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Roadblocks to a Sustainable Lubrication Program

Lubrication Program Management

Having worked with multiple clients to improve their existing lubrication program as well as designing innovative programs for greenfield projects, I can tell you that while every industry and organization is different, they’re all faced with similar roadblocks when it comes to implementing a sustainable lubrication program.  While roles change and people come and go within a maintenance and reliability organization, the need for solid lubrication does not. In my experience, there are three main roadblocks that prevent a facility from designing and implementing a lubrication program that delivers long-term asset reliability: Lack of Management Buy-in, Constant Firefighting, and Competency Gaps.

Constant Firefighting / Other Priorities

Since lubrication is often a shared responsibility between millwrights, operators, and maintenance technicians, lubrication will often take a backseat to the other priorities of the organization. Without dedicated lubrication technicians, the focus often shifts from long-term asset reliability to short-term firefighting. This is no way to run a preventative maintenance program and it’s often only a matter of time before the lack of focus placed on lubrication catches up in the form of unplanned downtime, equipment replacement costs, and lost productivity.

Lack of Management Buy-In / Budget

Chances are you know what needs to be done and you’re already a believer in the importance of lubrication, but you haven’t found a way to convince management to invest in the people, technology, and equipment needed to get the job done. Without a bullet-proof cost-benefit analysis and detailed roadmap explaining how you’ll execute every detail of the initiative, gaining management approval can be a significant challenge for reliability leaders. After all, you went to school for something like engineering and developing detailed proposals to generate cross-organizational buy-in may not be in your wheelhouse.

Knowledge Gaps & Turnover

In the age of the “Great Resignation,” the ability to maintain a knowledgeable and competent workforce is a never-ending challenge for any skill set, much less an industrial maintenance organization. Lubrication knowledge truly drives plant productivity and profitability and must be consistent to reap the benefits. As machines become increasingly complex, so do the requirements to maintain those assets. Having all the equipment and tools is only part of the puzzle. While training is available to develop lubrication specific skill sets in-house, third-party groups such as IFM who specialize in providing nested lubrication technicians can often provide your facility with more lubrication resources than you typically would be able to develop and maintain internally including access to certified Oil Monitoring Analysts and Certified Lubrication Specialists.

So now that we’ve identified the main roadblocks to sustainable lubrication best practices, it’s time we discuss what your reliability journey should look like if you’re determined to achieve world-class lubrication status. Like any journey worth traveling, a detailed roadmap will ensure that the steps you’re taking lead to your ultimate goal.

Roadmap to Lubrication Sustainability

GAP Assessment

Your first step to improving your lubrication program is understanding exactly where you are. You’ll need to fully understand where your gaps are with regards to lubricant storage and handling, processes & procedures, what you’re currently doing well, and where your immediate focus should be while you continue to work on developing an overall plan. In many cases, some of the heavy bleeding can be stopped by simply changing a few bad practices such as over-greasing motors, contaminating fluids with open-top containers, etc. Upon receipt of your report, you’ll often be handed a laundry list of tasks including equipment to purchase, training to enroll in, equipment modifications to be made, buildings to build, etc. Even for the most seasoned maintenance professional, this list can be a bit overwhelming especially when you consider the amount of money that you’ll need to get approval for to move forward with your plan.

ROI Calculation & Cost Benefit Analysis

While reliability professionals understand the importance of lubrication, most in upper management do not. That’s where having a cost-benefit- analysis, backed by industry data, will help you communicate the return on investment for the resources required to close all those gaps you found in your gap assessment. The Institute of Mechanical Engineers reports that lubrication represents a 40:1 Return-on-Investment (ROI. In other words, each $1000 spent on improving lubrication yields an average savings of $40,000. While this statistic is incredible, you’ll need to develop a detailed proposal to effectively communicate these benefits and your plan to reap them to your plant manager, engineering manager, or procurement team.

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Program Design & Implementation

Now that you have support from management to build a lubrication program that will deliver the return on investment that you promised, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. You’ll need to work with a lubrication engineering team like IFM to develop a detailed punch list of the items that need to be completed to close all those gaps between where you are and lubrication excellence. This includes identifying locations for breathers, sample ports, lube route planning, lube room design and installation, sampling and drain intervals and more. This is also the time where KPI’s are established, and dashboards are integrated into a lubrication program management system. With all these things in place, selecting a qualified lubrication program leader to drive the new program forward is one of the most important decisions that you’ll have to make.

Embedded Lubrication Technician Services

IFM’s dedicated lubrication services team will guide your facility through the entire implementation process. This includes completing a plant-wide lube survey, making all equipment modifications, setting up an oil analysis route that’s integrated with a lubrication management system, labeling all equipment, optimizing all lube oil storage and handling equipment for contamination control, and an entire top-to-bottom transformation of your lube oil routing and process and procedures. If embedded lubrication technicians are not a good fit for your plant, there’s always training available, but companies that are serious about implementing lubrication best practices often get the best results by putting lubrication in the hands of experts like IFM.