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Energy Savings Through Task-Specific Lubrication Reliability

Unharnessed Opportunity

Lubrication reliability is an extremely important and complex operation not adequately addressed by corporations world-wide. They give focus to important operations such as accounts receivable, inventory control, CRM, process control and a host of other functions. In fact, no corporation would dream of running without the advantages gained from using software designed for these specific purposes. Yet these same organizations often remain naive about the complexity of industrial lubrication - and its importance as an unharnessed opportunity for new operational efficiencies.

A well documented and definitive case study1 shows energy savings gained from the proper lubrication of equipment, including a multi-hundred ton stamping machine. As is regularly found in plants lacking a task-specific lubrication program, this machine wasn't being properly lubricated to specification. In fact, it was shown to be filled with the wrong lubricant. Working with the energy utility, baseline consumption data was collected. With this data in hand, the machine was flushed and filled with the proper lubricant, and then monitored over several months of operation. Upon its conclusion, the study results brought forward an impressive 18% reduction in energy consumption - a $2,700 annual savings at typical rates - on a single machine alone.

According to the US Department of Energy, the typical plant spends 60% of its Operations & Maintenance (O&M) budget on energy alone. Of course, not all equipment would produce reductions in energy consumption in the 15-20% range. Yet with the hundreds or even thousands of pieces of equipment within a plant, the potential savings are significant. Such reductions in energy consumption will meaningfully impact the O&M budget - year after year.

Missing Lube-Points

The simple fact in many plants is that lubrication points are being missed. And the resulting impact goes far beyond increased energy consumption. A recent report by Ricky Smith shows poor lubrication practices are responsible for 40% of maintenance related failures2.

It may be a case of the wrong lube (as in the energy case study above), incorrect frequency, or guesswork resulting from the lack of a reliable method for tracking when a point was (or was not) lubricated. And far too often, lube-points are simply forgotten altogether, only to be re-discovered years later. It is no wonder a survey included in this report shows 80% of respondents indicated that lubrication was a significant problem in their operation.

Think about it for a moment. Most industrial plants consist of varied equipment numbering from the hundreds to the thousands. Each one of these equipment pieces typically includes multiple component parts requiring lubrication, such as a motor, drive-shaft and coupling. Multiple lube points per equipment result in thousands upon thousands of individual points to be serviced. Yet lubrication is even more detailed than these numbers alone.

Do The Math

Each individual lubrication point often requires multiple and differing activities to be performed, each at its own frequency. For example, proper care of just one lubrication point will require topping-off a reservoir each week, drawing a lab-sample every quarter, and draining and refilling with fresh fluid once a year.

Several thousand lube-points, each with multiple tasks at varying frequencies -- it can easily work out to be hundreds of thousands of activities needing to be performed annually.

This means, in order to ensure ongoing performance and reliability, many plants should be performing over 250,000 lubrication activities each year. In fact, one proactive and successful East Coast paper plant reports performing over 700,000 lubrication activities annually.

Now consider the problem of so many lubrication points spread across several acres, numerous buildings, or multiple stories. This is even further complicated by an array of required lubricants, and the fact that distinct procedures are often required for each of the activities performed at a lubrication point.

How is this daunting task typically being handled?

Unfortunately, it's often left, either in full or in part, to human memory.

Common Approaches

Reliance on Human Memory -- In some cases, lubrication maintenance personnel have been tending the equipment for years, resulting in detailed understanding of the needs. Hopefully, these experienced personnel are never sick or on leave. Or worse yet, what are the consequences when just one resigns or retires? A mission-critical information asset is lost as they walk out the door. This starts a long and costly program of reassembling details and knowledge lost. Meanwhile, lacking experience, how does the new person on the block possibly lubricate without significant omission? Under this scenario, lube-points will, in all likelihood, be missed.

Reliance on spread sheets -- Another widely used method is the computer spreadsheet.

Typically this comprises a list of equipment along with numerous columns for lubrication specific data fields such as lubrication points and type, required lubricant, lubricant capacity and the frequencies at which to perform tasks. While able to convey the basics of what needs to be done and how often, such spreadsheets fail in knowing or communicating what specifically needs to be done and when.

Most often lacking is the tracking of dates last completed--accurately entering this information for thousands of rows is an impossibly arduous task. Yet, while updating spreadsheets proves difficult, accidental changes and deletions come all too easy. Knowledge of when tasks were last completed is the prerequisite to determining when individual tasks are next-due--without which the all-important questions remain unanswered. Which tasks are to be done this week? Which were missed last week? Also consider the hundreds of activities of longer duration, such as those performed every quarter, six-months, or once every year. It's simply not possible to correctly remember when each activity was last completed. Once again the burden for proper lubrication is consigned to human memory. And again, lube-points are most likely being missed.

Lubrication software versus CMMS

Relying on standard CMMS/EAM systems --A third common approach is attempting to properly execute lubrication using the PM system of a CMMS or EAM product. Focused on Condition Monitoring (CM) & Preventive Maintenance (PM) work-order management, these systems perform the role well, and most maintenance professionals are comfortable in their use. Yet comfort with a system's intended function is far from the best reason to apply it to other uses.

As mentioned above, CM & PM workorders typically number less than a few thousand annually, while annual lubrication activities can range up over 700,000. While the typical CMMS adeptly catalogs equipment at the nameplate level, these systems lack a clear approach for cataloging the multiple related lubrication points, let alone the multiple activities for each of these points. Also missing are the many data elements regularly found in the previously explained spreadsheets. The fact that these discipline-specific details are missing from the typical CMMS is the main reason such spreadsheetsfind common use.

This lack of requisite details leads many into a minimalist, work-order level approach to lubrication.

Simple monthly PMs are created for each equipment section or area, producing work orders with generic instructions such as "Lubricate stations 1 thru 8," or "Check Levels in Bldg 12." Striving for more detail, one plant of an integrated forest products company was required by corporate to use SAP to manage its lubrication program. The plant's reliability engineer invested months of effort on repetitive keyboard entry of lubrication details into long-text fields. Shortly thereafter, and much to his dismay, it was decided to switch more than 200 reservoirs to synthetic lubricants--leaving him to edit each individually. Furthermore, with his hands tied by data locked into non-actionable text-fields, he was forced to answer with a definitive "NO," when the plant manager asked him if his time and effort had resulted in an accurate and consistent lubrication program.

Many CMMS products allow for inclusion of a list or block of items with a PM, which can be used to list the lubrication points for an equipment area. Sounds simple doesn't it? Unfortunately, the actual complexities of lubrication cannot be overlooked.

Lubrication points within any equipment area are not identical. One key differentiator is the variation of frequency. Examples of such variation include some points being done weekly or biweekly, others monthly, bimonthly, quarterly or annually. A single PM can't address this fact, resulting in multiple PMs being created, one per frequency, for each equipment area. Equally important variations include the lubricant required, number of lube fittings, and activity type (top-off, change-out, sample, etc.). Further variation comes when activities require specific step-by-step procedural instructions. With the CMMS offering no native support for lubrication, how is such information conveyed using a single PM? How many PMs are needed to convey a bare minimum of these compulsory details? Remember, give a CMMS more PMs and it will return the favor with increased work-orders and paperwork. More importantly, within these numerous work orders and pieces of paper, there is no opportunity to bring optimization and efficiency to lubrication.

What's done is done. Or is it? Mark a work order as completed and the entire block of lubrication points share the same status. A PM system unable to function below the workorder level can't track the most relevant of data - all outstanding lubrication points must somehow be remembered over subsequent weeks until completed. It's not hard to see this problem compounding week after week. Yes, having a multitude of detail deficient lubrication PMs might look and feel good on the surface, but it veils reality with a false sense of security. With such reliance upon manual effort, paperwork and human memory, it's no surprise a recent search across popular CMMS/EAM websites for the term "lubrication" returned zero pertinent results. Once again, details required for success are left to the imagination and memory of lubrication personal.

