Machinery Lubrication / Preventive Maintenance

4 reliability and maintenance projects that provide immediate results

These activities will help to maintain momentum and provide substantial results both quickly and economically.

By Will McNett, CMRP, Life Cycle Engineering

Ask any industry practitioner about the duration and effort required to embed maintenance and reliability best practices into an organization, and the response is likely to be consistent: It's not a short-term endeavor, and the effort is substantial. But on the journey to maintenance and reliability excellence, it's critical to deliver short-term results along the way. Positive results are necessary from a pure financial perspective, of course, but they are also required to maintain momentum, employee support, and executive support for long-term objectives.

Outlined below are four initiatives/activities that can be implemented with little financial investment and that will provide immediate, significant results.

1. Lubrication

Lubrication is the lifeblood of any plant that operates rotating equipment. And although it represents a relatively low percentage of the maintenance spend, it has the potential to result in very significant failure consequences if not managed correctly. As a result, the return on investment for lubrication improvements is very high.

A simple illustration of the effects is the calculation for bearing life found in ISO standard 281:2007. According to the standard, the difference in the “modified rating life” of the bearing can be as much as 50% between “high cleanliness” and “typical contaminations.” In other words, improving lubrication cleanliness can literally double component life. The effects on more-complex rotating equipment can be even more significant.

Bulk oil storage practices are a great place to start because lubrication storage and transportation provide ample opportunities for contamination. Proper dispensing filtration, desiccant breathers, and color-coding of lubrication types all are best practices. Self-contained storage units utilizing built-in, color-coded dispensers and tanks can be purchased for as little $50,000 (plantwide) and will protect vital lubrication from ambient contaminants as well as prevent human error while dispensing.

Another area of focus with high return is filtration for stored lubrication and in-service lubrication. The cleanliness of lubrication purchased from the manufacturer can be highly variable. Between processing, storage, and transportation, there are many opportunities for contamination to be introduced before the lubrication is packaged and delivered to your facility. Therefore, it's critical to filter the oil before it is put in a machine or in the bulk oil storage system. For critical in-service lubrication, mobile kidney-loop systems can be added for less than $5,000 and, as outlined by ISO, can more than double component life.  

Finally, coupling oil analysis with a robust lubrication program can further extend component life and lubrication life and predict impending failures. Close monitoring of lubrication conditions can optimize replacement intervals and reduce costs associated with unexpected failures. A basic analysis can be done by a quality lab for $25–$30 per sample.

2. Root-cause failure analysis

The foundation of any business improvement or reliability program is root-cause failure analysis (RCFA). Not only does RCFA serve as a catalyst to shift an organizational culture from reactive to proactive, but also it typically provides a double-digit return on investment. The best part is that anybody can do a basic RCFA investigation – shop floor crafts, operators, engineers, or managers. The investigation can be as simple as a basic 5 why or can employ a more-advanced technique, such as a fault tree or cause mapping. Regardless of the tool, the investigation can be done in a matter of hours or days, and identified corrective actions are typically implemented in less than a month.

The RCFA's returns, furthermore, are not limited to the failure the analysis is specifically addressing. The analysis will identify the latent roots, also described as system or organizational roots. These are the underlying reasons why actions that led up to the failure were taken or not taken. Because these roots are systemic to the organization, the corrective actions and associated returns are not limited to the focus area of the analysis. As a result, RCFA can be a powerful proactive tool that addresses defects across the entire facility with minimal resources.

3. Preventive maintenance optimization

Preventive maintenance (PM) hours often consume a large portion of maintenance time, which may result in overtime or the need for contract labor to perform corrective and emergency work. Additionally, if failures are experienced between PM intervals, the original preventive work may not even be value-added. This is especially true in facilities where new PMs are added as a result of misguided corrective actions that either do not address failure modes or address them incorrectly. Of course, legacy PM activities tend never to be “turned off” or evaluated, either, and over time, much of the PM program becomes wasted effort.

PM optimization is a process to systematically review PM tasks based on a set of specific criteria to ensure that each task is worthwhile and addresses a specific failure mode. More specifically, for the PM task to survive, it must eliminate the failure mode or mitigate its effects to a point where there is an acceptable risk reduction risk or a financial return. Additionally, opportunities are identified to substitute predictive or condition-based maintenance for time-based maintenance. During the evaluation, PM tasks may also be organized and streamlined to reduce the man hours required to complete them. The result is a PM program that is rooted in data and that provides a clear return on investment.

These evaluations can be done very quickly with minimal resources. A reliability engineer with the support of a craft or other technical resource can review hundreds of tasks in a matter of days. Rewriting procedures requires more effort; however, simply deleting non-value-added tasks will constitute the bulk of the work. With a dedicated team, an operating unit can be optimized in a few months.

If the facility has clean failure data available, there is additional opportunity to optimize PM frequencies and strategies utilizing Weibull analysis or Monte Carlo simulations. Both of these can be done in Excel for minimal cost and resources.

With either approach, the result is a streamlined and effective PM program that will free up technician time to focus on more-detailed proactive work. 

4. Shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages

Improving the performance of shutdowns, turnarounds, and outages (STOs) can have significant impact on any facility. This includes plants that are “sold out” and those that have excess capacity and are focused on minimizing cost.

Capacity-constrained operations can improve OEE by reducing recurring scheduled downtime and major shutdowns. Duration of scheduled downtime can be reduced by proactively applying the single minute exchange of dies (SMED) methodology or similar critical-path analysis. It is not uncommon to reduce routine outage jobs by as much as 50% with a relatively simple analysis of job tasks and tools.

In cost-focused operations, a dedicated shutdown manager assigned to the STO is a small investment to ensure that projects are completed on time and that resources are used effectively to reduce contractor and equipment (rental, scaffold, etc.) costs.

With either focus, a robust condition and risk assessment of equipment and scheduled work will ensure that STO projects are actually required and have an acceptable return. This can be achieved by evaluating all requested work against a predefined algorithm of risk thresholds. 

While it's true that achieving maintenance and reliability excellence can be a long and arduous journey, these activities will help to maintain momentum and provide substantial results both quickly and economically.