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Creating A Sustainable Operator Driven Lubrication Program

The benefits of effective and successful lubricated equipment reliability gains reach wider than equipment availability and the reduction in operating costs in most industrialized plants. These reliability gains can also increase the entire business effectiveness by improving risk-safety, environmental integrity, energy efficiency, product quality, and customer service to mention a few. To receive these benefits from your lubrication program, we must ensure that we are using the correct equipment specific healthy lubricants that are aimed at both the equipment and lubricant life extension goals.

For many organizations ,either from a maintenance or production point of view, it is neither understood nor ignored that the lubrication type, quality and additives are an essential design principle of the equipment. Today in competitive markets, the demand for increased equipment and plant availability and modern machines operating at higher speeds, under heavier loads and with closer mechanical tolerances the stress on the lubricants to perform is increasing.

While the lubricant manufacturers provide quality products, the onus of executing all of the commonly referred to "Five R's of Lubrication" (the right product, in the right location, in the right amount, at the right time, and in the right condition) remains obscure within many industrial facilities. Implementing an ODR program does not eliminate this mystery unless the program integrates Production/Operations, Engineering, Maintenance, Procurement, Health and Safety, and Environmental departments into one cohesive goal of improving the plant's equipment reliability and performance.

Despite the efforts in awareness, many plants still ignore, disbelieve or just struggle with understanding the "five R's".

The Right Product

The first and most important step in receiving any potential benefits from your lubrication program is selecting and using the correct equipment specific lubricants. These must be aimed at extending the life of both the equipment and the lubricant. Many organizations feel the task of selecting the correct lubricant ends at the content or directions outlined in the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) manual or general recommendations from a lubricant supplier. This information is only the starting point and should be combined with present operating conditions, the operating environment, equipment criticality, historical information, reliability requirements, and the chosen maintenance strategies (CM, PM, PdM, PaM).

The task of selecting the correct lubricant can be very complex and should remain within the reliability-engineering department or by an individual with strong training in lubrication theory, applications, and lubrication analysis. Once the correct lubricant is determined, Purchasing must be involved to ensure the
product purchased meets the lubricant specific specifications. An overview of the requirements is contained within the August/September 2009 issue of Uptime Magazine 'Effective Guidelines for Implementing a Well-Engineered Lubrication Program'.

Lubricant is Part of the Equipment Design

The Right Location

Every single lubrication point on every piece of equipment that will be lubricated must be identified and marked on either the equipment itself or within the Standard Operating Procedure/Work Task Outline. By referring to OEM manual guidelines , these tasks can be performed by a cross functional team within the maintenance and operations departments. The team can then survey the equipment to identify the lubrication points, photograph and tag them for the development of SOP.

Tagged Equipment

Tagged Equipment

The Right Amount

While the correct level of oil appears to be straight forward on a piece of equipment with a sight glass, dipstick or liquid level gauge, these items need to be marked on the equipment to ensure accuracy. High and low levels need to be marked similar to the marking of a dipstick in your personal vehicle, since ¼ of an inch too low or too high can have serious effects on the performance of the lubricant.

Grease applications remain a bit more of a challenge. Component design, operating and environmental conditions need to be considered, then a method must be utilized to ensure delivery of the correct amount of grease to the components.

The function of marking the correct levels and calculating the correct amount of grease should be performed by a cross-functional team within the Reliability Engineering and Maintenance departments.

Accurately Marked Level Gauges

Accurately Marked Level Gauges

The Right Time

Many dynamic factors influence the timing for change-out, replacement or top-up of lubricants. Actual operating and environmental conditions must be taken into consideration along with OEM recommendations. Changing a lubricant too early results in a waste of lubricants, wasted labour, and increased disposal costs. Changing a lubricant too late can result in early wear, decreased component life, decreased reliability and catastrophic equipment failure.

The optimum approach to oil and some grease applications is to engage in a Predictive Maintenance Program (PdM) and perform condition based testing. This testing should be designed to provide the correct information needed in order for the required activities to be performed at optimum timing. However, most grease applications cannot utilize effective sampling and the re-lubrication activities will have to be determined by the lubricant's initial properties, the equipment design, and its actual operating and environmental conditions.

