Machinery Lubrication

The business case for proper lubrication

Speak in the language of management to make maintenance understandable.

By Sheila Kennedy, Contributing Editor

“How important is precision lubrication to overall equipment reliability?” asked Jason Kopschinsky, director of reliability services at Des-Case Corporation, in his presentation at 2014 Ultrasound World X conference hosted by UE Systems in Clearwater Beach, Florida. “We asked that question in a 2011 reader survey for Machinery Lubrication magazine, and the response was overwhelming: 99.1%. More than 81% said it was critically important. Unfortunately, only 32% believe they have achieved lubrication levels that are close to best practice.”

Jason Kopschinsky, director of reliability services at Des-Case Corporation, said the three main roadblocks that prevent achieving best practices are a lack of knowledge or understanding of what’s possible; a maintenance organization that’s too busy putting out fires; or a lack of executive support and funding.

Three main roadblocks prevent achieving best practice: a lack of knowledge or understanding of what’s possible; a maintenance organization that’s too busy putting out fires; or, most challenging, a lack of executive support and funding. Kopschinsky shared how external support, engineered solutions, and training can help to overcome the roadblocks, and how to build a business case for an improved or best-in-class lubrication program.

“The case for lubrication as a way to improve machine reliability is easy to make,” said Kopschinsky. “According to an ExxonMobil case study, less than 0.5% of a plant’s maintenance budget is spent purchasing lubricants, but the downstream effects of poor lubrication can impact as much as 30% of a plant’s total maintenance costs each year.” He shared the following additional statistics:

  • 70% of loss of machine life is caused by loss of surface material, 15% is due to accidents, and 15% is because of obsolescence
  • 50% percent of surface degradation is due to mechanical wear, and 20% is caused by corrosive wear
  • 82% of mechanical wear is caused by particle contamination.

“The cleaner the oil, the more life you’re going to get,” Kopschinsky said. “Remove particle contamination and you’ll have greater relative component life.” He explained that even new oil is rarely clean enough for common applications, and it must be filtered before installation to provide a reasonable level of cleanliness. Particle counts and relative component life should be charted on a “particle effects on component life” diagram to visualize the impact.

Ultrasound World“Failures caught earlier are less costly to repair,” he said. However, time-based preventive maintenance (PM) approaches, such as draining and replacing oil on a time- or calendar-based schedule, often are ineffective and can lead to overlubrication. “We over-PM assets,” he said. “Overlubrication of a greased bearing, for example, is detrimental because it requires excessive labor, causes higher heat, promotes the rapid onset of oxidation, and results in shortening the component life of the bearing.”

Kopschinsky recommended having a contamination control strategy that sets performance targets, prompts action, and measures the results. He relayed how a steel mill that used this strategy in its hydraulics systems realized a 96% reduction in hydraulic failures and an 80% decline in oil consumption. The mill improved the off-line filtration that already existed, improved the breathers, and bought a particle counter to improve oil analysis.

Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics.Sheila Kennedy is a professional freelance writer specializing in industrial and technical topics. She established Additive Communications in 2003 to serve software, technology, and service providers in industries such as manufacturing and utilities, and became a contributing editor and Technology Toolbox columnist for Plant Services in 2004. Prior to Additive Communications, she had 11 years of experience implementing industrial information systems. Kennedy earned her B.S. at Purdue University and her MBA at the University of Phoenix. She can be reached at

“We also helped a Nissan plant with very dirty oil to improve its lubrication and oil analysis program,” he noted. “They experienced a 93% to 97% reduction in particle contamination and a 54% reduction in downtime.”

To justify the deployment of best-in-class lubrication, a business case is required. “Managers really don’t care about lubrication. They care about the financial impact of poor lubrication,” explained Kopschinsky. “Since they speak in dollars and cents, not beta ratios and microns, we need to learn the language of management.”

He recommends working with plant maintenance management to estimate the amount of money lost each year because of imprecise lubrication; developing an action plan to help close the gap on the most common reasons for poor lubrication; estimating the upfront and ongoing costs to close those gaps; and calculating the five-year net present value (NPV) and internal rate of return (IRR) for improvements, because executives can relate to NPV and IRR.

Kopschinsky concluded the session with an example business case analysis. The most likely case scenario included estimated annual losses due to poor lubrication of $1,620,000 and addressable losses due to poor lubrication of $567,000. Those figures were carried into a five-year cost benefit analysis, based on the time value of money, which incorporated upfront and ongoing program costs. The final analysis showed a five-year NPV of more than $1.3 million and an IRR of 145% — information that is compelling to decision-makers. “When accompanied by case studies of real-life examples, the business case really hits home,” explained Kopschinsky.

David Arndt, University of Michigan