For asset-intensive industries, precision lubrication is a fundamental cornerstone of a well-engineered maintenance program. While not complex, precision lubrication requires meticulous execution of simple time- and condition-based maintenance tasks. Basic tasks, such as greasing bearings, checking oil levels, changing oil, and/or applying filtration, all need to be part of daily or weekly PM rounds. Failure to do so can result in poor reliability, leading to higher maintenance costs and unscheduled downtime.
Precision lubrication requires following the 5Rs of lubrication:
• Right oil or grease
• Right place
• Right amount
• Right time
• Right cleanliness (clean and dry).
Strict adherence to preventive (time-based) tasks, such as re-greasing, and condition-based tasks, such as large-volume oil changes, are required so that activities are performed at the right interval and/or condition.
What happens when machine accessibility precludes performing these tasks? When maintenance personnel do not have access to equipment, maintenance schedules tend to default to production schedules which may not necessarily conform to precision-lubrication best practices.
Take, for example, the simple act of checking the oil level in a production-critical, splash-lubricated gearbox that operates continuously. Precision lubrication best practice may suggest the need to check the level daily or even once a shift. If the gearbox has nothing more than a dipstick or level plug, it is all but impossible to properly check the level, short of shutting the gearbox down and waiting for the oil to drain back to the sump.
Of course, it’s tempting to argue that production schedules should be modified to permit time-based maintenance tasks. We all know that the chances of production shutting down just to permit a gearbox level check fall somewhere between slim and none.
Instead, we need to look at all time-based maintenance tasks—including lubrication—and ask a fundamental question: Can I modify the task or asset to change a downtime task to a runtime task? While not always possible, having the ability to conduct routine time-based maintenance during normal operation offers several advantages. Not only does it permit the task to be performed at the right frequency, it also reduces the amount of work that needs to be done during scheduled outages when maintenance resources are at a premium.
The problem with doing many lubrication tasks during normal operation lies with how our assets are configured. While the top two or three most critical assets in the plant are often equipped with every bell and whistle needed to promote proper maintenance, it’s the critical assets that fall just below level-one status that suffer.
Most at fault are wet-sump applications such as splash-lubricated gearboxes and pumps and smaller hydraulic-powered units in which, in the interest of keeping the purchasing price low, many OEMs overlook the need for simple features such as visual (runtime) level gauges or oil-sample ports.
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