Customization -- The fourth and by far the most costly approach is customization of the CMMS / EAM product for lubrication. Gaining rudimentary lubrication capability consumes hundreds of man hours, with one organization reporting having spent nearly $1,000,000 USD to modify SAP-PM for lubrication-point level of functionality. Even if successful, such customizations prove difficult and expensive to update. Personnel doing the original work are often otherwise assigned or no longer part of the organization. With corporations working to eliminate maintenance of in-house legacy systems, why should lubrication be any different?

Each of these approaches is dependent on human memory. This results in lubrication points being consistently maintained incorrectly, or worse yet, missed entirely. Yet management often declares or assumes lubrication to be in good order. You don't get immediate feed-back when a lube point is missed. Often times it takes months or even years until the feed-back manifests as costly equipment failure and unplanned down time.

This points to why more equipment failures are traced back to poor lubrication practices than for any other reason. Numerous longterm studies in Canada, Germany, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States declare this fact in unison.

Product engineers at bearing manufacturers such as SKF and Timken show how their bearing products can have an almost unlimited run life. Yet sales staff for these manufactures report their customers are buying bearings by the case. A large North American building currently spends over $2,000,000 per year onproducts firm, just beginning to implement a task-specific lubrication reliability program, replacement bearings. This habit of regularly running bearings to failure means a constant hit on equipment efficiency and energy consumption.

What is the net result of relying primarily on human memory? It is significant cost and loss. This includes unplanned downtime, capital equipment replacement, excessive energy consumption and poor use of human resources. This is in addition to poor production quality and environmental risk.

Gaining the Benefits

Responsibilities become clear and known -- What are the features and benefits of a well designed lubrication reliability software solution? Most important is the clear presentation of all pertinent details to lubrication personnel at the task-specific level, ensuring lubrication is done right. That means: The right lubricant is used in the right place, at the right time, using the right procedure.

A good system will include an automatic lube task based work release. Tasks are released individually, and only as needed, not as blocks of work. These lubrication work assignments are automatically pushed to those responsible via footstep efficient routes. Such a lubrication reliability system will also provide automatic backlog management. Individual lube-tasks, if not complete, are automatically marked pastdue and brought forward each week until they are completed, with no user intervention required. This frees maintenance planners and reliability professionals from the details of lubrication so they can focus on other important initiatives. Other important capabilities include: consumption tracking and trending, shutdown/outage planning and equipment lockout/tagout safety information.

Powerful Routes vs. PM Blocks -- As previously stated, PM systems and spreadsheets are left to release lubrication work in small blocks - blocks of tasks sharing the identical lubricant and frequency. This yields handfuls of PM work orders with no opportunity for efficiency of execution on the plant floor. A task-specific system consolidates this array of PMs into footstep efficient routes by combining (however one desires) machines, frequencies, lubricants, and so on, without restriction. Such routes clearly direct personnel from point to point, showing all task information, including detailed procedures. These routes are walked consistently week after week - performing only currently due tasks (as released and presented) while moving past lube-points due at a future date. For example, weekly tasks are presented every week, while monthly tasks appear on the route just once a month, and so on. Rather than having to mark an entire block as completed or not, individual tasks are able to be marked complete as work progresses. Gains in efficiency on the plant floor and the elimination of backtracking are easily obtained by using a drag & drop feature to quickly re-sequence tasks within a route. Having task specific details will also allow for the straightforward implementation of lubrication ODR (Operator Driven Reliability).