The function of determining the lubricant re-lubrication timing or the set-up of a condition based sampling and testing program should be performed by a cross functional team within the Reliability Engineering, Maintenance and Environmental departments within the facility.

The Right Condition

Lubricant manufacturers generally provide quality products designed for specific applications. While it is understood that many of these lubricants do not meet the cleanliness requirements of some plant equipment, what we do after receipt of the lubricant prior to the installation into our equipment can have a severe affect to the physical and chemical properties. How we store, handle and dispense these lubricants can in many cases, degrade them to the point where they are in worse condition than the lubricants they will be replacing.

Equipment reliability requires that the selected lubricant meets and maintains specific physical, chemical and cleanliness requirements. A detailed trail of a lubricant is required which begins with the OEM (lubricant supplier) and ends after disposal. Sampling and testing of the lubricants is required to validate the condition of the lubricant through all these phases.

Storage starts with correct labeling (including MSDS) clearly installed to ensure proper use of the enclosed contents. Throughout the storage and dispensing phases, proper stock rotation and storage methods must be used to prevent the degradation of the physical and chemical properties as well as the cleanliness of the lubricant.

Handling and dispensing methods must ensure that the health and the cleanliness of the lubricant meet the specifications required by the equipment. All opportunities of
contamination must be eliminated. Pre-filtering of all lubricants must be performed to meet the specific equipment requirements.

The function of determining the right condition should be performed by a cross functional team within the Reliability Engineering, Maintenance, Operations, Purchasing and Environmental departments within the facility. With the overview of basic understanding of a Lubrication Management Program it is imperative that all Senior Plant Managers in Production/Operations, Engineering, Maintenance, Procurement, Health and Safety, and Environmental departments form a cohesive group to focus on developing a highly detailed vision to provide the basic foundation, philosophy and commitment required to implement a small but critical portion of reliability prior to implementing a ODR lubrication program.

Common Goal of Reliability

When focusing on the vision of implementing an ODR lubrication program you must assess your strengths and weaknesses of the present system and the changes required to support the new program. The following areas need to be reviewed:

• Business Characteristics
• Present Maintenance Strategy
• Present and Future Organizational Arrangements and Human Resources
• Planning, Scheduling, Work Management
• Preventive and PdM Philosophy
• Equipment records and histories
• Purchasing, storage and parts inventory
• Key Performance Indicators

Increasing reliability through Lubrication Management executed through an ODR program will now require a continuous integrated cohesive team between maintenance, engineering and production. They will manage information and data, human resources, fixed assets, cost control, equipment performance, etc. This team is not on a temporary assignment but a paradigm shift on how we will start to manage our assets in the future. Aligning all employees by removing the barriers and silos of the past company structure and then focusing on a comprehensive Performance Management Program will move the program forward.

An effective ODR program should begin by ensuring that all lubricant related activities within a plant fit into and become a part of the work process. It cannot stand on its own as a separate or extra task, but must be fully integrated and be part of the work culture. These activities should be scrutinized by a RCM plan or FEMECA process to ensure accuracy and relevance. Recording of all performed activities involving lubricant consumption, lubricant replacement and/or lubricant top-ups need to be stored in a location that can be used by anyone within the facility. This means that all lubricant related activities and products required must be controlled by the work management system (Enterprise Management System, CMMS, etc), which is not common in most facilities. It remains a bit of a mystery that operations have been allowed to remain outside of a controlled work management system as most of their tasks are relevant to the cost, productivity, reliability, safety, licensing, etc.. of the plant.

A basic example in many plants is that operation's is typically responsible for only emergency lubrication of equipment. In many examined cases, the shift operators typically had poor access to information of required equipment to lubricant use or the information was gained through tribal knowledge and ultimately transferred to memory. If maintenance was not made aware of this emergency lubrication (extremely low oil levels) and an incorrect lubricant was used, it could result in decreased equipment life, decreased reliability or even eventual equipment failure.

