Lubricants Lubrication Preventive Maintenance Reliability Software

Schedule Your Lube PMs

EP Editorial Staff | December 1, 2022

Equipment, cables and piping as found inside of a modern industrial power plant

Instead of routes, use lube software to handle all aspects of your lubrication requirements.

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

Whether you call it your CMMS (Computerized Maintenance Management System), EAM (Enterprise Asset Management System) or by another acronym, most progressive companies use some form of server or cloud-based software to track maintenance activities. While most would agree that these systems are great for asset cost accounting, they often fall short when it comes to effective maintenance work planning. Used properly, maintenance-management systems create organizational structure and efficiencies that help ensure the right work gets done on time and on budget. Unfortunately, the key words are “used properly.”

As a foundational maintenance activity, lubrication PMs belong in the maintenance management system. Proper lubrication requires a degree of planning, organization, and accountability that lends itself to a computerized tracking system. Unfortunately, when it comes to lubrication, most maintenance-management systems fall short in delivering the organization and accountability we seek because of the way that most system administrators structure asset hierarchy.

Asset hierarchy simply refers to the way in which equipment is organized by location, area, and function. Perhaps the most complete guide to setting up a good asset hierarchy can be found in the ISO 14224 standard. While originally developed to capture maintenance and reliability data in the petroleum, refining, and natural-gas industries, ISO 14224 has been adopted by many other industry verticals.

The ISO 14224 standard defines nine levels or layers of asset hierarchy from level 1 (industry) to level 9 (individual part). The challenge with implementing ISO 14224 in most maintenance-management systems lies not in the taxonomy outlined in the standard, but rather how many companies choose to deploy asset hierarchy in their maintenance-management systems.

Because most systems are set up to account for MRO costs, many companies do not build their hierarchy below levels 6 or 7, which might be defined as the machine train (conveyor) or sub-assembly (drive). What should be levels 7 to 9, which are maintainable items (gearbox) and parts (input shaft bearing), are usually defined as fields, associated with the lowest level 6 or 7 hierarchy. While this may seem a subtle distinction, this practice can lead to some real deficiencies when it comes to managing lubrication PMs.

Consider the simple example of a pump. At the machine-train level, level 6 refers to the whole pump including the driver (in this case the electric motor), the coupling, and the driven component (the pump). From a cost-accounting perspective, this makes total sense when the only question is, “how much does it cost to own, operate, and maintain the pump?” It also makes sense for maintenance tasks, such as alignment, for which the goal is to make sure that the machine train is correctly aligned. But lubrication tasks do not occur at level 6 or 7. In fact, it could be argued that lubrication is a level 9 activity. 

Take our pump example. A pump will have a least three and perhaps as many as five lubricated parts, including the drive and non-drive end motor bearings; the coupling, which may or may not be lubricated; and the pump bearings that may share a common bearing housing or be lubricated separately. For other systems, such as circulating lube-oil systems or hydraulics, the situation is even more complex with dozens of maintainable parts, each of which needs to be lubricated, inspected, and/or sampled.

The lubrication policy defines the engineering behind precision lubrication and contains the items in the illustration. Images courtesy AMMRRI/Generation Systems

Lube PM setup

To set up lubrication PMs, we first need to define the lubrication policy for the asset. The policy defines the engineering behind “precision lubrication,” including which lubricant to use; how much to apply; how often, where, and how to inspect or sample; how to modify the equipment to insure maintainability and fluid cleanliness; which oil-analysis tests should be performed; and what targets or limits are appropriate.

By definition, lubrication PMs that are built out of the lubrication policy need to occur at level 9 of the asset hierarchy. The drive and non-drive end bearings need to be lubricated and may or may not use the same or different lubricants. The quantity of grease to apply may be different, depending on bearing type. If the coupling is lubricated, which grease should be used and how often should you re-pack? How should you sample or inspect the pump-bearing housing and what tests should be conducted?

Once these decision have been made, the information needs to be codified into a series of unique PMs that need task details (grease quantities) and procedural steps that need to be scheduled as part of the maintenance-management workflow.

In most maintenance-management systems, PMs need to be assigned at a specific level of the hierarchy. In a level 6 or 7 hierarchy, where should the lube PMs be assigned? The functional location, machine train, or neither? Also, where does critical information such as lubricant quantity or lubricant type reside?

While the answer may seem obvious—define the asset hierarchy down to the individual maintenance part, e.g., drive end bearing—the complexities that this would create, not the least of which is having to open and close literally tens or even hundreds of thousands of lube PMs, make this a less-than-desirable option. 

Lube scheduling software will help you define and schedule activities that fall under level 9 of the ISO 14224 standard.

Many companies solve the issue by creating lubrication routes, which are a collection of tasks that are in the same location, scheduled on the same frequency, and use similar tools (grease gun) or lubricant. Lube routes are then issued against a functional area (machine room).

But what about accountability and traceability? What if one task out of a hundred on a PM is not completed, perhaps due to a systemic reason such as accessibility? Do we close out the PM since we did 99% of the work or do we leave it open? Neither is correct. How about tracking what lubricant to use or how much to apply?

Enter the world of lube scheduling software. Often linked through an API or other data bridge to the main maintenance-management system, lube-scheduling software provides a more complex hierarchy of lubricated parts (level 9) that, when set up properly, rolls up to the correct hierarchical level in the main system. 

By defining a more detailed taxonomy, we can now assign consumables (filters, breathers, lubricant), as well as unique tasks (lube PMs) at the correct level, allowing us to track and trace individual PM completion, manage overdue tasks, tie oil analysis data and key metrics to the lubrication component, and provide work instructions (procedures) to ensure that tasks are executed correctly. 

Lube-scheduling software systems can be either server or cloud based, can be tied to hand-held devices to issue work instructions in the field, and have the capability of building lubrication routes to create efficiencies in work execution. In effect, they take care of the minutia that would be too cumbersome and complex to manage in the main maintenance-management system.

If you’re struggling with effective execution of lubrication PMs, insure you’ve defined the work that needs to be done by creating unique asset-lubrication policies for each lubricated component and look at the benefits of deploying lube PMs through a specialized lube management and scheduling system.  EP

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


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