Time to educate on lubrication
Oil industry veteran Richard Clancy blows the whistle on industry’s poor attitudes and practices towards lubrication.
Time to educate on lubrication
Oil industry veteran Richard Clancy blows the whistle on industry’s poor attitudes and practices towards lubrication.
According to Richard Clancy, lubrication is not being given the consideration it deserves across industry. He admits that the importance of lubrication is being taught at various conferences around the country – but this is largely a case of preaching to the converted. Conference attendees may be up to speed, he says – but it’s management who’re not getting the message.
Compounding the problem, he adds, is the fact that the person charged with performing lubrication duties is often well down the organisational ladder.
“The Mobil lubrication schedule always used to have a page that stated that the “lubrication mechanic” should be considered a valuable member of the maintenance reliability team. They are often the first to see that a gearbox is running hot, leaking oil or some-such, or that a belt is out of alignment. However, because of their lowly status in the organisation, their observations and comments are often ignored until the situation worsens and a much more advanced situation occurs.”
Maintenance engineers often have to battle with management, who see maintenance engineering as a ‘cost centre’, rather than what it actually is – a ‘profit centre’, says Clancy.
“Management is often reluctant to release money for correct lubrication practices, including training. But this expenditure is rewarded many times over in improved reliability, and therefore profit to the ‘bottom line’.”  
He believes another problem is the lack of courses on lubrication being offered by training institutions.
“I see this as a basic. If people trained as mechanical engineers are not aware of the importance of lubrication: the basic terms; the properties of base oils; the functions of additives, and how these factors influence the life and reliability of machines, then they will not be able to adjudicate the reasons for failure – if they are lubrication related. They may be easily convinced by a smooth-talking ‘snake-oil salesman’ that his product will solve a particular problem, rather than addressing the root cause.
“I consider the study of tribology as important as understanding higher mathematics when it comes to the skills needed to operate equipment efficiently.”
Clancy suggests various business management courses, including accounting, should have a module on equipment reliability – because most graduates will later rely on some form of equipment to generate income.
“If these young managers are aware that engineers need their assistance in promoting ‘Best Practice’ for maximized profits by utilising correct lubrication practices, then profitability will improve.”
Summing up the current situation, Clancy sees the problem between engineers and financial managers as a “fundamental lack of appreciation of each others' roles”.
“If a company has slack financial controls on engineering spending, it’ll fail. In another scenario, if it has overly restrictive controls on spending, it will also fail. It’s the same end result. The road to success is an appreciation of the roles of engineering and cost management, and that can only be achieved by educating both parties.
“History has shown that conflict only achieves short-term gains. The philosophy of the people will always prevail. That, I believe, is the role of education, to change debilitating entrenched beliefs.”

Beware the counterfeits
Clancy believes it may come as some surprise that counterfeit oils are another problem that needs addressing. He recalls a large paper mill in Indonesia being the victim of counterfeit automatic transmission oil (ATO) for its fork-trucks.
“An unscrupulous company was buying up empty Mobil ATO drums in quite good condition and refilling them with used transformer oil of similar viscosity. They dyed the oil red to make it appear to be an ATO and sealed the drums with a so-called ‘pilfer-proof’ tear-off seal. When the oil was used, the transmissions failed, with evidence of burning clutches and excessive wear on gears – resulting in no feed of logs to the mill.
“I was called in to investigate the problem, and had the fake oil tested by a process called Infra-Red Scan (IR) – which shows many of the additives in an oil and is sometimes referred to as a 'finger-print' of the formulation.
“I also had it examined by means of Inductively Couple Plasma (ICP) spectroscopy – which can identify metals in the oils. We were able to advise the customer that, in fact, the oil in the drum which was clearly marked as 'Mobil' was not in fact of Mobil manufacture.”
This sparked an extensive investigation which revealed the fraudulent actions stated above.
There was a complete conspiracy in the supply chain that was un earthed as a result.

This case also started Clancy down a path of identifying counterfeit product in equipment while in use.
“I worked with a high-tech Australian company that used a ‘marker’ in oils – which won’t change the physical characteristics and performance, but does show if the oil is 100 percent genuine or has an additive from another manufacturer. This is a type of ‘bar-coding’ and provides a unique identification system for manufacturers.
“There are many oil analysis methods that reveal a formulation difference or the addition of an after-market additive, says Clancy. “And if the oil added after the initial fill is of radically different formulation and not from the same manufacturer, blame is often leveled at the manufacturer of the initial oil – rather than proportionally at the supplier of the additives. The system we’ve developed provides a means by which even small additions of foreign oil can be detected and thus any insurance claims diverted.”
Clancy has also recently been investigating a case of ‘passing off’.
“A company had an agreement to supply a very specialised oil to a customer, but could not get the product in time. It supplied a competitive product which, not surprisingly, did not perform as well.
“Samples were drawn from the suspect product and submitted for analysis testing. When the oil was found to be different to what was originally ordered the supplier was suspended.
“If oil formulations could be differentiated by means of typical oil analysis methods, then there’d be no problem. However, many oil companies use the same base oils and additive packs, so there is no way of knowing that the product is as shown on the container.
I consider this to be a major oversight of the oil companies. It is imperative that they be able to identify their own product.”
Richard Clancy is a director of RJC Engineering Consultants Pty Ltd. This article is presented in conjunction with The Manukau Institute of Technology’s Maintenance and Reliability Centre, which offers seminars on the basics of lubrication as part of its ongoing Maintenance and Reliability Training Programme.


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