Historically, operational personnel typically use operator round templates or Standard Operating Procedures (SOP's) for instruction, limits, target, etc. Lubricant information, instructions and activities should be included within those documents. While this could be a large undertaking in many facilities it remains a must along with ensuring that all of the lubricant related activities are being controlled by the work management system. From the issuing of work orders for operator rounds to the closing of the work orders by the operators instills accountability; accountability in understanding the work required, the methods to use, the tools required, the required data and feedback of observations. Feedback and planned actions are critical in putting the operator in the position of caring about the conditions, causes and affects and not just the process. This is best controlled within a work management system. In too many cases of an operator reporting a problem with either no action or communication by maintenance or engineering results in a loss of respect for the program.

The use of handheld data collection technology is a huge benefit in this area when set up correctly. Recording of all lubricant related operator instructions, tasks and collected data become more efficient and can be easily be shared within the organization. The problem with most handheld collection programs is in the software set-up process.

Companies have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in this technology just to let the units become nothing more than paperweights in the control room! Again, this is an area that requires a cross functional integral team within the facility; one that understands the facility, the work required and the data collection requirements to increase equipment availability and reliability outlined in a Performance and Asset Management Program.

The 6th "R" - The Right Person

Operators do not just operate a plant, they first have to learn how to operate the plant through training, mentoring, testing, etc. and Lubrication Management must be part of the training process prior to and continuously throughout the ODR program. Education and training cannot stop with the operators. Additional education and training is required for the management staff in order for them to understand the program, the required changes, and how the staff fits in. Active visual participation, not dominance, from all departments involved and all levels of management remains a key to the importance and success of the program. If management staff is detached from the training then the question of importance will arise.

Detailed SOP's containing the lubricant requirements (levels, type, methods, etc.) as well as the alarms and targets that are relevant to the lubricants health must not only be contained within the document but must be understood by the operator. An example would be an accumulation of dust on a fan that causes increased imbalance which increases load on the bearing which eventually overheats the oil resulting in a reduction of oil film thickness. The end result is bearing failure. Most operators should understand this by their training and experience but the information and tools must be made available to them. For example, provide a pyrometer for their rounds with equipment specific temperature readings with upper and lower limit (viscosity limits) conditions.

An individual or group of individuals (depending on the size of the plant) will be required to co-ordinate the development, implementation, integration and communication of this ODR program in order for it to be successful. The combined skill set will require:

• A working knowledge of the plant's corrective maintenance (CM), preventive maintenance (PM), predictive maintenance (PdM), and proactive maintenance (Root Cause Analysis) processes.

• An understanding of the structure and operation of the work management system.

• Strong training in lubrication theory, applications, and lubrication analysis

• The ability to communicate with others responsible for the plants equipment reliability

• Coordinate lubrication tasks with reliability goals

• Single point of contact for all lubrication requirements (procurement, inventory
control, storage and handling, etc)

• Responsibility of lubricant selection

• Single point of contact for all lubrication requirements (procurement, inventory control, storage and handling, etc)

• Review and assess Operator Log (s) for lubrication related issues

• Review and assess PM and PdM requirements to reduce unnecessary tasks

• Review and assess operator executed lubricant related tasks

• Prepare monthly condition assessment reports (Oil Analysis)

• Track metrics and cost benefits

• Co-ordinate with corporate peers for the latest initiatives, plant and industry experiences

When senior management truly understands the commitment and support required to implement an ODR Lubrication Program, a company policy or procedure should be created. This procedure should outline the programs objectivities, and the organizational requirements and responsibilities. The development of these documents is critical to the success of a program as it institutionalizes the program and the process while providing staying power should there be a change in management.

It is said that change should be driven from the top down to be successful. The day of consultants walking through the door and evaluating and providing the path forward without the entire company's willingness to change is a short-sited misuse of valuable resources. With the present global recession, competitive markets, mergers and/or looming plant foreclosures it is time for change.

Time to break new ground and transform your equipment reliability program into producing significant benefits in machinery operation, plant reliability and availability, and most importantly ... improve the bottom line (profits).

A well structured engineered ODR program forces the amalgamation of Production/Operations, Engineering, Maintenance, Procurement, Health and Safety, and Environmental departments towards one unified goal ; improving the plant's equipment reliability and performance. Ultimately, plant uptime and overall cost reduction will be the only fall out.

By Kevan Slater, Independent Reliability and Lubrication Specialist

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