Maintenance – March 2009

You have a lubricant supplier and you have a program in place – do you know how well it’s working for you? Continually evaluating your relationship with your supplier ensures the program you have is the most effective. Most vendors have services they will customize – from basic oil analysis to a complete maintenance package. As your business grows and changes, so should the way you view which services are right for you. Measure if you’re on the right track by looking at the following:

1. Is everyone well-trained?
Make sure every person handling your lubricant supply has had proper training. Bad habits and improper practices picked up over time may not be readily apparent. Two common mistakes – improper handling and over lubrication – can be corrected with simple hands-on training, and you can tackle more complex topics with more advanced training. Even if your employees understand the basics, regular training will ensure you’re getting the full benefit from your lubricants.
Ask your supplier what training options are available. Many lubricant manufacturers have developed extensive training programs, including one-on-one training with a technician, classroom courses, troubleshooting customer service hotlines and online resources. Regional training sessions are also offered on a regular basis.

2. Have you had a recent lube survey?
Ask your sales rep to periodically review what you are using. They are there not only to sell you their products, but to help you determine the best mix of products for your applications. For example, a contractor using three or four different lubricants may only need one; using the proper mix will not only simplify ordering and inventory management, but also reduce cost.

If you change suppliers, ask if the manufacturer has a business transition plan available – including orientation meetings with hands-on personnel at their maintenance locations. Do your homework. Select a supplier that offers a wide variety of services combined with strong customer service.

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3. Is your lube supply timed right?
If you can’t get the products you need when you need them, they’re of no use to you. While price can be a factor, it’s important not to consider lubricants as a commodity – know the required level of service will depend on the size of your business. If you have a smaller business, inventory management may mean just a phone call to your sales rep, and a just-in-time inventory approach so you don’t need to store a large amount of product. A larger contractor can have the supplier design a bulk facility with a complete tank monitoring system. Whatever your size, proper inventory management will increase uptime and lower carrying costs. Inventory management by the supplier is an effective solution for contractors that have numerous pieces of equipment, but a small staff.

4. Do you know how to interpret and use your information?
If you’ve determined a service will be helpful, make sure you actually use the information you receive. For example, if your lubricant supplier is performing oil analysis, make sure you know how to read and use the results. If your vendor has sales personnel qualified as Certified Lubrication Specialists, they can help you in interpreting the oil analysis and developing an action plan, if needed.

Don’t buy into programs that your company doesn’t really need. If a service means additional costs for you, make sure you calculate the return on investment you’ll receive from the program. Carefully measure the long-term benefits the service will create for you before making a decision.

5. Do you have a failure assessment team at the ready?
If something does go wrong with a piece of equipment, you’ll want to know why. Make sure you have a supplier that can help you find out why. With a component failure, your supplier can provide a technical engineer to look at what happened and perform a failure analysis. You have to do your part, though; a detailed service history will help the engineer pinpoint areas of concern.

Additionally, keep good records on how the equipment has been used. If the application has changed, make sure the engineer has that information. Although keeping track of every piece of equipment in this way can be time consuming, you’ll want to have this information in the event of a warranty dispute with the equipment manufacturer.

6. Are you getting great customer service?
Determining your supplier boils down to customer service. To have the right program in place, communication and a good relationship with your sales rep is crucial. Ideally, your supplier should know the ins and outs of your business and not only be able to provide you with the product you need, but also make recommendations for you as they see your circumstances change. As your fleet grows, you should rely on your sales rep more heavily.

Economic concerns may put cost front and center, making it tempting to automatically seek out the lowest price. First, however, determine how much of your variable operating budget you spend on lubricants and ask your sales rep for help. Most suppliers carry a variety of products, and your supplier should be able to tell you if you’re using products that will best optimize your fleet then look at your inventory management practices and recommend needed changes. For example, many vendors can offer a package deal with fuels that gives you a break on price, as well as simplifying your ordering process and customizing a program based on your needs. With a properly managed lubricant program, you may be able to save several hundred dollars per year – without compromising the quality of the products you are using.