MRO Magazine

Why Lube Tracking Falls Short: Separate lubrication from PM to focus on reliability


June 25, 2012
By PEM Magazine

Industrial facilities often believe they have equipment lubrication covered with existing tools and systems — from spreadsheets to condition analysis to sophisticated preventive maintenance (PM) and corrective maintenance (CM) programs. However, improper lubrication is still cited as the primary cause of premature equipment failure today.

“It is generally accepted in the lubrication community that 60 percent of all mechanical failures are due to inadequate or improper lubrication practices,” states PEM columnist Ken Bannister in his book Lubrication for Industry. As well, more than 50 per cent of all bearings failures are due to inadequate lubrication, declares the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers.

“Lubrication is the neglected stepchild of equipment reliability and doesn’t get the attention it deserves,” says James Wanstreet, the reliability engineer and lubrication department supervisor at KapStone Paper and Packaging Corp.’s Charleston Kraft paper mill in Charleston, S.C.

As the limits of existing lubrication tracking methods become more apparent, separating lubrication from traditional PM and CM efforts to focus on lubrication reliability is increasingly being adopted as a solution.


Lubrication Tracking Fall Short
A single plant can have thousands of pieces of equipment, multiple lubrication points per piece of equipment, and multiple activities per lubrication point — each done at different intervals. From daily lubing, to semi-annual oil sampling, to yearly tank draining/replacement, the required lube tasks can number in the hundreds of thousands per year.

“With almost 500,000 lube tasks a year in our plant on almost 8,000 pieces of equipment … it’s critical that the correct lubrication get done without fail,” Wanstreet says.

While lube tasks are considered routine and often assigned to the newest techs at the plant, it is critical to get the right lubricant in the right place at the right time using the right procedure or technique.

Yet it is far too easy to miss lube points, mix up lubricants, or over/under lubricate when relying on traditional lubrication tracking methods.

Traditional Methods
At its most basic, plants rely on a technician armed with a grease gun and human memory to track lube points. Although these technicians do a stellar job, human memory is fallible and mistakes can be made. Not only that, but what happens when the technician is sick, leaves the company or retires? Replacing his knowledge can take considerable time, training, and expense.

“Even the smartest, most meticulous technician can forget things from day to day,” Wanstreet says.

Another solution used in many plants is the ubiquitous spreadsheet. Spreadsheets can be used to store or change information, such as an inventory of equipment, lube points and lubricants used, but are static and offer no real lubrication point tracking or history. For example, spreadsheets do not calculate and schedule future lubrication tasks based on completing a current task. And if a lubrication task is missed, there’s no record of it.

Although CMMS systems work well for managing PM and corrective work at the equipment level, they are not built for detailed tracking of individual lube tasks, particularly at high volume.

Even so, CMMS systems are often utilized for this very purpose and this is where the difficulty begins. CMMS systems rely on a series of lubrication PMs, arranged according to lubricant type, frequency and plant location. However, it can be time consuming to sort through multiple PMs to view requirements for a specific piece of equipment. Furthermore, if a change is required to the type of lubricant, which is typically stored in a text field, or frequency, each applicable PM must be found and each detailed line item requiring a change corrected.

A New Focus
What’s needed is an approach dedicated to lubrication. Fortunately, dedicated lubrication software is now transforming industrial lubrication management from an error-prone manual chore or inadequate CMMS effort into a predictable, automated process.

By managing every lubrication task so responsibilities are always clear and known, lubrication management software is helping to improve machine condition and equipment reliability. It is also maximizing staff productivity, safeguarding mission-critical lubrication knowledge, cutting energy cost, and reducing reactive corrective maintenance.

For example, LUBE-IT by Generation Systems, a developer of lubrication-specific tracking and management software, offers task-specific scheduling and tracking management to ensure the right lubricant gets to the right place at the right time in the right amount, using the right technique, all the time. Each lube point and related tasks are inventoried including location, capacity, activity type, procedure, frequency, route and shutdown requirements. From that, the software manages all these lube tasks automatically and simplifies changes to any of the variables as needed. Once it has all the lube points, the software will reschedule a task based on when it was completed. Uncompleted tasks are presented with the next week’s activities until they are completed.

With dedicated lubrication software, reliability engineers and plant managers can quickly view the details and history of any lubrication point.

KapStone’s Charleston Kraft paper mill turned to Generation Systems’ dedicated lubrication management software, which Wanstreet says “eliminates the issue of missing or incorrect lubrication and keeps our techs working at maximum efficiency. It allows our techs to focus on what needs to be done and take over without missing anything if someone is out.”

This is an edited article provided by Generation Systems. For more information, visit