Mobile lubrication routesMobile computing for accuracy -- A feature that also helps productivity greatly is the provision for routes to be performed on rugged Windows MobileTM handheld computers. This brings a great deal of efficiency to the system, with information literally at the finger tips of the lubrication specialist. No paperwork and no clipboards. Fingertip data collection includes work accomplished, consumption volume, and equipment problems and issues, all with no keyboard data entry. Mobile routes will also include provisions for positive verification
of tasks performed via Bar-Code or RFID, as desired.

Energy Savings, Safety and Oversight -- It's the lube-point level management of lubrication which enables a system to drive energy savings and provide a wide array of other lubrication reliability benefits, such as safety requirements, accurately and clearly presented, right at the lube-point. Significant simplification of lubrication consolidation--thanks to the system's exact knowledge of lube product usage. Abnormal machine and lubrication conditions will also be easily noted, recorded and tracked until these conditions improve.

In addition, there will be a procedure library which provides task-specific work-steps and eliminates repetitive data-entry.

Equally important is a detailed history for each lube-point as well as lubrication specific reporting. This detailed history is required for KPI oversight as well as for process improvement and failure analysis. It also enables international standards and audit accountability. Lubrication specific reporting brings forth information at both detailed and management overview levels. Providing instant understanding of program status, reports can be run in both tabular and graphical formats.

Reality and Results

By addressing the number one cause of equipment failure, reactive maintenance, work decreases and overall plant reliability increases, which increases operational efficiency of machinery and the overall productivity of the plant. In short, a task-specific lubrication reliability solution will do the following:

  • Reduce Costly Downtime and Failures
  • Maintain Mission-Critical Knowledge Assets
  • Mitigate Human Factors
  • Maximize Employee Effectiveness
  • Cut Energy Costs by up to 20%

Best of all, any one of these will quickly save more than the cost of a task-specific software solution.

Costly Misperception

Most often, there is a major disconnect between the "oil is oil" presumption of upper management and the inherent understanding maintenance and reliability professionals have for the complex nature of lubrication. When these professionals seek funding for a task specific program they are often told "there is no budget for that." Frankly, this is akin to shooting oneself in the foot. Think about it, for a plant with an energy consumption of $500,000 a year, a 10% energy savings from a properly designed task-specific Lubrication Reliability program would result in an annual savings of $50,000. Further, Smith draws this impactful conclusion "If a company's annual sales are $60 million, and total downtime is 10%, and 25% of downtime is due to lubrication, the lost opportunity cost due to lubrication is $1.5 Million."

With documented benefits and rapid ROI, it is hard to understand why corporations continue to neglect this profound opportunity for notable increases in operational efficiencies, competitiveness and profit.


  1. Energy Reduction through Improved Maintenance Practices, Kenneth E. Bannister,1999 Industrial Press
  2. Exterminate Lube Problems, Ricky Smith, CMRP, Plant Services

Editors Note: We published this article with specific references to LUBE-IT Lubrication Reliability software in order to tell more people about potential solutions as maintenance and reliability information management evolves. We did not want to make it generic. There are other unique software products that we will also be presenting to you in Uptime and at In order to bring you the full impact of the capabilities of some of these new technologies - we have decided to allow product specificity- not as an endorsement - but to create an enhanced understanding of the rapidly changing landscape of Information Technology.

Uptime amd are comfortable stepping out of the limited and traditional etiquette of magazine publishing and we hope you see the value in our decision. We certainly invite your feedback as we continue to move forward.

Eric Rasmusson

Eric Rasmusson is President / CEO of Generation Systems, Inc. He has over 30 years of high-tech and industrial software experience and is the principle architect of LUBE-IT Lubrication Reliability software solution. Eric launched Generation Systems in 1984 and now is guiding the company toward its 25th anniversary. His passions are increasing global awareness of the profitability of lubrication reliability, and enhancement of the award-winning LUBE-IT product. Eric also holds concern over the increasing complexity and bloat of industrial software. This, coupled with his sincere regard for end-users, drives him to innovate comprehensive, yet highly intuitive solutions.

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