Lubrication Process Transformation

Malcolm Osenton |

The Mosaic Company is a leader in crop nutrition and aims to help the world grow the food it needs. Reliability is essential to the company’s mission, and lubrication is a crucial part of its condition monitoring program.

Phosphate mining and processing are classified as a heavy industry. The Mosaic Company operates a fleet of drag pumps in Central Florida, mining phosphate ore that occurs naturally in the ground. It is a surface mining operation, and the company brings the ore via pumps to a central plant, where it is processed, clay and sand are removed, and the ore is graded. It is then transferred to the company’s chemical operations in the concentrate plants.

In those plants, they bring sulfur from the petrochemical industry and use it to produce sulfuric acid. In fact, The Mosaic Company is the world’s largest consumer of sulfur. The sulfuric acid is mixed with the phosphate to produce phosphoric acid, which is then mixed with ammonia in the granulation plant to produce granulated fertilizer. The company also makes a few specialty fertilizers and animal feed.

Journey to Precision Lubrication

Without lubrication, the company wouldn’t have become so successful. The challenges originally faced include environmental and cultural issues. Because the assets are operated outdoors in Florida and Louisiana, the environmental challenges include heat, humidity, dust, and dirt. Dramatic changes in temperature from day to night exacerbate the lubrication issues, and contamination is a problem.

Historically, lubrication was not emphasized in this industry, so the culture around lubrication resulted in untrained and unmotivated personnel. In addition, many people, including maintenance managers, considered lubrication unimportant and believed it couldn’t be done in that environment at a high level of precision.

The Bartow Concentrate Plant experienced significant contamination issues around 2004, mostly due to poor habits. An initiative was started to improve the condition of the plant, but funding and support from upper-level leadership were lacking. The managers and staff of the plant used the small budget they had to make small improvements, but it was not enough.

They did, however, manage to form a lube team for the plant. They organized training and assessments with outside resources. They developed a standard so that work could be done in the same way throughout the plant. They raised the bar for oil analysis and faced the reality of contamination.

At that time, the reliability standard for the plant was the P-F curve: they attempted to fix machinery before it failed too badly. They decided to shift the P-F curve further back and think about what they could do to extend the life of each asset and avoid the onset of failure. The proactive domain was QPM, REC, PdM, precision maintenance, and precision lubrication. Included in this was engaging the operators and making sure they knew the role they played in reliability.

Another dramatic improvement took place from 2014 to 2016, starting with the development of a lubrication standard.

Development of a Lubrication Standard

The Mosaic Company collaborated with Potash reliability engineers as well as their lubricant provider, Shell, to set a lubrication standard. However, after setting the standard, they struggled to get support for its implementation.

They experienced a failure when rolling out the new pilot at one site. After raising alarm limits, all data from oil analysis came back negative. At that time, they were not equipped with solutions for the problems they found. After consulting with others, they implemented solutions which were ultimately unsuccessful for various reasons. This caused a lot of frustration and ended up reinforcing the “can’t be done” mentality of the old culture.

Engaging a Consultant

The Mosaic Company engaged Des-Case as a consultant in the summer of 2014. They reviewed the lube standards and gave suggestions to make them more prescriptive in designed solutions to lubrication issues. The consultation led to a meeting with maintenance managers across the business community, where they made their best pitch for pursuing precision lubrication. Unfortunately, the maintenance managers were not supportive. They did not believe the plan was possible and thought the funds could be used in a better way. Finally, they agreed to an outside assessment.

Conducting Site Assessments

The consultant visited every site in the company to conduct assessments. They graded the plant in ten elements of a comprehensive lube program and left each plant with an action plan for moving forward. The initial assessment heat map was a sea of red, indicating they had a very long way to go.

Maintenance Manager Challenge

Meanwhile, the maintenance managers were still of the opinion that precision lubrication was not possible in the company. The onus was on those who wanted the program to prove the necessity of precision lubrication. They decided to spotlight an asset that was present at each site: a reactor gearbox in a hot application that was outdoors and resulted in fumes. If they could clean these assets up, they would carry their point.

They employed the best possible (under the circumstances) contamination control and filtration. During this time, a matter of several weeks, they performed oil analysis twice per day. The result? In all cases, the particle count dropped significantly, though the extent of success varied between plants.

Because personnel was nervous about leaving the filter on the asset overnight, they removed it at night and replaced it each morning. When they looked at the chart showing the 4 μm particle count, they saw that it dropped significantly when the filter was on and rebounded when it was off. However, the rebound was less and less each day as the overall particle count in the oil dropped.

Personnel at The Mosaic Company learned many things during the maintenance manager challenge:

  • Carts need a sight flow indicator to see the amount of flow and any air
  • Each gearbox has to be set up to accept the cart
  • Bad topping-off practices will reintroduce contamination
  • Breathers have to be the right design to avoid recontamination
  • Dipsticks have to be eliminated to avoid recontamination
  • A box that has not been routinely filtered will require a clean-up period of at least ten days
  • Attention to detail is critical to success, as is sharing what is learned
  • Good products and practices applied properly produce the desired results


Providing Skills Training

Meanwhile, training classes continued. They started with MLT I classes focused on reliability engineers as well as front-line technicians. Over the last few years, more than 180 people have gone through this training at the company, with a 60% passing rate. More recently, they started doing the MLA II classes.

Ultimately, it was the training that opened the door to changing the culture of the plant regarding lubrication. While some of the maintenance managers remained skeptical, those under them saw the results of doing things the right way. In turn, those individuals influenced the maintenance managers.

Developing Tools 

As a result of the assessment, they began to develop tools to help people advance their programs.

There were site surveys in which the documentation in each plant was proven. Historically, the company had not focused on documentation despite the large number of costly assets they owned. The new documentation showed the asset, its current state regarding contamination, and the proper lubrication for it. Procedures were also developed so that maintenance was conducted the same way by all engineers and technicians. The goal is for a technician to conduct route-based, procedure-driven lubrication and record the actual conditions and document them for future reference.

Providing Prescriptive Solutions

The company also prepared more detailed equipment modification plans. This included adding contamination control devices to gearboxes and other assets during run time and during rebuild.

Building the Business Case

The maintenance managers had to be convinced that precision lubrication was worth the money. The estimate was that, using precision lubrication, the company could save anywhere from $10 million to $20 million through reduced failures and longer equipment life. The initial investment for a lube program pales in comparison to the money a company can save, not to mention the inconvenience of having to replace parts.

Another reason precision lubrication made good business sense for the company involved the demographics of the work force: many workers were nearing retirement age. In fact, almost 40% of the work force, from technicians to managers, would reach retirement age in the following ten years. Documenting the lube process and instilling more discipline into the process was crucial to ensuring the company’s continued success.

Proposed Lubrication Process Model

The sites needed to change the model they used for lubrication. One priority was to create a formal precision lubrication technician role at all sites and to require certain qualifications to fill that role, at least an MLT I certification. Another focus was on centralizing the lubrication and maintenance tasks in each site, rather than each crew having its own team. Having a dedicated lube team for the whole site would greatly improve efficiency and teamwork.

There are a number of benefits to this proposed model:

  • Increase engagement and ownership
  • Improve consistency and quality of lubrication tasks performed
  • Expedite corrective action of obvious issues
  • Metric results drive improvement and sustainability
  • Remove business risk by documenting process and deploying sustainability elements
  • Reduce lubrication-related asset failures and reduce costs

Contamination-Control Pilot

A second contamination-control pilot took place at one site. They deployed the best tactics that they could, including modification of the assets, tools, and storage. They made sure they had the ideal filtration capabilities and focused on changing the behaviors of the technicians.

One asset that received this treatment was a lightning agitator gearbox, worth about $190,000. These gearboxes had been failing every four years, and many of the failures were potentially lubrication related. The goal was to extend the life of these costly assets to 100% by achieving a high level of cleanliness. Using precision lubrication to extend the life of a gearbox saves the company $160,000 over eight years, and there are eight of these assets in one application.

When we consider all of the assets across all of the plants, it is easy to see how the company can save over $10 million. While precision lubrication is a good start, precision rebuild, installation, and operation of assets are necessary to achieve maximum life extension.

Four Corners Pursuit of Precision Lubrication

One plant focused on hydraulic units: resetting expectations of what “good” looks like, investing in modifications and upgrades, and changing the behaviors of the technicians. They implemented quick-connects to top the units off. The particle count dramatically decreased on all hydraulic units over several months. The initial investment was $249,769, but it was a small portion of the total yearly maintenance budget. Further, as proven above, that investment would be returned quickly.

Ultrasound Asset Greasing Pilots

The company also focused on re-greasing tactics, using UE grease guns and ultrasonic technology to listen to bearings in order to lubricate them properly.

2016 Des-Case Assessment Update

The company continues to do assessments, and every facility was reassessed in 2016 by the same individual who had done the assessments in 2014. Each site had improvement in each of the ten areas. The company plans to continue to make progress, but the dramatic progress they have already made is encouraging.

The company has now shifted away from external assessments and moved toward face-to-face meetings and mini assessments at the sites.

Another new focus is on leveraging the oil analysis program through coaching. When the oil analysis results come back, they go to a coach and to the reliability engineer simultaneously so they can discuss the results. The goal is to empower the reliability engineers to do oil analysis themselves.

In summary, The Mosaic Company has come a long way in four short years, but they still have a long journey ahead. They will continue their efforts to close site process gaps and conduct internal self-assessments. They will continue to document lube processes and engage trained and motivated lube technicians. While they have come a long way, the cultural shift needs to move further toward precision lubrication. At the end of 2016, the maintenance managers, of their own accord, chose precision lubrication as a major focus area, so continued success is certain.

Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

About the Author

Malcolm Osenton

Accomplished maintenance & reliability professional with over 30 years of operational leadership experience in maintenance, reliability, and workflow across multiple manufacturing industries. Excel in providing long-term organizational value by building reliability-focused cultures and implementing high-value initiatives. Genuinely care about people; enjoy building relationships and developing talent.