MRO Magazine

Numbers Game: Lubrication consolidation cuts maintenance costs


April 14, 2003
By PEM Magazine

Each year, billions of dollars are spent to repair the damage in plants caused by mechanical wear. The key elements of damage are due to surface degradation, including mechanical wear and fatigue—a high percentage of which can be blamed on lubricant degradation and problems associated with related maintenance. One solution to reduce overall maintenance costs is total lubrication consolidation.

How can maintenance and plant managers choose the best lubrication consolidation program? They should look for a "package" that offers a complete product line to meet the requirements of virtually every need in their plant, as well as an integrated oil analysis service and lubrication management software. All of these offerings should be supported by local product supply and expert technical assistance.

Total lubrication consolidation presents a deceptively simple challenge, however, that’s not easily achieved. This is mainly because most suppliers don’t have the capability to provide a total lubrication package. The concept is also so new that many maintenance professionals are unclear about the criteria needed to select the right products and services to implement a total lubrication program.

Some plant operations require only a limited amount of support and many suppliers have the needed capabilities to meet such requirements. The challenge is especially daunting for plants that have thousands of moving parts with unique lubrication requirements and schedules. This makes it hard to meet and track effectively and efficiently.


Selecting the right supplier is also particularly difficult for plants, where lubricants come from many companies. Nevertheless, consolidating lubrication-related purchases into a single, integrated program is possible. There are many reasons why maintenance professionals are giving it serious consideration.

Lubrication consolidation helps manufacturers to optimize the maintenance process, keeping equipment running smoothly and continually at maximum capacity. This is essential to profitability. Failing to do this has a price because preventable breakdowns interrupt production and hike maintenance costs. In fact, lubrication engineers estimate that 60 percent of all mechanical failures are due to inadequate or improper lubrication practices.

As a first step, maintenance professionals interested in evaluating the prospects for savings should look for suppliers that offer a total lubrication package, not just a "full" or "broad" product line. By selecting a supplier that offers the right mix of products and services, customers can better expect their plant lubrication needs will be appropriately met.

For example, without a single supply source, redundant orders of comparable lubricants with different brand names can contribute to wasteful inventory. Maintenance professionals facing unclear or multiple lubricant choices can also make mistakes that damage equipment. This causes preventable maintenance and increased downtime. What’s worse, suppliers offering only a limited line of lubricants sometimes try to "force-fit" their products, regardless of specific application requirements.

As well, maintenance professionals typically adopt a conservative, but costly approach to machine lubrication by replacing fluids at shorter intervals than necessary. Although this is a well-grounded decision based often on conservative OEM maintenance guidelines, oil drain intervals can be extended in many instances contingent on the selection of better oils for the application. For example, the switch from conventional oils to a new generation of ultra-high purity mineral oils or synthetic lubricants can extend drain oils by as much as three to 10 times, respectively.

In other instances, extended drain intervals stem from oil analysis readings, which indicate that a lubricant will tolerate extended service. Whatever the reason, the MRO manager who increases the time between lubricant drain intervals typically cuts related costs significantly. Extending lubricating intervals also increases production time and saves production losses. The latter is due to unnecessary maintenance that might be attributed to poor lubrication practices.

As a result, it pays to make sure your supplier has the right lubricants and a staff of lubrication technical experts. This will help you solve problems and tap opportunities for savings. This is because using the right lubricant and setting efficient drain intervals requires detailed knowledge of lubricants, as well as the analytical tools to determine their condition. This often calls for a level of expertise not readily available in-house.

How can MRO managers find the right single source of lubrication products and services to meet all of their complex needs? They firstly must look beyond lubricants to include services, such as local support for technical and application questions. This comprises oil analysis and lubrication management software. This integrated package is essential to effective lubrication management.

However, you’ll find wide differences among lubrication vendors in the quality and extent of this "total package." When evaluating lubrication consolidation suppliers, maintenance professionals may find it helpful to think about the following questions:

How complete is the product line?
The suppliers best equipped to meet requirements for diverse lubricating solutions are those offering a complete line of industrial lubricants—not just a "wide range" of products. Fluids for high-volume applications include hydraulic, compressor and vacuum pump, gearbox and chain, as well as multi-purpose oils. Specialized industrial compounds (i.e. greases, pastes, anti-friction coatings and dispersions) must be included to the mix.

A wide range of base stocks is also essential. Synthetics provide excellent resistance to emulsification and last longer to extend maintenance intervals. Ultra-high purity mineral oils also resist emulsification and promote improved additive performance. This results in longer life than conventional mineral oils. The full-line supplier must also be able to draw on functional additive technologies. This includes anti-oxidant, anti-wear and extreme-temperature additives.

Does the supplier understand my needs?
Effective lubrication consolidation demands technical support from local representatives who understand lubricants and the operating conditions found in common industrial equipment. For example, mineral oils in air compressors generally last only 1,000 hours. By comparison, synthetic compressor oil, specially formulated for air compressors, lasts around 12 times as long.

Knowledgeable consolidated lubricant suppliers understand different applications. They also know the right lubricants to use at the right time. Their expertise helps maintenance professionals avoid making lubricant selection mistakes, which can shorten equipment life and stop production. They can also help install lubrication management software, showing how it can help achieve additional efficiency improvements.

What about oil analysis?
As an essential part of a lubrication consolidation program, oil analysis helps identify contamination, lubricant degradation and abnormal machine wear. Industry-accepted tests reveal the presence of metal particles, water and other contaminants. While oil analysis alone can’t predict mechanical failures, testing can identify abnormal conditions that indicate lubricant aging and/or whether it’s abnormal.

In so doing, analysis provides criteria to take preventive action that may reduce the potential for "larger" equipment problems. You want to avoid greater expenses and unnecessary downtime. The wise use of oil analysis data can play an instrumental role in significantly lowering overall costs associated with oil changes, while helping to extend equipment life.

Analysis can prevent needless, costly oil changes dictated by simplistic predictive time interval schemes. In other instances, analysis can provide criteria that may lead to savings by extending oil drain intervals. Trend data can also offer criteria for the design and rationalization of preventive maintenance routines that lend themselves to computer-based management.

Lubrication management software tool
Dedicated lubrication management software is a powerful tool for scheduling, supervising and recording a consolidated lubrication program. It exploits and complements oil analysis by collecting trend data and developing responsive lubrication schedules. By enabling maintenance managers and workers to schedule and record lubrication changes for specific equipment, lubrication software automates the management function.

Be sure that the dedicated management software can centralize lubrication requirements and protocols for an entire plant. It should catalogue what lubricant is required and when, as well as how it should be applied for every lubrication point in the plant. The database must provide a proactive preventive maintenance tool that can save time, reduce risk of errors and make it easy to record completed lubrication tasks.

Secondly, effective lubrication management software should help you create and schedule lubrication routes for thousands of points within your plant. Scheduling software can generate lubricating work orders and monitor the performance of lubricants and maintenance employees. Finally, dedicated lubrication management software should help you broaden lubrication schedules and records to cover multiple sites.

Jim Stutelberg is lubrication channel manager for Midland, MI-based Dow Corning Corp. He can be reached at (989) 496-6000; Web site: