance Leader, Discrete Manufacturing, Midwest…

Our site and sister plants each have an oiler. Their duties include lubricating machines that need lubrication, as well as normal duties included in preventive-maintenance tasks (PMs), which are regularly scheduled by our PM coordinators. Tracking is done through our CMMS and is part of our normal metrics.

Oilers are part of our maintenance team, so it’s an in-house job. [While] I feel they’re well trained and informed about the importance of their jobs, I don’t believe they have any type of certification. I’m also not aware of any kind of plant-wide lubrication reviews having been conducted.

Planned Maintenance Supervisor, Process Industries, Southwest…

Current lubrication schedules were set by the planned maintenance supervisor. Initially based on OEM recommendations, they’ve been adjusted [over time] to our environment and conditions as required. [As for ever conducting a plant-wide or section-wide review]: Never. It’s been difficult obtaining senior management’s buy-in for these types of projects.

There are no qualifications for lubrication personnel. We’re pushing to get some formal training and certifications, but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s been difficult getting management to see the value and importance of spending money to optimize our lubrication best practices.

Plant Engineer, Institutional Facilities, Midwest…

Supervisors of each set of our buildings set up [their respective] lubrication programs. They seem to work OK, but can have problems. [Due to budgets], we’ve had to cut back on a few things like color-coded grease-fitting caps that designate which greases are to be used on various equipment. We’re trying to tag each piece of equipment so date and grease types are listed. Our overall lubrication program could benefit from an updated format, but manpower and budgets hold us back.

I don’t know when (if ever) a plant-wide lubrication review was last preformed. Our original system was set up using the U.S. military system of the three types of maintenance.

Most [of our] maintenance engineers have several years of experience when hired. I don’t think upper management understands much about preventive maintenance other that the cost of oil/grease, rags, and any other equipment needed for maintenance. They just want the costs to be kept as low as possible without jeopardizing equipment.

Technical Supervisor, Energy Provider, West…

[Corporate operation and maintenance guidelines established our current lubrication program and schedules.] We originally set up lubrication oil-sampling/analysis with support from [a major lab]. That lab was purchased by [another group]. We’ve had good support from both organizations.

I rely on the maintenance and operations staff to identify obvious problems such as “water in oil,” and then review lab-analysis reports for specifics on oil-testing and filtering recommendations.

Trained, experienced maintenance and operations personnel take oil samples on our rotating equipment, hydraulics, and oil-filled transformers. We have periodic audits from our project-insurance carrier that wants to see the maintenance records, including the oil- and gas-analysis reports.

College Electrical-Laboratory Manager/Instructor, West…

Our current lube program was first set up when we instituted the 5S system. We reviewed equipment manuals for PMs and set up the CMMS program. This was accomplished through a team of maintenance staff and the process-engineering group. The system works, but needs adjusting as we use it (a learning curve).

The lube program is fully reviewed every three months, and adjustments are made using CMMS data, i.e., we analyze downtime reports and track problems related to the lube program.

We have a maintenance-certification program that includes Lube 101. The lube PM program is completed per shift, and rotates duties with the shifts and maintenance staff.

We have color-coded grease guns and fittings so special greases aren’t used incorrectly. Each piece of equipment has a lube chart that can be accessed through the HMI (human-machine-interface) screen.

Management is fully behind the lube program because of the cost of downtime and the equipment’s capital investment. The longer we can keep equipment functioning, the higher the product quality and output. The labor cost involved in certification-related training programs is viewed as a cost of doing business.

(Note: One of our biggest problems is the maintenance staff actually doing the lubing and not just pencil-whipping PM input sheets.)

Engineering Group Lead, Process Industries, Midwest…

The current schedules, which have been in place for over 20 years, are outdated and lacking. I am finding that [the site] would put whoever was available on greasing and inspecting for proper lubrication. I’ve also found numerous broken, missing, or clogged grease fittings, and incorrectly used lubricants. In an effort to keep fewer chemicals on hand, someone in the past went to one type of lubricant, one grease, one oil, one hydraulic oil, for the entire plant.

[With respect to a plant-wide review], I am currently in the process of researching individual machine lubrication requirements. Currently, there are no qualification standards. Lubrication is considered an entry-level position. The job is assigned to whoever is available.

I believe that management agrees it is important to keep up with our lubrication program. Certification is another issue. Our management seems “old school,” meaning OTJ (on-the-job) training and learn-as-you-go. That puts more pressure on me, as group lead, to properly train our associates in proper lubrication techniques.

Industry Supplier, Midwest…

[Our] customers set up their own lube programs in-house. While they [appear to work], they are constantly changing, as markets evolve and technologies and processes change, all of which changes a plant’s lube requirements.

End users are always looking for new suppliers. Each time prospective customers come in, their lube programs and products are evaluated for new proposals. This is usually done by the supplier for products, and at the customer level for maintenance and scheduling. It works, but there’s always room for improvement. 

Some [or our customers] have gone through programs offered by formal lubrication-training providers, but, mostly, it is us, a supplier of products, training them through presentations on fundamentals. I would say, in most companies, that lubrication is a bottom, starting position. It’s wrong, but inevitable. 


Industry Consultant, International…

Unless you find a truly world-class maintenance implementation, [lubrication] plans come and go. Most of the time, this delicate activity is put in the hands of the least trained people. Lubrication training should be a priority for all sites! 

The Efficient Plant Reader Panel includes approximately 100 working industrial-maintenance practitioners and consultants who have volunteered to answer monthly questions prepared by our editorial staff. Panelist identities are not revealed and their responses are not necessarily projectable. Note that our panel welcomes new members. To be considered, email your name and contact information to jalexander@efficientplantmag.com with “Reader Panel” in the subject line. All panelists are automatically included in an annual cash-prize drawing after one year of active participation.

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Jane Alexander

Jane Alexander

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