Great lubrication maintenance isn’t about coming up with a great plan on paper. Achieving excellence comes down to the human factor—people have a tendency to complicate even the most perfect plan. That’s doubly true when it comes maintaining your oil. Everyone who has a role to play in the process must know the procedures step by step, understand why they are done the way they are, and be motivated to follow through.
Recently, Maintenance Technology magazine asked 4 questions to their readers regarding their current lubrication practices. The answers ranged from a 20-year old almost non-existant program to inadequate due to budget restraints to the gold standard of lube programs. The 4 questions Maintenance Technology asked were:
- Who set up your sites' current lubrication program/schedules and how are they working?
- When was a plant-wide lubrication review last performed, who performed it, and why?
- What are the qualifications for lubrication personnel at your plant?
- How understanding/supportive is site management with regard to lubrication best practices and training and qualification of lubrication personnel?
So, how can you make sure you can answer these questions confidently knowing your lubrication program is on the correct path?
Many companies rely on word of mouth to inform employees of new policies and procedures. This is a mistake for a number of reasons. People tend to quikly forget the specifics of a procedure they have heard, skipping a step or getting a detail wrong. If the same piece of information gets passed along from person to person like a game of "telephone", errors are bound to occur.
Without a correct, concrete version of the procedure as reference, performance will degrade over time as employees forget certain steps—especially those that don’t seem important to them. Instead of relying on memory, distribute information about policies via email or a paper memo. The memo should include what task needs to be done, why it should be done, how to do it (in detailed steps), and, if relevant, a timeline for when or how often it needs to be completed. The "why" is important because employees who understand the need for a task will be less tempted to skip it.
Also, make sure there is an easily accessible version employees can access at any time. For instance, you might post a list of steps by the machine it pertains to.
Get a Consultation
When companies take the effort to learn about best practices in lubrication maintenance, the next step is to translate those practices into their own company. For instance, if the best practice for essential machines is to keep 3-micron particles under 10 per million, which of your machines qualify? A consultation from an experienced expert will give you targeted advice, ensuring that your routine doesn’t just fit the concept of best practices in the abstract—it’s actually working.
Train Your Employees
Providing employees with a well-thought-out, well documented plan is great. But there’s one problem: Actual learning of those procedures can be left up to on-the-job training. That’s not always ideal. The employee who demonstrates the procedure may not fully understand why it is being done, may not have time to explain, or may not know the answers to the trainee’s detailed questions. And with employees teaching each other, any small misconception can spread throughout the entire company.
A training course can ensure that all employees get a thorough background in lubrication maintenance principles, as well as hands-on experience performing crucial tasks. And they will be able to communicate more effectively after all learning a shared vocabulary. The ideal time for training is when tasks are being reassigned or systems are being updated, but any time is better than not at all.
Inspect Your Facility
Tour your facility regularly to ensure that what you see matches the ideal well-maintained plant. Your eyes can tell you a lot. Check to see that transfer containers are clean, sealed and labeled, with no pools of accumulated grease around bearings. Dessicant breathers should be in place, and their color should indicate that they are still active. Inspect sight glasses to monitor the health and level of your lubricants. Checks should be repeated on a regular basis, and whenever a major change, such as switching machinery, takes place.
Talk to Employees
Whether or not a visual inspection reveals any problems, you can learn more by talking to the workers responsible for carrying out the oil maintenance. Ask each worker a series of basic questions like “Tell me about your process,” “Show me how it’s done” and “Why is it done this way?” These conversations will be revealing after any change in procedures take place. But even if responses are reassuring at first, you should repeat the process after the procedure has been in place for a while, to ensure that it is being followed well. Experienced professionals may make changes over time in the way things are done, but these changes should always be in service to your cleanliness goals. If they don’t, or if the employee shows incomplete understanding, explain the requirements to them. These conversations can reveal the source of any problems spotted during the visual inspection, as well as your regular oil testing.
The benefits of following these steps are twofold. Not only will you save money through improved reliability, but you’ll have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that things are being done right.