Champion Good Lube Practices
Greg Pietras | February 1, 2024
The power of one person, dedicated to a quality program, can result in long-term gains in asset reliability.
By Dave Piangerelli, Lubrication Technologies Inc.
When on site at a plant, a quarry, a municipality, or any company/entity that uses lubricants, it’s easy to spot inefficiency and poor management and, alternately, good management practices. The most obvious is organization and care.
In my 47 years in the lubrication world, I’ve had the opportunity to see a wide variety of operational disciplines. Generally, they can be classified in three categories: the unconscious, the norm, and the prideful.
The unconscious exhibit lack of care at every turn. The repair shop is a disaster, old machines and parts are strewn about, dust lives everywhere, and there is no obvious esprit de corps. You can see it on the floor, on the walls, in the parking lot, and in the personnel. Organizations such as this may live to a very old age but they suffer unknowable monetary losses, employee dissatisfaction (displayed or not), and poor machine life and production. Usually, the stakeholders live with this condition as they are blind to the potentially greater profits and employee satisfaction that working in a clean, well-organized environment brings to the company (not to mention any potential clients who may see how things are run).
The norm is relatively innocuous. Tools and spares are fairly well organized and there are no obvious messes or safety hazards. Employees go about their day and do their jobs, most happy with the way things operate.
Prideful operations are obvious. Everywhere you see organization, clean vehicles, aisleways swept and marked, machines labeled with asset numbers, and an obvious display of care for operations and the work environment.
What does this have to do with lubrication? Well, everything. If pride is on display and stakeholders are educated about lubrication-management concepts, you’ll see desiccant breathers in use, color-coded oil-transfer vessels and, most telling of all, a well-marked, clean, and well-lit oil-storage room. The oil-storage room is, generally speaking, the low-hanging fruit in most organizations and most ripe for improvement.
The Power of One
Why the power of one? Because that’s all it takes; one individual dedicated to having the organization operate as he or she desires. That means there is no wiggle room. This is the way we do things and it is expected. Of course, if that person is middle management and the owners aren’t supportive, then the one who cares won’t for long and will move on.
My job is to work with those who care — managers who see value in operating a tight ship and are excited to work with like-minded quality-oriented vendors. We have a client who is maintenance manager of a state-of-the-art blown-film plant. As a young man, he worked under a supervisor at another film plant and, while the manner in which the maintenance department was operated wasn’t bad, when he moved to a different plant, he wanted it “his” way. He looked to me for best practices and today the plant has color-coded filtration units, well-marked assets, QD couplers and desiccant breathers, oil-sample valves on every gearbox, an active oil-analysis condition-monitoring program, and a team that looks up to him for the manner in which he operates the maintenance department.
In his 20 years at the plant, he has experienced four managerial changes. Every time he requisitioned a drum of lubricant, he was asked why it was needed and, in some cases, why it cost more than $4,000 a drum. He tells me he used to take the time to expound on the improvements he made over the years and the results the plant experienced (some gearboxes have had the same oil in them for more than 15 years). Now, he simply states that they don’t really need “that drum” of lubricant (which is procured every three to four years) and that they can go back to how things operated before he got there. Of course, this leads to the question of how things were and he states that gearboxes were changed annually, if not sooner; downtime, planned and unplanned, was exponentially higher; and waste-oil generation was three to four drums annually. He also points out that they would have to hire another maintenance technician. Each time the subject is dropped and the PO approved immediately.
Then there’s the power of one displayed in another way. A large municipal wastewater plant embraced best practices and condition monitoring of their 16 mechanical aerator gearboxes. When the city hired a new purchasing agent, some of the gearboxes had the same oil in them for four years. When the plant manager made his first request for a drum of “that expensive oil,” he was questioned by the purchasing agent and directed to go back to changing the oil annually in the gearboxes and buy the lowest- cost oil they could find.
You have the power of one. Assuming you are close to the machines and, of course, familiar with the various best practices advocated by vendors and educators with regard to benchmarking a superior lubrication-management program, you then become the knowledge sharer, the one who educates others as to how things should be done to best care for assets. That, of course, can mean undoing old ways or perhaps trying, as I did at a large quarry.
The quarry uses several haul trucks, wheel loaders, excavators, crushers, and screeners in their operation. When asked about the current engine oil-drain interval in this equipment, the manager responded with 250 hours. I asked him if they used oil analysis and he told me they did. I asked why they didn’t adhere to the 500-hr. drain intervals generally recommended by heavy-equipment manufacturers today and he responded that the company owners want to change the oil at 250 hr.
He also said that most all analysis results come back good so he realizes they could extend the drains. When asked if I could see some results, I noted that TBN (total base number), which indicates lubricant alkalinity reserve, was not being tested. That led to an explanation of the value of TBN testing, how it relates to oil life, and that without it he actually has no practical knowledge of the oil’s life. He said the analysis was free. Obviously the oil vendor is happy as well as the equipment owners. Sometimes the power of two is less than one! EP
Dave Piangerelli CLS, OMA MLTII MLA, is President of Lubrication Technologies Inc., West Springfield, MA (lubetechnologies.com). He has worked for more than 45 years to help plant operators improve their lubrication practices. You can reach him at email@example.com.