Want a simple way to improve equipment uptime? Try proactive lubrication

June 6, 2005
It's a slick, simple, cost-effective way to increase equipment uptime.

Few consumable materials have as direct an impact on operational reliability as a lubricant, a critical component of virtually every machine in your plant. Too much or too little oil can lead to equipment failure and potential safety issues. The wrong viscosity or oil type can be equally detrimental. Incompatible mixtures of oils or additives can reduce the lubricant’s effectiveness and life span. Contamination and degradation can bring down a line prematurely.

If you can predict and prevent such lubrication issues from occurring, you will achieve significant reliability improvements. In response to this need, a growing variety of practices, standards, techniques, services and tools are becoming available to help you.

Reliability-centered approach: Reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) renders excessive manual inspection and maintenance a thing of the past. However, a big-bang approach to RCM can require an extensive investment in both resources and technology at a time when funding is often elusive. An incremental approach can be more cost-effective and generate immediate reliability improvements. Documented improvements in lubrication and other high-impact processes can lay the groundwork for developing additional RCM targets.

Eric Bevevino, ChevronTexaco Products Co. business unit manager, strongly advocates transitioning from reactive maintenance practices to more predictive, reliability-centered techniques. “Proactive lubrication methods may be the most economical reliability improvement initiative that you can start right now,” Bevevino said during his presentation at National Manufacturing Week in March 2005.

Before implementing a lube reliability initiative, be sure to take oil samples and keep records of baseline particle counts. Comparing these benchmarks to post-initiative results can help you justify further investments in RCM tools and technologies.

Cleanliness: Clean fluids extend equipment life and keep the operation online longer. The ISO 4406:1999 Cleanliness Standard provides an objective means to ensure your lubricants are up to the task. You start by selecting a cleanliness target that depends on a machine’s application and the environment in which it operates. Once specified, you then monitor the contaminant level of your stored, in-service and purchased fluids to ensure they remain within the targeted range.

Troubled equipment analysis: Costly or frequent machine failures often can be remedied with relatively inexpensive corrective actions. An inspection of equipment design, application, environment, maintenance practices and fluid condition might point to something as simple as an incorrect lubricant for the job, the need for desiccant breathers on storage containers, or a process of proactive filter cart filtration. Your equipment supplier may have engineers or field service technicians who are competent in this area. The service may even be covered by your warranty.

ChevronTexaco’s Total Reliability Excellence (T-Rex) program claims a holistic approach to equipment analysis. The company’s technicians identify reliability deficiencies, develop recommendations, execute the changes and optimize lube performance. Cost-conscious testing methods avoid overinvesting in technology. For example, manual particle counting using a filter patch test might be performed until it’s proved that a larger investment in more costly electronic particle counting is warranted.

Systematic condition monitoring: Performing maintenance based on the condition of a lubricant is more cost-effective than the traditional interval-based practice. Condition-based lubrication maintenance doesn’t waste good oil, and it predicts and prevents failure.

Infrared thermography is an inexpensive, easy method that can determine whether lubricated components are operating within allowable temperature limits. When thermography locates a hot spot, oil, vibration and ultrasound analysis can help determine the problem’s root cause. Oil analysis also allows you to predict when you’ll need to apply some cleanup treatment or change the oil so this maintenance can be scheduled during nonpeak hours or during a planned outage. Each of these techniques for monitoring machine condition facilitates best-practice RCM.

Reliability software and services: Many lubricant suppliers and maintenance consultants offer oil analysis programs to assess and trend particle counts, as well as calculate the remaining useful fluid life. For example, Dow Corning’s Integrated Oil Analysis Program tests Molykote-brand lubricants for wear metals and additives to predict when they should be changed.

Other reliability-oriented lubrication-consulting services include lube consolidation, fluid conditioning, compliance reviews, work practice audits and introductory through advanced lubrication training.

Maintenance management systems can help companies manage and automate their lubrication-related work. “All the oil analysis in the world isn’t going to be effective if the data just sits on someone’s desk or computer and isn’t incorporated into your scheduling process,” says Dow Corning’s Dave Como. ChevronTexaco and Dow Corning both offer lubrication-management software that allows companies to track and optimize lubrication issues as a means of increasing reliability and reducing maintenance cost.

E-mail Contributing Editor Sheila Kennedy, managing director of Additive Communications, at [email protected].