Columbia Lubricants of FLA

Kent Oil Company, Inc.


The REAL Cost of Inadequate Lubrication

For most companies, the cost of lubrication is calculated by multiplying the price of the lubricant by the number of gallons used. Other companies add in the cost of applying the lubricant, including the cost of automatic equipment and salaries for lubrication personnel. And a few companies have even included technical services, reclamation and refining in their overall estimates of lubrication cost.

The resulting cost of lubrication is often substantial when compared to other maintenance items, and it has increased significantly over the past several years along with the cost of most other petroleum products. This has prompted many companies to review lubrication practices in an attempt to cut costs wherever possible. Unfortunately this concern for the cost of lubrication has overshadowed another rapidly escalating cost – the cost of inadequate lubrication.

Part of the problem is that inadequate lubrication is such a subjective measurement. Component life is affected by many variables other than lubrication, and it is extremely difficult to isolate the contributions of each factor. It may take months for a poor quality lubricant to have any noticeable effect, while a marginal quality product takes its imperceptible toll over a period of several years. Equipment downtime is also difficult to attribute to inadequate lubrication, though some companies have attempted to isolate lubrication related downtime and relate it to product or human failure. Even in these cases the studies have been subjective at best and few have had a significant and continuing impact on maintenance policies. And yet the cost of new equipment and equipment downtime continues to increase at 10-15% per year, with a magnitude 10 times that of the cost of lubrication. 

The first step in dealing with this critical problem is the realization that the cost of inadequate lubrication is not just the price difference between the highest and lowest quality Products, or the salary of one less oiler. The cost is actually a function of the cost of equipment and the cost for the efficient utilization of that equipment. For operations with a lot of equipment, or the need to use that equipment a high percentage of the time, the cost of inadequate lubrication can be staggering, particularly with high inflation and interest rates.

The next step is to select one machine or one part of a plant that has had a record of high downtime or component replacement. Determine if the proper lubricant is being used in the proper amounts at the proper time intervals. This alone may isolate a problem area which can be quickly corrected. If all is in order, carefully monitor the equipment for a six month period to be sure that lubrication procedures are being followed properly. When the equipment has any unscheduled downtime, for lubrication related problems or not, examine as much of the lubrication system as possible. Study any components that are removed to determine if they were properly lubricated. If the· downtime was for lubricant failure, keep any damaged components so that they can be used as reference for any future lubrication problems. In all cases be thorough and keep detailed records, preferably one complete set of all records in a central location. 

At the end of the six month period, you should have some convincing information, particularly if the equipment has been prone to unscheduled downtime. This can be used to continue the program on that particular equipment, and if warranted, expand it to other equipment or parts of the plant. 

Continuing the program, and continuing to keep detailed records, is also important in dealing with the other aspect of inadequate lubrication – loss of equipment life. Few companies have active programs to determine the
long-term effects of inadequate lubrication. especially when equipment downtime is not noticeable. For most companies. therefore, this form of inadequate lubrication will be measured in terms of early replacement of equipment, though a loss of 3-6 months (2-5%) over a ten year period will probably not be noticed. And yet even 2% of the cost of a new bearing is significant compared to the cost of the lubricant used over its lifetime. 

The principal reason for this lack of emphasis is that most of us work on a crisis schedule, going from one squeaky wheel to the next, usually without the luxury of future planning. Even serious plant outages, once resolved, are set aside to make way for the next problem. Certainly every plant engineer and maintenance manager has case histories that, if collected together, would convince a performance oriented management that inadequate lubrication is a cost that need not be paid, and that proper lubrication is a means to improve productivity and profitability substantially.