Train And Empower Lube Techs
EP Editorial Staff | May 13, 2021
Elevating lubrication technicians to the level expected of electricians will significantly improve reliability.
By Mark Barnes, PhD, CMRP, Des-Case Corp.
Employees of world-class organizations spend as much as 10% of their time learning new skills or solidifying existing skills through “refresher training,” and with good reason. Studies have shown that, for every dollar spent on training, an average of five to ten dollars of cost avoidance is realized by applying skills learned in precision-maintenance courses. Yet, despite this, many companies still fail to provide the training opportunities required to ensure skills competence.
The reasons for this are many and varied. At least some of the hesitancy to provide adequate training can best be summarized by a recent conversation with a senior leader of a large Fortune 500 company who asked, “What if we train our lube techs and they leave?” One of his peers responded, “What if we don’t train them and they stay?” Therein lies the conundrum. How do you provide training to employees and ensure that the skills they acquire benefit the organization and the employee?
The answer lies in an organization’s motivation for training. Many times training is offered either as an exercise in “checking a box” required by contractual obligations for designated training hours or in a misguided belief that training someone somehow guarantees success. In reality, training often has the opposite effect, creating a sense of “flavor of the month” for any given topic and that all the training in the world is not going to make any real difference.
In the lubrication field, this is particularly true. Having taught lubrication and oil-analysis classes for close to 25 years, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve educated technicians on the benefits of precision lubrication, only to be told by class participants that they have none of the tools or processes in place and highly doubt leadership would support the required purchases.
This type of short-sightedness can have a profound impact on an organization. From my experience, most employees want to do a good job. Very few lube technicians wake up and go to work intent on adding dirty oil to a machine to induce failure. Yet, we teach technicians about the importance of clean oil but refuse to invest in the tools they need to get the job done correctly.
This is just one of many examples in which the lack of building a system for success hampers the technician’s ability to fully implement the newfound knowledge training provides. As a result, shortly after training is completed, the organization atrophies back to business as usual and cynicism takes hold.
The only way to create sustainable success is to focus on two areas of improvement:
• System Quality to ensure tools, practices, and processes are in place for success.
• People Quality by employing motivated, trained technicians.
With a strong focus on both, organizations can succeed long term.
Build lubrication competency
Like most areas of reliability, responsibility for lubrication success requires that everyone understands how his or her actions and decisions influence the outcome. This includes senior leaders who need to understand the return on the investment they need to make, purchasing people who need to focus on life-cycle costing, and mechanics and technicians who will perform maintenance work. For those companies that also practice Total Productive Maintenance (TPM), operators who may be empowered to perform minor tasks such as level checks and re-lubrication also need to be included.
The best way to achieve this is to develop a training matrix based on job function. By “modularizing” training, specific functional groups can be included in training modules that involve their influence on outcomes without wasting valuable time on unnecessary classes.
For lubrication technicians specifically, thought should be given to certifying individuals in the field of lubrication. We would never dream of letting technicians weld pressure vessels or perform high-voltage electrical maintenance without appropriate licensure. Yet we give a grease gun capable of generating 15,000 psi of pressure to an untrained lube tech, only to wonder why over greasing of motor bearings kills our electric motors.
Fortunately, good lubrication-certification tracks exist. ICML (International Council for Machinery Lubrication, Broken Arrow, OK, icmlonline.com) is a not-for-profit organization with a mandate to promote lubrication and the related field of oil analysis as a technical profession. ICML offers two parallel tracks for plant technicians: Machinery Lubrication Technician (MLT Level I and II) and Machinery Lubricant Analyst (MLA Level, I, II, and III).
The value of certification cannot be overstated. Recognition as a professional in the field builds the esteem of lubrication technicians and directs focus from the whole organization on the importance of precision lubrication to overall asset reliability. This change in mindset and lubrication culture is good for the individual and the organization. I have personally witnessed lube techs obtain ICML certification and build a career, with several promotions along the way, based on the recognition that lubrication certification represents and the impact it has on plant reliability.
Along with certification, pay scales need to be commensurate with skills. Like other maintenance disciplines, being able to provide the required lubrication is a skill that should be recognized with appropriate compensation when done consistently and correctly. The days of lubrication being the domain of the mechanic closest to retirement or someone on reduced work duties should be past.
Of course, training and appropriate pay scales will only get you so far. Every lubrication success story needs a champion. Part cheerleader, part project manager, part subject-matter expert, the lubrication project lead can be a lead mechanic or lube tech but is more likely to be a reliability or maintenance engineer.
Note, this is no part-time job. He or she needs to be motivated, driven, and a relentless champion of all things lubrication, willing to stand side-by-side with the lube techs as a change agent. Like the technicians, having certification either in MLT, MLA, or the recently launched MLE (Machinery Lubrication Engineer) certification track from ICML ensures that the project champion has the knowledge and organizational respect to get the job done.
In the June 2021 issue, I’ll discuss building quality lubrication practices and processes—System Quality. For now, take a look at what lubrication training has to offer and how you can start to build People Quality to take your organization to the next level of precision lubrication. EP
Mark Barnes, CMRP, is Senior Vice President at Des-Case Corp., Goodlettsville, TN (descase.com). He has 21 years of experience in lubrication management, oil analysis, and contamination control.