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You can have a world-class lubrication team

Nov. 17, 2004
Management support and training eliminate 50 years of inefficient lubrication practices

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 approvalWithout 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 ofa 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.

We have more maintenance technicians scheduled for training during Fall 2004. Some employees have enrolled in Noria online training courses, which we found to be effective.

Training is intense and you get out of it what you put into it. Management must select the right people to receive training as lubrication leaders. Don’t send someone to training just because:

  • More proof of training is needed for the files.
  • That’s the only person you can spare that week.
  • Someone wants to visit the city in which training is taking place.
  • Someone is more interested in personal goals than company goals.

Don’t send someone who doesn’t like getting a dirty and oily at times. Don’t send someone who isn’t willing to crack the books. Don’t send someone who can’t deal with the criticism and resistance from the old timers that surely will arise when you try to institute world-class work practices. Don’t expect attitudes to change overnight. The person you send must be patient, persistent, and able to communicate with and train others.

The selection
The oil suppliers that left us with the best impression were asked to supply references. We called these customers and even found one gracious enough to give us a plant tour to see their complete lubrication system.

The lube supplier we selected is Bel-Ray Co. Inc., Farmingdale, N.J., a manufacturer of food-grade specialty lubricants. Sam Hall, the Bel-Ray representative for our area, has 30 years of experience and provided a great deal of free training for our lubrication leader while the two worked together on this project. The training helped justify the choice of vendor.

Little did we know beforehand the benefits that selecting the right oil supplier could provide. Good suppliers help with training and have consultants available at all times to help with problem-solving and lubricant selection. It’s scary to think what we might have selected in the absence of training.

Lube Certification

Becoming certified involves a three-hour exam that tests one’s knowledge in every area of lubrication. The exam has 100 questions and requires a score of 70 to pass. That doesn’t mean one must answer 70 questions correctly to pass; it’s possible to answer more than 70 correctly and still fail.

The reason is that the exam covers 10 domain-of-knowledge categories and the questions are weighted unequally. For instance, 10 questions may count for 25% and another 10 questions may count only for 5%. Test takers don’t know in advance the weighting assigned to answers, so they can’t cherry-pick and assume each question is worth the same amount.

Go to www.lubecouncil.com, where you can learn more. Also, the site lists the name and company affiliation of everyone who passes the exam.

Making the switch

We initiated our shift to world-class lubrication practices in October 2002. The project included revamping fire doors, dock doors and ramps, plus our critical equipment. Clopay had been lubricating its equipment in the same way since the facility opened in 1955. We didn’t expect that so many years of poor lubrication practices would be changed overnight.

We set a goal of having the entire plant changed over in three years. We operate continuously and can’t shut down machines just to change lubes. Our preventive maintenance program allows us to shut down a line for only 12 hours during a week. It’s a short interval for addressing the needs of gearboxes and hydraulic units. In fact, it takes several shutdowns to complete the necessary lube work on a given line. By the time you read this, though, our lube system changes will be about 80% complete.

The payback
Switching to synthetic lubricants offers benefits, but it’s too early in the process for us to gather sufficient data that quantifies them. Besides, we’re still consumed with the physical work involved in switching lubes.

We can, however, document reduced power consumption. Thermography has revealed a 15°F to 20°F decrease in gearbox temperature, which implies reduced friction and motors that are working less. We can document extended oil change intervals. We used to change oil twice a year, but for gearboxes filled with synthetic lube, it’s been more than two years since we last had to replace the lubricant. According to our oil samples, it should be some time before we will be forced to replace the charge. Figure shows an example of the projected savings.

Executive responsibility
Any company that denies its plant floor workers adequate lubrication training is, in effect, saying that machine reliability and profitability are already satisfactory. There’s not much anyone can do, except to keep going on as before. A company with such attitudes won’t gain a leg up on the competition. By the time management recognizes how far behind it’s lagging, it might be too late.

On the other hand, if your management team challenges you to achieve world-class status in your maintenance systems, as happened here at Clopay, you can’t simply call vendors the next day and start buying what you think are world-class products.

Knowledge is the first thing you want to purchase. The training gives you the connections that help with decisions about bearing vendors, oil suppliers, training companies and lubrication consultants. Although these organizations can provide help, it’s the trained people in your plant who must gather the facts and make the decisions. After all, they are the people who own, develop and operate the system. They are the people who are responsible for the changes. One incorrect purchase or ill-advised procedural change can bring production to a halt very quickly.

Don’t expect change to come or benefits to accrue overnight. It’s not free, cheap or easy, but the ultimate rewards are substantial and will remain so with proper program management.

Scotty Lippert is the planned maintenance technician and machinery lubrication specialist and Randal Smith is plant engineer at Clopay Plastic Products Co., Augusta, Ky.

Photos courtesy of Clopay Plastic Products Co.

How close to world-class are you?
Historically, our plant personnel felt our lube program was typical, perhaps average compared to others in the industry. It’s a feeling shared, I’m sure, by most who’ve never had lubrication training. After we were trained and built our knowledge base, however, we found it hard to rate our program even as highly as poor. Objectively, it wasn’t even close to the world-class level we wanted.

Here are some questions for you to ponder. Do you:

  • Select oil suppliers with only cost in mind?
  • Change oil on the basis of time intervals instead of oil analysis reports?
  • Know how to take oil samples properly?
  • Take those samples?
  • Store oil shipments wherever there’s space available?
  • Think new oil is clean enough to use as-is?
  • Know the functional difference between mineral oil and synthetic oil?
  • Think there’s only one type of synthetic lube?
  • Think oil is oil and mixing won’t cause any harm?
  • Lubricate bearings until grease comes out of the seals?
  • Believe over-lubricating is not as harmful as under-lubricating?
  • Believe that particles too small for the eye to detect won’t cause damage?
  • Believe stored grease and oil retain their physical and chemical properties for years?
  • Think changing it is the only option when oil becomes dirty?
  • Think vegetable oil is used only for cooking?
  • Use the same metal container for all oils?
  • Know the significance of the beta ratio?
  • Believe that a quarter-inch variation in oil level makes no difference?
  • Know the meaning of abrasion and adhesion wear?
  • Know what grease your motor rebuild shop uses or whether it even matters?
  • Know the characteristics of lithium, lithium complex, calcium and polyurea, and where they should be used?
  • Dispense different types of grease from the same grease gun?
  • Think biodegradable oil can be poured into a floor drain?
  • Know the three types of base oil?
  • Know the difference between ISO and SAE grades?
  • Know the meaning of boundary lubrication, elastohydrodynamic lubrication and hydrodynamic lubrication?

Your plant’s lubrication leader should know the answers to these and many other questions. So should anyone responsible for lubricating your plant’s equipment. One small, uninformed decision can be disastrous when changing your lubrication program.

Table 1. Example extruder gearbox
(9 gal. capacity, synthetic oil installed
in October 2002)

 Scheduled  Planned Shutdowns Mineral Oil Synthetic 
 Lube cost  $6.36/gal.  $30/gal
 Charge cost  $57.27  $270
 Number of oil changes  4 (36 gal.)  0
 Cost of oil changes  $228.96  0
 Number of oil filters  4  1
 Unit price of oil filters  $3.80  $37
 Cost of oil filters  $15.20  $37
 Volume of waste (gal.)  36  0
 Disposal cost  $32.40  0
 Emergency Breakdown    
 Hourly production loss  $400  $400
 Downtime  2.5 hr.  0.25 hr.
 Production loss  $1,000  $100

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