You can have a world-class lubrication team

Management support and training eliminate 50 years of inefficient lubrication practices

By Scotty Lippert and Randal Smith

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In a competitive world, no matter the industry, constant pressure to reduce costs to maintain market share is a fact of life. It’s often difficult to resist the short-term measures that exemplify the old cost-cutting adage, “Penny wise but dollar foolish.” A situation where this old expression could easily be applicable is selecting petroleum products solely on the basis of purchase price. Although the resulting initial cost saving might sound inviting, the truth is that it can result in spending thousands of dollars in premature repair costs, lost production and unnecessary maintenance labor. Also, failure to meet delivery expectations can cost your company goodwill and valued customers.

Fortunately, at Clopay Plastic Products Co., in Augusta, Ky., we avoided these difficulties when we changed from low-cost mineral oil lubricants to No-Tox synthetic oil, the significantly higher price of which was offset by improved performance.

Lubrication is the cornerstone of world class maintenance systems. When price is the primary criterion, selecting an oil and lubricant supplier is a simple matter. But if you’re serious about increasing machine reliability and company profits, however, your selection process will need a more detailed evaluation.

Be warned: Once the word is out that your company may be looking for a new supplier, you’ll have many salespeople calling on you. Be prepared to hear each and every one of them say their products, for the cost, are the best-performing materials you can buy. Some will be giving you facts and truths, but will you know it when you hear it?

Some want to help you, and others only want to help themselves. Take the time to do the research and know which questions to ask before selecting an oil supplier. We found these to be the critical steps in developing and implementing a world-class lubrication system.

Gathering background
We recognized early in our search that we lacked the knowledge we needed for discussing lubricant technology intelligently. We know of one plant that changed oil suppliers only because of price issues and within one year it was forced to replace more than $400,000 worth of bearings. This plant environment in question is wet and the relative humidity is always high. Nobody at the plant invested time to research the selected oil’s suitability.

They didn't know about the importance of checking the oil’s additive package for emulsifiers, the polar compounds added to oil that disperse water into small droplets and suspend them throughout the oil. Emulsifiers prevent water from coming in contact with metal surfaces. An oversight of this caliber in the Clopay plant would be disastrous.

We recognized that we needed a quality training program to learn more about the subject. Although we discovered several providers of lubrication training, everything we found kept pointing us to Noria Corp., a consulting firm in Tulsa, Okla. One reason we chose Noria was because it is a global training organization and we have plants in Brazil and Germany, both of which intend to follow the lubrication steps we’ve adopted here in Augusta.

One of us (Lippert) served as Clopay’s lubrication leader. To learn more about lubrication, we sent our lubrication leader and a support person to a Noria training class. Later, when we began implementing our lube improvement program, we brought a team from Noria to our plant, where they trained our entire maintenance staff in lubrication’s best practices.

Then, after training had been completed, Noria’s staff continued to support us with further assistance in developing the lubrication project. The training left us better prepared and knowledgeable about what to expect from any oil supplier rep who approached us.

Corporate approval
Without senior management support, achieving a world-class lubrication program isn’t possible. Getting that backing should be one of the first things you do. It’s important for corporate management to understand the bottom line and how changes can affect both short-term and long-term profits. You’ve got to do the research needed to support your cost analysis of the proposed changes. Your cost projections should include such things as a new lube room and accessories (see Figure 1), cost of oil (if you’re changing products) and training expenses. Your mission is to make an ironclad case that the benefits of good lubrication, when done correctly, will be substantial.

Figure 1. It's Worth It
As part of the cost justification, do a financial analysis that includes the cost of
a new lube room and accessories.

Formal training
During the next eight months, the lubrication leader and the plant engineer (Smith) selected an oil supplier, wrote work practices and laid plans for a new lube room. In addition to specifying how Clopay was to accessorize its gearboxes, the plans also included a cost projection to present to corporate. During this time we purchased many lubrication reference books.

In February 2003, our lubrication leader successfully completed the requirements for becoming a certified machinery lubrication technician, becoming the 226th person globally to pass this bar exam of machinery lubrication. Thus far, he has amassed more than 100 hours of documented professional lubrication training, excluding self-study and training received from oil suppliers and other vendor representatives. He also is qualified to train in-house personnel.

And, in September 2002, we sent a maintenance technician for Noria training to provide additional in-house support for the program. Our lubrication leader attended additional Noria training courses in February 2003 and March 2004. Then, in May 2003, we brought Noria into the plant to present an eight-hour training course to the entire maintenance department, including managers. A local oil filter specialist provided still more in-house training and several members of the maintenance staff enrolled in the hydraulics short course at our local community college.

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