Lean on Reliability in Lean Times

Five inexpensive, simple things to boost lubricant life

By Ray Thibault, LTC Consulting & Brian Gleason, Des-Case Corporation


No one can deny that we are all affected by the economy. But where reliability and lubrication are concerned, take note—don’t stop your reliability focus now. It is more imperative than ever to protect both your equipment assets and your required investment in lubricants. Even if equipment sits idly by, the need for continuous protection does not go away.

Embrace your machines (and lubricants) as the workhorses they are. A little TLC goes a long way to help them work for you. Keep them clean and dry and they keep you humming.

Five small budget ideas you can use right now:

Tip #1: Maintain the right attitude that lubrication is an important link in equipment reliability.

You have heard it before but it bears repeating. Lubricant costs run only about 1-2% of a typical plant maintenance budget. However, poor lubrication practices cause you to spend 10 times that – or 10-20% of the budget. With the right mindset, you have the opportunity to positively impact lubricant life, equipment reliability and the maintenance budget. This works best if the right attitude is set at the top of the organization and its importance communicated downstream. Attitude costs nothing, yet means everything.

Tip #2: Develop realistic cleanliness targets on critical equipment.

There is no cost for knowing where you want to go and deciding how to get there. Work closely with OEMs and distributors to develop a program that achieves targeted cleanliness levels economically. Consolidate lubricants where you can without compromising performance. Certify your incoming oil. You may pay slightly more per gallon, but it is well worth the cost to get your guaranteed cleanliness. At the minimum, reserve your right to test incoming oil. Life is impacted dramatically if lubricants are not to specification. Maintain proper storage and handling procedures once lubricants are in house. If your company has the budget and is ready for the next step, a good practice is to filter all oils prior to adding to the system with the use of a filter cart.

Tip #3: Keep contaminants out.

Since lubrication cleanliness is the cornerstone of any successful lubricant program, you need to seek out and implement ways to maintain good oil condition in a reservoir. Some inexpensive suggestions include installing:

  • Desiccant breathers on tanks and reservoirs to keep water and particulates out
  • Magnetic drain plugs to remove ferrous wear
  • Baffles to allow oil to settle contaminants
  • Sight glasses to monitor correct oil levels
  • Temperature gauges to maintain oil in good condition.

Over 70% of equipment failures can be attributed to contamination. The best course of action is to minimize their introduction. It is estimated that the cost to remove contaminants is five to 10 times the cost to keep them out in the first place. Make it your job to ‘keep contaminants out’ versus using heavy, expensive and laborious equipment to ‘get contaminants out.’

Tip #4: Implement an oil analysis program on critical equipment and monitor carefully.

By keeping a watchful eye, you will know if things are out of whack. A down market is no time to stop oil analysis. Rather, it is time to really use the opportunity to catch lubrication related problems before they happen. Shortcuts are not justified; sample frequently and trend data so you know what’s really going on with your equipment. A basic sampling will let you know how many and what size particles are in the oil, whether the oil has water contamination, and the viscosity of the oil. Often, it is not necessary to change the lubricants, but certain additives may be required. Reliability studies show that approximately 80% of asset failures are random. You can detect early signs of “chance” failure by monitoring the right health indicators for signs of degradation. The routine cost of sampling lubricants is low compared to the costs for repairs and downtime.

Tip #5: Develop basic training on the importance of correct lubrication practices.

This goes without saying: invest in the people managing the lubricants. Equipping these individuals with know-how and expertise, and empowering them to do their job and do it well, will save thousands (if not millions) of dollars by preventing equipment failures. Training and certification can offer immediate payback for an organization. Bringing someone onsite can be quite costeffective, as can the many available online resources for reliability – articles, white papers, blogs – the information is abundant and mostly free.

There you have it. Do some small things. Focus on the simple stuff. Get the right attitude, buy clean oil, install desiccant breathers, and learn from the pros. If you don’t take good care of your equipment during the downtime, will you have immediate problems? Probably not, but 18 months from now, when the economic winds have changed and production needs to ramp up quickly, you might not be prepared.

In the worst of times, maintenance budgets may come under fierce scrutiny. However, smart companies realize there are more cost-efficient ways to save on maintenance than simply slashing the budget. Yes, companies need to do more with less. This is also a climate where it is critical to invest in solutions that reduce the risk of costly failures. Preventing problems before they happen is more important now than ever before.

The good news is that many improvements to filtration, storage, and handling procedures can be made with minimal cost. The great news is that on the other side of the perfect storm, companies that kept an eye on reliability will be better-equipped, stronger and more profitable.

About the Authors

Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training in a number of industries. He retired in 2001 from Exxon after 31 years of service. He has B.S. & M.S. degrees in chemistry and an M.B.A. Contact Ray at rlthibault@msn.com.

Brian Gleason is president of Des-Case Corporation, Goodlettsville (Nashville), TN. He has his M.B.A. from Vanderbilt University’s Owen Graduate School of Management and holds a B.A. in economics from Siena College. Des-Case Corporation specializes in contamination control products for industrial lubricants. For company information visit www.descase.com or contact Brian at brian.gleason@descase.com.

© 2009 Des-Case Corporation

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