Posted by Tristan Rienstra
Posted on February 28, 2022 at 12:00 PM
Most lubrication programs aim to be world class, meaning they use precision practices. But many programs still apply grease to bearings based on calendars and calculators. That is not precision, and it is not world class.
Allan Rienstra is the international business developer for SDT Ultrasound Solutions. He spoke at the Lubrication and Reliability Virtual Summit (LRVS) in late 2021. The LRVS is the home to lubrication technology development.
His love affair for ultrasound technology began in 1991, when he first picked up an SDT150, and used it to listen to the intake valves inside Perkins diesel engine on a Massey Ferguson tractor. The ensuing 30 years were filled with wonder and discovery as application after application revealed themselves to him. Today Allan’s passion for ultrasound is going through a transformation as his years of discovery are mostly behind him. But now he’s putting his accumulated knowledge to work helping reliability practitioners get the most from a technology to create safe workplaces, reduce unplanned downtime, eliminate unnecessary waste, and help create an elusive culture of reliability that seems so unattainable for some machinery lubrication programs.
Machinery lubrication remains the single biggest factor affecting asset reliability. Getting it right contributes to a long trouble-free service. But get it wrong, as so many do, and expect unplanned breakdowns, reactive firefighting, drained resources and a culture of unreliability.
There once was a time when lube technicians were considered the guru of the facility. With precision, they injected the oil into the assets at the heart of manufacturing. They were the first responders, but their job wasn't to fix and repair... It was to maintain. These were the people with their finger on the pulse of the plant. They knew when an asset was healthy, and they had a sixth sense for when trouble was looming. Gradually these gurus disappeared, and they weren't replaced. The job of the lube technician was managed away, and in far too many instances it was even disparaged with derogatory monikers like grease monkey.
Histories is either ours to learn or ignore. But it cannot be denied. There is a history of poor practices. We’ve been using water and oil to help lubricate surfaces for nearly 4000 years. When non-lubricated or improperly lubricated surfaces come in contact with each other, friction is created. And in many cases, this friction is an energy waster and a heat generator. Pouring a steady stream of duck fat, or olive oil on the surfaces used to be the best solution we have. In 1700 BC a job of lube technician would have been advertised as oil pourer.
Times change, and applications evolve. Simply sliding a cart along the ground or up a moderate include doesn’t require the same precision as maintaining a thin film of lubricant on a rolling element bearing. For a sledge or a cart, too much grease is okay. The excess just squeezes out of the sides. But fast forward to today, adding grease to a motor bearing until it drips out of the seal and onto our shoes is not the best measure of correct grease replenishment quantity. With today’s loads and speeds a dedicated oil pouring person is a poor solution. But so is using a calendar and a calculator to schedule lubrication tasks. 4000 years and counting, industry is still seeking a workable method to determine when and how much lubricant is required to maintain perfect separation of services.
Statistics are often framed or manipulated to suit an inquiry. For rolling element bearings it is a well-established fact that poor lubrication practices are the leading cause of premature bearing failure. Whether it is from the wrong lubricant for the application, lubrication deterioration, too much lubricant, too little lubricant, or lubrication contamination, most premature bearing failures can be traced back to poor discipline and control over this critical task.
Lately, thanks to wonderful conferences like the Lubrication and Reliability Virtual Summit, and other learning opportunities, the focus has turned on to asset management and reliability. Today we see a blood of new talent streaming through that reliability doorway, all ready to make a difference and change the world. Why is no one lining up in front of the lubrication door? What happened to our thinking to make it such an undesirable job title? If lubrication is the single biggest factor affecting reliability, why aren’t new, young technicians knocking on the lubrication door? Better question. Why is there one door for lubrication and another one for reliability? Aren't they one in the same thing? We need one path, and a wider all-encompassing door. And we need to avail new reliability practitioners with modern tools, modern ideas, and modern training. So, they can become competent, and capable technicians… and grease bearings right.
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