If you use a large variety of lubricants, consider the benefits of a consolidation process.
By Mark Barnes, PhD CMRP, Des-Case Corp.
In the past 23 years I’ve spent a lot of time in plants evaluating lubrication practices across a multitude of industries including pulp and paper, power generation, steel, food and beverage, and other asset-intensive enterprises. While the lubrication challenges that each of these industries face are different, many of the issues I see are the same, ranging from poor storage and handling to ineffective contamination control, over greasing, and a lack of proper lubrication PMs. One of the most common and pervasive issues is plants that stock upward of 50 lubricants in their lube room. I’ve seen some operations that stocked more than a 100 different oils and greases. I call that lubricant proliferation.
Lubricant proliferation can be a real problem for some plants. It results in excessive inventory costs and having too many lubricants in-house significantly increases the risk of cross contamination and/or incorrect lubricant addition. Also a lack of inventory turnover can mean that lubricants with a shelf life of 6 to 12 months may spoil before they’re used.
Lubricant proliferation causes
Lubricant proliferation can occur for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most common is blind adherence to OEM specifications, oftentimes linked to a perceived need to use the OEM-specified lubricant to remain compliant with warranty requirements.
Whenever we purchase a new piece of equipment, the OEM is duty bound to identify the correct lubricant to use, based on the operating design speed, load, temperature, and function of the machine. OEM recommendations are great starting points for lubricant selection but should not be taken too literally.
OEMs do not produce their own lubricants. They typically partner with a lubricant manufacturer to specify a lubricant for their device. As such, while you may be purchasing an oil or grease with the OEM’s name on the container, chances are it’s simply a private-label version of an existing, widely available lubricant.
Even if you are able to determine the lubricant’s original manufacturer, there is no need to use that lubricant to maintain the warranty. Provided you use a lubricant with the same performance specifications and apply that lubricant according to the OEM recommendations, an OEM cannot and will not automatically void the warranty.
The second most common way in which lubricant proliferation occurs is through what I like to call “deal of the month.” When lubricants are treated as a commodity and their selection and purchase made through the sole domain of the purchasing department, it is tempting to consider that all lubricants of the same type, e.g., ISO VG 68 AW hydraulic fluid, are readily interchangeable. When this happens, purchasing may choose to change suppliers based on who is offering the best price.
This can lead to some very real problems. While similar lubricants from two different manufacturers may appear to be comparable in terms of their performance, they may not necessarily be compatible. For the sake of a few cents per dollar per gallon, you may incur thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in repair costs or unscheduled shutdowns when incompatible lubricants are mixed in an asset.
To avoid lubricant proliferation, more progressive plants optimize their lubricant inventory. Optimization simply means using the right number of lubricants, based on the operating conditions of each asset in the plant. In rare cases, this may mean adding one or two lubricants to the inventory. In the majority of cases, it involves consolidating the current list of lubricants to a more manageable number, without compromising the reliability and life expectancy of assets. This process is referred to as lubricant consolidation.
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