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‘Map’ Your Way to Successful Lubrication

Ken Bannister | October 6, 2017

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Lubrication mapping is essential in best-practice lubrication-management programs.

The standard 4R principles of effective lubrication dictate that we place the Right lubricant, in the Right place, In the Right amount, at the Right time. Performing a plant-wide lubrication mapping exercise allows us to determine the first three Rs, and influence the fourth.

Listen to an in-depth podcast with Ken Bannister on mapping your way to successful lubrication.

Recognized as a fundamental building block of best-practice lubrication-management programs, lubrication mapping (LM) is not a new concept. Yet, despite having been introduced on a wide scale to industry by automotive manufacturers in the early 1900s, LM still isn’t common in today’s facilities.

Classic LM is the practice of identifying, classifying, and charting out the physical location of all filter, reservoir, and lubrication delivery points found on each machine (industrial), or vehicle drivetrain/chassis (automotive) used to facilitate an end- user lubrication regime. The present-day interpretation of industrial LM has been expanded to include lubrication resources, i.e., storage, transfer, delivery, filtration, environmental spill, and safety-item product inventory, lubrication-workflow routes, and line identification marking for all centralized machine-delivery systems.


Where asset reliability is concerned, it’s no longer acceptable to state, “lubricate as necessary” on a preventive-maintenance (PM) work order—for any machine. Building and executing an effective lubrication PM job task requires the job planner and the lubrication technician to understand each machine’s lubrication requirements, along with the logistics of efficiently managing and delivering lubricant to the required bearing point to satisfy the 4R principles. As an inexpensive and highly cost-effective element in successful lubrication-management programs, LM offers many benefits. Among them:   

• LM provides a documented “as built” inventory and location schematic of each machine’s lubrication points (Right place) and requirements (Right amount) that build the PM job task and determine the appropriate delivery system choice if no centralized or automated system is already in place.

• LM facilitates the consolidation of lubricants (Right lubricant) that results in:

• correct lubricant choice for end-user operating conditions
reduced lubricant-inventory savings
reduced lubricant-storage real-estate requirements
reduced lubricant-purchasing and -handling costs
reduced incidence of lubricant-cross contamination.

• LM facilitates training and rapid assimilation of new hires to perform lubrication in a consistent and correct manner.

• LM facilitates the development of efficient lubrication routing, i.e., the “ganging” of multiple lubrication PM work orders based on use of similar lubricant type, to increase technicians’ “wrench time” effectiveness. 


If your organization has gone through a recent lubricant-consolidation exercise, you’ll probably have much of the information needed for a full LM implementation. If that’s not the case, implementing LM is best done in three consecutive stages.

Stage 1: Machine mapping. Gather as much information as possible about the lubrication systems and points on your current machine inventory, including:

• lubrication-schematic drawings or take-offs (from Operation & Maintenance [O&M] manuals)
machinery engineering drawings (from your engineering department)
machine Bill of Material (BOM) lists (from your asset-management work-order system)
vibration-monitoring route plans that identify critical bearing-point locations (from your maintenance-planning department
oil-sampling route plan (from your maintenance-planning department)
machine inventory list (from your maintenance-planning department)
lubricant (oil and grease) purchase list, (from your site’s stores or purchasing department)
lubricant filters, breathers, spill kits, and safety items used on lubrication PM work orders (from your site’s stores or purchasing department and maintenance- planning department)
MSDSs (material safety-data sheets) for all lubricants at the site.

The next step is to develop an information-gathering form to document and collect lubrication data for each machine. A digital camera and a machine marker will be required. Prior to inspection, ensure that machines are de-energized and locked-out and personnel collecting the information are wearing appropriate safety gear. The following data is required:

• Machine data includes asset number, description, and location. Photograph the machine from all four corners and above, if possible.

• List all reservoirs for gearboxes, auto-lube systems, or hydraulics. Note if there are tags identifying lubrication information. Photograph each reservoir, and note if there is a min-max fill-level indication. Identify any installed breathers and filters, fill-port and drain-port locations, oil-analysis points, and reservoir capacity (measure and calculate capacity, if unknown).

• Identify, photograph and, with a machine marker, number all bearing points on the machine. Note the bearing type and size and, if possible, the running speed. Indicate if bearings are oiled or greased and what lubricant is currently used. If information is on a PM work order, list the current amount of lubricant asked for.

Note if bearings are lubricated automatically, semi-automatically (centralized with manual pump or grease gun) or manually. Finally, indicate if lube lines are marked or tagged for identification and troubleshooting purposes. When machine mapping is completed, Stage 2 can commence.

Stage 2: Lubricant and lubricant-resource mapping. In this stage,  inventory and document all lubricants found inside and outside the plant, whether in current use or not, and photograph their labels. At the same time, identify, document, and photograph all stocked breathers and lube filters.

The information collected in Stages 1 and 2 should be turned over to your lubricant supplier. In turn, the supplier should engage the lubricant-manufacturer’s engineers (usually at no charge if you purchase their products) to perform a consolidation audit that reduces your lubricant inventory. The results of the audit can then be shared with one or more lubrication-system suppliers. They’ll be able to analyze the data and suggest lubricant-delivery system designs that can optimize machine efficiency, costs, and lifecycle effectiveness. A quality supplier will provide system engineering and system schematics with numbering protocols as part of their service. Approach your filter and breather suppliers in the same manner.

With Stages 1 and 2 out of the way, and information from your suppliers in hand, Stage 3 can begin.

Stage 3: Work-flow and delivery-route mapping. Developing and updating of workflows and delivery routes will take time. Your site may choose to tackle it with in-house personnel or elect to engage a lubrication-management expert to assist with the effort. (You have the same options for the other two stages and can change your approach at any time in the LM process.)

Regardless of how you choose to implement LM, or how much of a commitment in time and resources the process ultimately requires, remember this: Lubrication mapping is the simplest, most efficient way to ensure the crucial 4Rs of lubrication are at work at your site. EP

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is co-author, with Heinz Bloch, of the book Practical Lubrication for Industrial Facilities, 3rd Edition (The Fairmont Press, Lilburn, GA). As managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc. (Innerkip, Ontario), he specializes in the implementation of lubrication-effectiveness reviews to ISO 55001 standards, asset-management systems, and training. Contact him at, or telephone 519-469-9173.



Ken Bannister

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