Progressive companies have long viewed lubrication as a cornerstone of asset reliability. Building and sustaining a world-class lube program, however, is not an easy task. Implementation can be especially difficult. Despite the best of intentions, many organizations fail in this endeavor. Being successful demands a major commitment. That means time, careful planning and, for those without adequate in-house technical resources to administer their programs, the use of outside help (a growing trend across industry).
This case study focuses on a large Gulf Coast chemical plant. Its comprehensive lube program (begun in 2009) continues to improve—even though it’s already achieved world-class status. The program is managed by RelaDyne, a contractor whose Field Reliability Management (FRM)division is helping to redefine and drive reliability in a wide range of operations across North America.
The facility in this case study hasn’t always been a site of lubrication excellence. While it had been using lubricants from a major company for many years, the only service provided by the supplier was delivery of those products: There was no help with the selection of correct lubricants nor in keeping them clean once they were delivered. As evidenced by a large number of equipment failures—many them related to use of incorrect oils in specific applications and lack of oil cleanliness—this lube program would have been considered “poor.” Plant personnel seemed oblivious to that fact until another supplier, The Hurt Company, began seeking the site’s lubricationbusiness. (Hurt became part of RelaDyne in 2010.)
Although attempting to replace a long-time supplier with many plant contacts might seem daunting, by being persistent and pointing out significant improvement opportunities—not simply trying to sel lubricants—Hurt (now RelaDyne) won the contract. Finalized in 2006, it called for the contractor to supply Chevron products. The scope of work didn’t include performing lubrication.
The first phase of the contract involved a comprehensive two-day audit by a technical team to determine deficiencies of the existing program. The following problems were noted:
1. Lubricants were highly contaminated due to poor storage and handling procedures and lack of filtration and breathers on equipment. Oils used on compressors and pumps were found to be well above minimum recommended cleanliness levels. Even turbine oils at 22/19/17 were too dirty for the application.
2. Consolidation was needed. Many oils and greases could be eliminated with no effect on the performance.
3. Misapplication was common. The wrong oils were used in some critical applications.
4. Oil analysis was used, but not effectively. No one knew how to interpret the data.
Following the audit, a lube survey of all rotating equipment in the plant was conducted. The resulting data, entered into an Excel spreadsheet and continuously updated, became the basis for the equipment’s lubrication schedules. First incorporated into Pride, a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), these schedules have subsequently been incorporated into Meridium, a more powerful program.
Once the lube-program issues that needed the most attention were identified—issues posing the greatest threat to the chemical plant’s machinery reliability—the following improvements were implemented:
1.Contamination control has become a strong focus. Storage and handling has improved significantly. Although sealed plastic dispensing containers had taken the place of metal ones at the plant, they weren’t routinely cleaned—which led to dirty oil. Storing oil in a clean environment is an important factor in keeping it clean.
Now, the plastic containers are filled at the lubricant supplier’s facility and delivered to the site where they’re stored in metal cabinets, protected from the elements. One they’re emptied, they’re discarded. Labeled and color-coded, these containers correspond to color-coded tags on the lubricated equipment, and are easy to identify (and keep organized) in the storage cabinets.
While the previous supplier never tested for cleanliness, RelaDyne does. With a maximum cleanliness level of 22/19/17, the previous oil was found to be too dirty to meet the standards of various types of lubricated equipment—something that was later identified as a cause of bearing failures at the site. These days, delivered oil is filtered to a 15/13/11 cleanliness level, which has led to a significant decline in contamination-related equipment failures. Because RelaDyne also performs lubrication in the plant, it’s easier to control oil cleanliness.
Another improvement has been the use of filter carts for adding oil to larger sumps. Cleanliness goals for critical equipment were established, and with the help of an outside oil-analysis lab, particle counts are run monthly.
Previously, only the site’s turbines benefited from system filtration. Following RelaDyne’s involvement, filters were installed in compressors and large circulation systems. Desiccant breathers (which the plant had never used) are now on many sumps.
As for the payback from these measures, it was estimated that the plant’s pump repair costs in 2010 were reduced by an average of nearly $600,000. Much of these savings can probably be attributed to use of cleaner oil.
2. Lubricant misapplication/consolidation is now a major consideration. (The former supplier had not provided technical services to ensure that the right lubricants were used.) One of RelaDyne’s first steps was to reduce the number of lube products in the plant, without compromising equipment/process performance. To that end, the number of mineral-oil-based lubricants was reduced by 50%. As an example, blowers had previously been lubricated with mineral oils from ISO 68 to ISO 150. After a Chevron synthetic ISO 150 was specified for all blowers—a move that eliminated three lubricant types—performance improved. The following are other examples of misapplication problems and consolidation strategies at the plant:
a. Numerous pumps and small gearboxes operating at low temperatures (120-140 F) were using high-priced synthetics. They were switched to mineral oils with no effect on performance at significant savings.
b. Many gearboxes using non-EP oils were experiencing problems. This was resolved by using a Chevron EP gear oil, resulting in better gearbox reliability.
c. Incorrect oil viscosity was identified as a problem with Bird centrifuges at the plant. Although the bearing OEM had recommended the use of an ISO 68 mineral oil, John Gobert believed that was too low, based on the equipment loading. After further discussions with the OEM, the centrifuges were switched to an ISO 150. During a one-year period from 2009 to 2010, repair and production costs were reduced from over $500,000 to $0.
3. Training has taken on new importance at the site. Gobert is certified as an MLT I and MLA II. He requires all of his lubrication technicians to obtain MLT I certification within a year of employment. This has led to the development of a highly competent group that not only lubricates equipment properly, but is proactive in early identification of lube-related problems. Ongoing training at the plant also involves the site’s engineers and operators. (Note: Following a 2012 lubrication training class,
10 plant employees received their MLT I certifications.)
4. Oil analysis is now viewed as a major component in the plant’s condition-based maintenance program. Previously, the site had not fully leveraged the power of such analysis. Following RelaDyne’s involvement, MRT Laboratories was chosen for the facility’s oil-analysis work. The decision was based on MRT’s proximity to the site, quick-response capabilities and ISO 17025 certification. John Gobert coordinates the oil-analysis program, working closely with the lab, reviewing reports and making lubrication and equipment decisions based on the results. The plant plans to purchase its own testing equipment for quick onsite analysis (i.e., particle counts, viscosity and water). The outside laboratory will be used primarily for wear-debris analysis and special tests on equipment condition.
Development of a world-class lubrication program is an ongoing process. For organizations without the interest,
knowledge and/or in-house resources to build and sustain these programs, outside help is readily available. As shown by this case study, if developed, implemented and managed correctly, such programs can be quite cost-effective for an operation. That said, the selection should never be based on the lowest bid. Other criteria are more important.
The program in this article is unique in the fact that the contract-services provider not only manages and performs lubrication at the chemical plant, it supplies the lubricants. The goal, though, has not been one of selling lubricants, but rather delivering the most cost-effective lubrication pro-gram possible. Consider, for example, the plant’s earlier use of synthetics in applications where they weren’t justified: Synthetics were replaced with lower-priced mineral-based products, without compromising performance.
The key to any successful program is the technical expertise of the group that manages it. The RelaDyne team assigned to the chemical plant’s lube program is a highly competent one. In addition to Gobert and his well-trained, experienced technicians, it includes Sania Harvey, CLS, an experienced sales representative who is responsible for the lubricants coming into the plant.
Finally, no account of this plant’s journey to lubrication excellence would be complete without mentioning the important role that teamwork has played in the process. Today, in-house staff and RelaDyne’s FRM-division personnel continue to work together in writing a remarkable story of world-class lubrication success. LMT
John Gobert and Sania Harvey of RelaDyne provided much of the information for this article. Without their assistance, it would not have been possible.