Mechanics and/or operators regularly walk-down machines. The equipment is often looked over every day, or every shift in some instances. What a wonderful opportunity to verify that machinery lubrication is OK. However, except for the obvious things like checking the level indicator, it is rare to find the lubrication system on the inspection list. Many variables can be quickly and easily monitored with a small time commitment. Lubrication inspection routes can be revealing, and will serve as the foundation of a precision lubrication management program.
We have found that keeping lubrication inspection routes simple produces the best results. This is especially true if routes are completed by staff members who possess only a basic knowledge about machinery lubrication. In fact, it is often best to design lubrication inspection routes comprised almost entirely of questions that the inspector can answer “yes” or “no,” or as “OK” or “not OK.” This keeps the process fast and simple. After all, the primary purpose for performing the routine inspections is to uncover possible problems that require further investigation.
Every plant, and for that matter every machine, will require a slightly different inspection routine and frequency. Below are six items to consider when setting up an inspection program.
No, not all machines in the plant are created equal. Some are highly critical and should be inspected on a regular basis, in some cases every shift or every day. Others require only weekly, biweekly or monthly inspection. Because the lubrication inspection process is simple, err on the conservative side and inspect the machines frequently. The program can always be adjusted later. Consider the machine’s tendency to fail, its impact on production and the cost, time and difficulty of restoring it upon failure when deciding upon your inspection frequency. Too often, the sump volume is the primary determining factor. Sump volume is an easy way to group machines, but the cost of the lubricant is usually the least of your concerns. Use a more thoughtful approach.
For many machines, the number of observable parameters can reach the hundreds, even thousands in some cases. Obviously, some priorities must be established. Select inspection parameters based upon their relative importance. How will an aberration affect the machine’s performance? How frequently do problems detectable with a given inspection occur?
Those performing the inspections must have some understanding about machinery lubrication, contamination control, etc. They don’t have to be experts in the area if they have experts to turn to, but they do need a basic understanding. They also require task-based training on performing the inspection. For example, they must know that desiccant is deemed failed when the color changes. Machinery lubrication will be new to many of the people performing the inspections. Don’t hold the team accountable unless they have been properly qualified to do the job.
The trusty 3” X 5” index card will work for performing inspections, but this requires the individual to remember the inspection criteria or refer to an inspection list, and make notes about his observations. A clipboard with a predefined set of questions (that can be answered yes or no) for each machine is a definite improvement on the index card method. Be sure to leave a space for comments. Both the index card and clipboard approach require manual entry of the data once it is collected. A more modern approach is to set up the inspection in an industrial-grade tablet or data collection device. For each machine, the inspector can answer yes or no, and as required, write short comments. The data can then be uploaded to a host computer for storage. This speeds the process, assures that the data will be captured and reduces transposition errors.
Be sure to track inspection findings carefully. Software is the best way to do this, and it is best to keep inspection data where other machine condition information is kept to facilitate diagnostics and failure root cause analysis. Tracking the data also helps identify frequently recurring problems, or lubrication “bad actors.” It also helps optimize inspection frequency. It may be necessary to assign a number to the nominal (yes or no) data collected to conform to the requirements of the software used. Usually, zero and one can be used. Some questions will be answered yes if things are OK, others will be answered no if things are OK. It’s a good idea to consistently assign zero to the OK condition to simplify graphical trending. A scale of one to three or one to five could also be used. It really doesn’t matter if it is simple and consistent.
It seems that anytime a problem is encountered with any part of the lubrication system, an oil change is immediately scheduled, assuming this will solve the problem. This is lazy lubrication maintenance - try to drop this habit. Indeed, in many cases the oil must be changed as a part of a complete and cohesive corrective action. In many cases, however, an oil change is not required. Investigate the problem, identify its root cause and implement a thoughtful corrective action that addresses the problems and eliminates any unnecessary steps.
Ineffective lubrication remains one of the leading causes for machinery failure, and in most cases, it is the leading cause by a large margin. Routine inspection of the machine’s lubrication system is among the easiest and most productive ways to avoid equipment failure, and should play a pivotal role in the pursuit of precision lubrication. A positive externality of this program is that operators and mechanics who perform the routine inspections will have new awareness of the importance of effective lubrication, and quality with which lubrication is applied is bound to improve across the board.