The devil’s in the detail when it comes to keeping an operation running smoothly – and a closer look at something as simple as the oil used in machines can be hugely revealing.

The benefits of data analysis have been widely acknowledged for decades. But getting that data from a machine into an analytics platform – and being able to work with it in real-time – is far from commonplace.

Now smart sensors, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), connected supply chains and more are opening up a world of possibility. But you don’t need a smart factory to start putting intelligence at the heart of your maintenance operations.

Oil’s well that ends well
Oil is one of the most abundant materials in engineering. This ubiquity means it can be easily overlooked – but it has a value that goes beyond the immediately obvious.

Taking an oil sample from a piece of machinery can provide a wealth of information. The presence of sediments and unexpected properties, such as tiny fragments of metals, can be a clear indicator that all is not well.

In fact, the overwhelming majority of cases of mechanical wear can be attributed to lubrication contamination. Between 50% and 80% of rotating asset failures could be attributed to lubrication errors. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has estimated around $240 billion is lost each year in the US alone because of manufacturing equipment damaged by poor lubrication.

"Lubrication is one of those common points of failure that we see routinely"Gary Harvey, Head of Field Services, RS

The quality of the oil doesn’t just show the oil itself needs to be changed. It could also help predict an impending component failure. And the problem might not be as simple as the oil being old, as when servicing a car, for example – it might be the wrong choice altogether.


RS Maintenance Solutions - Lubrication_Facts

“Lubrication is one of those common points of failure that we see routinely,” says Gary Harvey, Head of Field Services, at RS. Consequently, identifying the right lubricants is vital. Too much, too little, or an unsuitable choice can cause a host of problems and take a machine offline unexpectedly.

Step-by-step progress
Creating a sustainable strategy for enhanced lubricant selection is best approached iteratively. As with many planned changes in business, there is a risk that the size and scale of the challenge can be off-putting. The process followed by RS Maintenance Solutions is based on the Japanese 5S framework, whether as a completely outsourced or turnkey programme.

The 5S name breaks down like this:
Seiri – sort: Remove any unnecessary distractions via a regular cleaning and maintenance regimen
Seiton – set in order: Ensure critical items are always the most readily available
Seiso – shine: Keep working environments clear to make it easy to spot if anything is out of order
Seiketus – standardise: Create standardised processes that everyone understands and can follow
Shitsuke – sustain: With everything else in place and no deviations from the process, everyone can maintain excellence and sustain it.

"There are many examples of small inexpensive components within a larger system failing causing multi-million pound outages"Dr Moray Kidd, Maintenance Engineering Academic

Dr Moray Kidd, Maintenance Engineering academic, explains why paying attention to the basics matters. “There are many examples of small inexpensive components within a larger system failing causing multi-million pound outages” he says.

In the Indirect Procurement Report 2020: The Evolution of MRO – RS Components’ white paper produced in partnership with the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply (CIPS) – 42% of UK businesses said ‘ageing assets’ were their biggest cause of downtime.

Identifying the right lubricant for the right job is of paramount importance. To an extent, common sense and research will provide many of the answers here, but not all of them. In addition to set parameters around the machine – its component parts, the kind of work it will be doing and so on – there need to be additional assessments. These should include the working environment and a thorough examination of the machine in operation, ideally using ultrasound technology.

Once the right lubricant has been selected, an application cadence should be established. The objective, clearly, is to avoid any potential over- or under-lubrication by ensuring the optimal reapplication timescales. That will depend on regular monitoring, especially in the early stages of establishing the process and application timetable.

Beyond identifying the right process involving the right lubricant, the next key step is ensuring ongoing consistency.

“Poor reliability can result from a number of factors,” explains Dr Kidd. “These include problems with the specification, design, manufacture, installation, commissioning and, of course, maintenance and operations. Each of these activities needs to be regarded as a link in a chain. Should any single link fail – or drop below the expected standards – system reliability will be negatively impacted.”

If there is one key takeaway from gaining a better understanding of the importance of oil and lubrication it is that getting the fundamentals right pays off.

Regular assessments of oil condition and a solid strategy for maintained lubrication can keep even the oldest of equipment in better health. But only as long as that strategy is rolled out in a series of processes that can be followed and sustained.

To find out more about how RS Maintenance Solutions can help your business implement the right lubrication strategy and process, or to learn more about our other services, please visit our website.