Few answers to machine relubrication questions are black and white. But, it is reasonable to state that relubrication work practices, in a practical sense, are either right or wrong. There is no middle ground!

Recently, a mechanical supervisor at a seminar that I led went out of his way to argue against efforts to redo his lubrication practices. He stated that his site had devoted much time to developing and executing high-quality lubrication practices. He explained that there were well-defined practices keyed into the CMMS system; the work was routinely scheduled, issued, completed and logged; and the process was in good working order. He could produce stats to show this.

I asked him to describe a typical bearing relubrication practice by the key issues he would expect to find. He identified the machine, the type of work to be conducted (lubricate a group of bearings), the planned frequency and the product that would be used (a name-brand, general-purpose grease). That sounded good, but it wasn’t. A debate quickly developed among plant personnel over whether the grease noted for the described work was, in fact, the type that was actually in use. It wasn’t, but within the ensuing debate I argued that there was no one exclusive product that should be selected, and that the lubricant in use was acceptable for the application.

Uh-oh. Is that a contradiction? Not quite. While the points identified reflected a degree of correctness, these are types of details that must be fulfilled in order for every scheduled activity to occur (machine, frequency, materials required, description of work required). It was a bare minimum of details cobbled together for someone to complete the task of coding lubrication PM activities to the CMMS. It was of no surprise at all that the designated lubricant was not the product in use and that there was:

  • no definition of the required volume;
  • no definition of the tool (grease gun, by volumetric ratio) to be used to assure the correct volume;
  • no definition of conditions to observe with which to judge whether the designated volume would, in practice, be correct; and,
  • no definition of the required running state of the machine at the time of the work order execution.

These and other details determine if the work practice is right or wrong.

Back to the first point of this column. Often, the perception of quality derives from the presence of a practice. The practice exists, therefore it is right. In reality, a scheduled task is often passed off as a standard regardless of rightness. This disconnect occurs because the relubrication portion of the CMMS deployment follows a troubled model. A flawed practice is coded into a program. This doesn’t make the practice functional.

That leads to my second point: Why does a CMMS development team invest long hours to replicate a broken lubrication plan? Eventually, someone decides that the paper-based program is good enough and that precious development hours should be spent elsewhere. This default decision becomes the design decision around which the future is built. If the decision is anything short of a decision to implement a best practice, the practices are wrong.

How do you know where you stand? Here are two simple options:

1) Benchmark the existing practice against a best practice: The technical gap analysis (product type selection, viscosity grade, frequency, volume, contamination control effectiveness, oil health management, oil analysis effectiveness) will identify any room for improvement.

2) Follow the money: Review the purchase history of lubricants and lubricated components (bearings, sprockets, chains, reducers, hydraulic components) to gather clear feedback on the quality of the existing plan. Deduct replacements for extenuating circumstances. Whatever purchases remain reflect the program’s real value. These dollar values are the tip of the iceberg of potential savings from precision lubrication.

In the earlier example, the supervisor judged the practices to be right because they were part of a system designed for routine relubrication. The work was available to be scheduled, the work could be tracked, and tracking statistics could be used as evidence that the work was completed. However, he could not objectively measure the relative quality of the practices in place. There was no objective measure of whether the work was right or wrong. The plan is right only when it is accurate, thorough, efficient and available in black and white.

Mike Johnson has 20 years of practical experience in the field of industrial lubrication and equipment reliability. Mike is a primary instructor for Noria Corporation’s Machinery Lubrication seminars and is the senior technical editor for its Machinery Lubrication and Practicing Oil Analysis magazines. He has published articles and papers on a wide variety of machine reliability and lubrication issues, has earned CMRP and ICML certifications, and holds BA and MBA degrees. He can be reached at mjohnson@noria.com or 800-597-5460.