Let’s try to imagine an organic synthesis of the elements we have already mentioned in a so-called “Lubrication Plan”. There are several critical points in a production site, including:

  • Lubricant storage (Oils and Greases)
  • Management of lubricants and their correct use in the field
  • Safe handling
  • Skills/Training
  • Preventative Maintenance Procedures
  • Predictive analysis, check-ups and management of lubricants
  • Purchase and disposal of spent loads

The most common situation nationwide, in which we have a lot of experience, shows that people do not think about whether a particular company is properly managed when it comes to lubrication. An effective system to handle and manage lubricant is very often relegated to the lowest levels of the hierarchy of maintenance priorities.

To achieve an effective Lubrication Plan, we must rely on:

– Individual efforts and initiatives (voluntary basis)

– Contributions from external suppliers of lubricants (Outsourcing)

– The concept of teamwork

One of the main obstacles faced by those who choose the individual way of trying to achieve optimum results in this field, is the lack of willingness of the colleagues who are not directly involved to modify already consolidated procedures. It is hardly pleasant to be told that your work isn’t being done correctly, and it is just as unpleasant to act like the boss in someone else’s home! But without the active cooperation of all the various players involved, substantial progress is unlikely to be made. Some constraints and impediments usually encountered are:

  • The preexisting – burdensome – workload of the “volunteer innovator”
  • Management’s unwillingness to turn to specific external expertise
  • The perception that the lubrication issue is not a key issue for your system
  • Even if there is individual availability and goodwill to work, without corporate recognition the attempt is doomed to fail

Teamwork (involving different and transversal skills in the team) has greater chances of success, for a better distribution of tasks and stronger purchasing power for required services. The team doesn’t need to be large; it needs to be proportionate to the size of the plant in question. Priority is given to the willingness to work well, with special attention on Quality.

Everyday reality

We know well that the procedures related to lubrication within a company are a kind of tribal heritage; the group of “elderly” has total control and only sometimes (environmental and cultural conditions permitting) transmit this knowledge to newcomers. The level of the lubricator is (wrongly) considered one of the lowest as a specific competence (it is seen as a kind of “entry level”) and tends to follow ancient mottoes like “if a little grease works, more of it will work even better”! There are rarely well-defined written procedures or reference tables, and even in twin plants close to each other, we see significantly different field procedures in terms of quality and quantity of products used.

 Any innovative ideas (the result of personal experiences, or brilliant intuitions) will remain in circulation for short periods of time without a written record turning them into consolidated procedures usable by third parties. To improve and grow in this specific field, periodic meetings are necessary (possibly at the beginning of each year, following a brainstorming session to stimulate new ideas) to set certain targets, evaluating the levels achieved. The tasks shall be divided wisely between the members of the working group, who shall report their progress monthly. Of course, motivation must always be maintained at a high level, with recognition of the work undertaken by the Company.

Identification of the path of improvement

Team training (two or three individuals per group, with specific assignments) in a few specific areas:

  • Education and learning; this group is concerned with identifying the minimum levels of competence and training required for all other components. It will keep its colleagues up to date, providing notes or documents useful for this purpose.
  • Procedures and practical applications; this unit is concerned with the development of optimized processes, according to the daily demands of Maintenance, providing adequate tools and products, keeping track of the progress of current standards.
  • Periodic reviews; this is the group responsible for verifying the project along its phases, measuring the progress achieved and recommending new possible strategies, in synergy with all the other elements.
  • Documentation and specification management; dedicated to the management of lubricant charges, verifying their compatibility with the plant requirements, through (also) an adequate management of technical and Safety data sheets related to the products. Such experiences, and the collected results, become an asset to share with the other systems of the group.
  • Research & Development; it involves testing new products, tools and procedures, verifying their applicability, in the light of objective and ponderable results. We are again in the presence of a valid improvement tool, to be shared at the corporate level.

Evaluating the results

At this point the issue is how to evaluate/quantify the achieved results, giving the right weight (and satisfaction) to all the people involved. What are the parameters to consider, in order to provide an objective assessment?:

  • The decrease (optimization) of the types of lubricants present. By merging similar products with each other, and by addressing fewer qualified suppliers, an economy of scale is achieved.
  • Lower consumption of better quality lubricants, having shifted the need for replacement from a “cyclical” one to a “condition-based” one through targeted analytical checks.
  • Less time spent on plants for replacement and non-routine checks.
  • Lower disposal costs, respecting the strictest environmental standards.
  • Savings on greasing costs; only the right quantity at the right time!
  • Better planning of re-lubrication or control operations.
  • Reduced risk of contamination of the charges, following their better traceability. With this, the risk of mixing incompatible products, which is harmful to the machines, almost disappeared.
  • Increased management and personnel Safety.

Communicating the results achieved

It is fundamental for the recognition of the group and for its growth, that the project is made known, through communication of the various addressed steps and achieved results. For example, by monitoring the starting situation of the plant from the beginning, at zero hour. What were the main gaps to fill? What tools/resources were used and in what time? This objective reporting, carried out on a regular basis, allows the sharing of updated information on the continuous progress achieved. To conclude this review, we would like to point out that the introduction of an effective lubrication program can lead to an increase in the reliability of the systems.

Objective difficulties

While speaking  about improvement in perspective, in everyday reality we are often bound to choices and management settings of an exclusively “reactive” type. In most plants we rarely see that transfer of trust and competence, or room for maneuver, conferred by the highest hierarchical levels to the most motivated subordinates, to try innovative experiments impacting the root of the problem. Sometimes, the will to protect the acquired power or the fear to see his own consolidated level of experience eroded, fight with any attempt to “innovate”, and , will favor practices that inevitably become dated and (perhaps) no longer current.

Innovating means (without exaggerating the emphasis that is sometimes put on this procedure, often confused with the term “invention”) to bring a contribution of knowledge that alters the traditional point of view; a different perspective of the same problem that can offer new food for thought.

We follow the ancient formula of “I know that I don’t know”, which questions the data acquired, if not continuously updated and experienced in the field. The result can only be a more stimulating working environment, lower management costs, openness to external ideas, ability to make substantial progress, even in the (neglected) lubrication sector. Do we want to believe in this “proactive” challenge?


G.Adriani, G.Mariani, Maintenance January 2011

A plan for lubrication