Contamination Control Delivery Systems Lubricants Lubrication Oil Analysis Storage & Handling

Build A System For Lubrication Success

EP Editorial Staff | June 10, 2021

Developing precision storage and handling practices is fundamental to success because any deficiencies potentially affect every lubricated asset in the plant.

A quality system requires attention to several factors, anchored by the 5-Rs of lubrication.

By Mark Barnes, PhD, CMRP, Des-Case Corp.

In my May 2021 article, I talked about the need to hire, train, and empower quality lubrication technicians to establish successful lubrication practices. Without the right people skills, it is highly unlikely that lubrication will deliver asset reliability. Even in organizations that do a good job training the correct individuals, success is not guaranteed.

The key is to develop a quality lubrication system that is sustainable over the long term. This needs to be done in parallel with training and empowerment. One cannot exist without the other.

What exactly is a quality lubrication system? Put simply, it provides the necessary tools, practices, and processes that make it possible for trained lubrication personnel to deploy the skills and best practices they learned during training. Take, for example, the simple act of checking oil level. We can teach the importance of having the correct oil level in a machine all day long, but if the equipment is not configured to be able to check the level during normal operation—due to guarding or lack of a level gauge or sight glass—then even the most qualified technician cannot perform to the desired level of competence.

A quality lubrication system goes way beyond being able to check oil levels. It requires a holistic focus on all aspects of lubrication from start to finish. To understand the concept of a quality lubrication system, we need to go back to basics and think about what are often referred to as the 5-Rs of lubrication:

• Right oil or grease: Is the correct lubricant being used based on load, speed, and operating environment?

• Right place/time: Are you applying the correct amount of lubricant (right oil level, correct re-grease volume) and re-lubricating or changing oil at the right interval?

• Right cleanliness: Is lubricant cleanliness sufficient to prevent contamination-induced failures?

• Right dryness: Are you keeping moisture/humidity out of your systems during normal operation?

• Right temperature: Are you maintaining optimum temperatures for your systems?

To achieve the 5Rs, you need to look at all aspects of your lubrication practices, starting with lubricant selection. There is nothing more fundamental to lubrication success than making sure you use the correct lubricant yet, repeatedly, I see the wrong oil or grease being used. Most mistakes occur due to a lack of understanding (oil is oil, grease is grease), which can be remedied through training, or through attempts to consolidate lubricants. Particularly troublesome is grease selection and an over reliance on multipurpose grease, a topic covered in my June 2020 article, Know Your Kappa Values.

If you haven’t conducted a lubricant survey in a while, it might be time to do so. Most lubricant suppliers can help, you may choose to do this yourself, or contract a third party to conduct the survey. Either way, it is mission critical to create a database that indicates which oil or grease should be used in each machine based on load, speed, and environment.

A quality lubrication system involves trained and empowered employees equipped with tools, practices, and processes that make it possible to perform all functions, including the simple act of checking oil levels.

Once the correct lubricant has been selected, make sure you store and handle lubricants appropriately. Most new oils, whether purchased in bulk, tote, or drum, do not meet even the most basic cleanliness targets for critical assets. As such, a quality lubrication system should include the ability to pre-filter new oils prior to use and a means to store oils and greases in such a way that their cleanliness, dryness, and physical/chemical properties are preserved. Developing precision storage and handling practices is fundamental to success because any deficiencies potentially affect every lubricated asset in the plant.

The purpose of filtering new oil prior to use is to remove the particles and moisture that cause 60% to 80% of all lubrication-related failures in a typical plant. Contamination control, however, goes beyond just filtering new oil. Ensure that parts storage is optimized, eliminate as many intrusive PMs as possible (pulling dipsticks to check oil level), design equipment to exclude contaminants through proper breathers and seal management, and use appropriate filtration to control particle and moisture levels inside oil sumps and reservoirs.

Since most OEMs do not routinely configure equipment to permit precision lubrication in conjunction with contamination control, critical assets may need to be modified. Equipment modifications can include adding a visual sight glass or level gauge, installing oil sample ports in the correct location, adding a desiccant breather to control particle and moisture ingression, and adding quick connects to permit offline filtration or non-intrusive addition of new oil.

For grease lubrication in particular, take the time to identify the correct re-greasing quantity and frequency. It is unrealistic to expect a lube technician—even one who’s been trained—to intuitively know how many pumps of grease a bearing needs, and how often. The engineering work to calculate the correct amount and frequency is straightforward but requires that someone does this work upfront and enters the information into work schedules and PM instructions. This is particularly important for electric motors and direct-coupled bearings where higher speeds mean that imprecise lubrication will have a far greater impact.

All lubrication PMs, whether they’re for greasing motor bearings or checking and changing oil, should be designed such that the work that needs to be done is captured in the form of work plans and procedures that are executed at the right time interval. Building lubrication PMs into efficient lubrication routes, based on location, scheduling interval, and task type, help insure efficient execution of daily, weekly, and monthly PMs.

Even the most well-engineered lubrication program can regress over time. This is where basic inspections and oil analysis come into play. Inspection check sheets that include simple tasks such as checking oil levels, inspecting for leakage, monitoring the breather condition, and/or checking differential pressure across a filter element, are a vital first line of defense against complacency. Sampling critical oil-lubricated assets on a monthly basis not only provides an early warning of possible machine failure but, more important, provides feedback and validation that the lubrication quality system is having the desired effect. Oil analysis is really about asking, “Are the 5Rs working as intended?”

Finally, adding real-time feedback through the adoption of technologies such as ultrasound to check re-grease volumes, or sensors to remotely monitor the health and cleanliness of the oil in critical assets, can add a layer of precision. Note that technology should not be added at the expense of fundamental lubrication practices. Technology is an enabler, not a silver bullet.

For rotating and reciprocating equipment, good lubrication is the cornerstone of asset reliability. You cannot train your way to success. Successful lubrication requires an investment in People Quality and System Quality. You can’t have one without the other. EP

Mark Barnes, CMRP, is Senior Vice President at Des-Case Corp., Goodlettsville, TN ( He has 21 years of experience in lubrication management, oil analysis, and contamination control.


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