The R-O-I of O-I-L

Lubrication is an investment—so treat it like one.

By Jeremy Wright June 18, 2019

Less than 0.5% of an average plant’s maintenance budget is spent purchasing lubricants, but the downstream effects of a poor lubrication program can impact as much as 30% of the plant’s total maintenance cost. Depending on the process, the effects on the production costs could be crippling to many companies.

To get something for nothing in this life is extremely rare. There is almost always some form of investment that is needed to gain a return. This investment can come in many forms, but the most popular are money, time and energy. Along with this investment there is the potential risk that must be weighed against the prospective gain.

In terms of lubrication, maintenance and reliability, these investments are starting to be considered mandatory for top companies. Companies have come to realize that without these investments in future reliability and production cost reduction, the competitive future will be rough.

How do we make sure that we are maximizing the return on this investment? Are there strategies that can be employed to ensure success?

Success can hinge on resources and it’s no secret that those with the most resources often win. In terms of program implementation, there are several avenues to get to the end result. There is certainly a finite amount of these resources. Money for example merely changes hands during day-to-day transactions. In theory, it is held constant and can’t be generated from thin air.

Energy can be transferred from one form to another, but it also is held constant neither being able to be created or destroyed (law of conservation of energy). Time is similar, we can’t create it like magic. There are ways that we can bend some of these rules by trading one for the other. These resources all have one thing in common—they can be managed. 


Money is the easiest of the three to explain and manage. In terms of the development of a best-in-class program, it is possible to funnel enough money into the program that there is seemingly no choice but for it to be successful. Hiring the best consultants in the world is a way to easily lean on the money aspect in exchange for the time and energy coming from your own resources. In this case we are trading. There are scenarios where this can be both good and bad.

On one hand hiring a world-class expert or team as a consultant means that more than likely they have done this before and understand the nuances very well. They will more than likely have massive efficiencies, understand what works and what does not, as well as a host of other advantages. On the other hand, if we are paying for this service and they do an excellent job and turn over the best project you could imagine at its completion and there is no buy-in from the team onsite because to this point no one has invested anything but company dollars, the likelihood of sustained success starts to fall. There is no program champion, no one invested into the project left behind by the consulting firm.


I travel the globe assessing lubrication, maintenance and reliability programs and many times I’ve heard, “I have nothing left for my guys to do.” However, not once out of all the plants I’ve been to have there been technicians sitting around with nothing to do. It seems like there is always firefighting, reactive maintenance happening all the while trying to perform more inspections to gradually move the needle closer to predictive and ultimately proactive maintenance. There is ALWAYS something to do.

So where is the extra time it takes to build (assess, design, implement) a world-class program going to come from? Rarely have I seen a foot put down where a resource is dedicated to only proactive or predictive tasks. Only the best of companies understand the value in spending time wisely on the front end (proactive maintenance) versus the much costlier back end (reactive maintenance). Sometimes they even fully understand the value and yet still practice poor decisions and actions.


Energy is defined as the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. We can exert this energy in many different ways towards our goal. Knowing the type of energy and passion your team exerts is extremely important to understanding the path to a successful program. Is your team enthusiastic about making changes for the better? If so, you need to make sure to give them direction.

Make sure that they know what success looks like, otherwise they will waste that energy chasing their tails searching for success when all they needed was a clear path to success. Are your team members more reserved and methodical? We often have to make sure that these types of persons understand the whys and have a thorough education before letting them loose on a project. If you start down a path in this environment that is incorrect, the course correction can be challenging.

Taking a step back and evaluating your specific resources—time, money, and energy—at the very beginning of any undertaking should be mandatory. Once the resources are fully understood, a precise plan can be formulated that will maximize the return on the investment you are about to make. Start looking at these three investments as what they are: finite resources. Once spent unwisely, you usually can’t get them back.

Author Bio: Jeremy Wright is director of product management for Advanced Technology Services.