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Lubrication Management - An Integral part of Asset Management - Part I

There was an incident where Alaska Airlines (flight 261) flying from Mexico to Seattle airport plunged into the Pacific Ocean. The accident was caused due to the thread failure on the jackscrew causing loss of pitch control. The jackscrew is responsible for keeping the stabilizer trim in control. The root cause for such a fatal accident was insufficient lubrication.

This accident could have been prevented if proper lubrication was done. Many believe that a lubricant is simply used to make things "slippery"; on the contrary it is only one of its many functions meaning there are many more advantages. In addition to friction reduction, it also reduces the amount of wear that occurs during operations, reduces operating temperatures, reduces noise, minimizes corrosion of metal surfaces and assists in keeping contaminants out of the system.

Continuous production industries like Crude Refineries, Petrochemicals, Cements, etc. have a lot of rotating machinery and these machineries require continuous lubrication care, in other words maintenance to operate at peak performance. Analysis on the breakdown of rotating machine shows most of the root causes point towards lack of lubrication.

As one of the functions of 'Lube' is to slip, but lubrication as an activity itself is slowly slipping from the activity of maintenance. Though everyone is aware of the importance of lubrication then why is it the most common cause for the breakdown. Negligence could be one reason as it is one of the daily/routine activities for the maintenance team and moreover it requires skill to know about the right lubricant to be used. Say for example in a conveyor system, drive motor requires lubrication inspection on every 3 months, gear box on 6 months and elastic clutches on every month and drive station every weekly. Unless a proper system is available it would be difficult to track a schedule and its point of usage.

Ideally most of the breakdowns will have improper lubricant as one of the cause for failure. Thereby scope exists to reduce its occurrence if proper lubrication is adhered and it becomes an integral part of the asset management. Once, the organization and key individuals get the enlightenment regarding the importance of lubrication, its impact on productivity and bottom line. The same knowledge needs to be transferred to the technicians through lubrication program. To achieve the goal initially we should know where we stand. This can be done by carrying out initial assessment on the phases of lubrication program and through continuous assessment.

As we know, we cannot achieve zero breakdowns but at least the number of breakdowns can be lowered if proper lubrication program is followed. So, how can we move ahead to establish the lubrication program? In part II of this blog, we will be discussing on the phases of lubrication program.

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