Fleet Management

Oil aboard!

By Ruari McCallion

July 2019

Monitor lubricant performance for forklift fleet savings

Lubrication is simply a case of pulling the dipstick, checking the level and topping up as required, is it not? Not if you want to cut costs and boost lifecycles. Ruari McCallion has been taking a closer look.

Effective monitoring and management of industrial fluids, including hydraulics and lubricants – both the oil itself and its usage – can help to deliver very big savings, both directly, in terms of lubricant consumption, and through more effective equipment condition monitoring, better usage of lubricant, extending service intervals and increasing equipment lifetime.

You don’t have to be a fleet manager to recognise that performing basic service tasks as specified in the handbook will, at the very least, ensure that your equipment will perform as specified and will experience fewer breakdowns. But there is so much more that can be done, and so much more value to be extracted by active monitoring and analysis of the forklift truck fleet in use.


To cut costs and boost lifecycles, be prepared to do much more than check dipsticks.

Established knowledge

Condition monitoring of equipment is nothing new. OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) scheduling, with planned and predictive maintenance, depends on monitoring of heat and wear, and uses sensors to enable more effective support, improved and extended uptime and reduction of unscheduled downtime, with the ultimate aim of eliminating it completely.

In one industrial application – a paint shop hydraulic system – a lubricant manufacturer introduced sampling and filtration programmes along with a new product. An operation that had been subject to high failure rates, with consequent maintenance fluid costs, saw an eight-fold increase in service life, with servicing intervals extended from 18 months to two years, and machine changeover extended to 12 years.

All parts of a lift truck experience wear, especially in their transmissions and hydraulic components but also in their engines. Even electrically powered trucks suffer, whatever their scale of operation, from light weights to heavy-duty lifting.

Worn oil doesn’t provide protection. The first indication that all is not right may be heat; by the time the equipment is making out-of-the-ordinary noises, things have gone too far.

Structuring service and support

It makes a lot of sense for operators to contract for a specialist oil condition monitoring service. This may come as part of a leasing or service agreement from the dealer. If it isn’t included in the package it is worth considering as an add-on, regardless of the age of the fleet. Even older vehicles will benefit from a structured and focused monitoring programme, to identify potential oil or truck component problems before they become critical. It will help to reduce downtime and repair costs.

What industry has undertaken, historically, is localised activity, even just on a particular machine basis. The likelihood of such maintenance programmes being effectively recorded is slim; papers get lost, and one person’s filing system is another person’s chaos theory.


Provided with complete and accurate data, engineers can optimise forklift lubricant consumption, service intervals, performance, uptime and longevity.

The value of data

This is where Big Data can come in, and it’s just as applicable to forklift truck fleets as it is to an assembly line. It can help to keep accurate records, bring individual pockets of information together and make them more widely available so that experiences can be shared and better practices developed. Data-enriched environments are more knowledgeable. A variety of data sources improves insights, broadens analytics and predictive options and thus enables better outcomes.

A manufacturer of premium and luxury vehicles uncovered some very interesting information when it launched an initiative to link all its databases. One project helped identify a faulty accumulator in a set of eight dozen machines, which were all making cylinder blocks. Even apparently normal performances hid a secret: one accumulator was working inefficiently and drawing excess energy; something that was not apparent within the normal structure. It took a ‘360° view’ to reveal it.

Building the knowledge bank

Principles that can be helpful on the assembly line can be valuable in materials handling as well. Linking forklift truck fleets together, or at least collecting information from all of them, and then collating and matching it with data from all fleets supported by the manufacturer, can help to boost performance across the whole. It can help to: optimise machine usage; more closely match equipment supply to demand; reduce lubricant usage; reduce energy consumption; and thus minimise breakdowns and unplanned downtime – or perhaps eliminate them completely.

Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) technologies can enable these things to be done. Minimising of waste and optimisation of resources are improved by high levels of data gathering, monitoring and analytics.

It is often said that a company’s most valuable resource is the knowledge in its employees’ heads – and that is undoubtedly true in the case of experienced fleet managers. The longstanding hand, used to looking after his or her fleet and writing everything down on a piece of paper, may not realise how valuable that information is – and may not fully appreciate how much can be gained from others in similar positions. Fleet owners need to be thinking about the appropriate digital tool they need to have, and providing it to their people, so information can be stored, retrieved and become readily available.


Effective monitoring and management of industrial fluids can help to deliver very big savings.

Reducing divergence and measuring savings

It helps to improve the observation of standard operating procedures as well. Different shifts might be using their own protocols, for whatever reason. Running equipment too fast, or even too slowly. Overloading lighter trucks or using heavier ones than needed. Overlooking the routine lubricant monitoring. A manufacturer of large earthmoving equipment that introduced a monitoring programme found that the night shift at one factory was running machinery 30% faster than according to specification, to give themselves a longer break at the end of the shift. Product quality was affected and the machines were running hotter, with more wear and consumption of lubricants than should have been the case.

Ensuring adherence to standard operating procedures by means of real-time monitoring helped to achieve significant savings in lubrication consumption and extended equipment life as well.

Putting numbers on it: the lubricant manufacturer referred to earlier has seen savings of up to 12% through improved gear oil efficiency. Companies have reported up to 10% immediate increases in line performance. OEE and Lean Enterprise consultants talk of ‘low-hanging fruit’; such gains can be achieved all the more quickly by using cloud computing, which enables data, knowledge and experience to be shared everywhere, more or less instantly.

Bringing it all together

Digitisation of production is about communication. Materials handling professionals and fleet managers, just as much as manufacturers, need to adopt sophisticated management systems. Not just ‘for the sake of it’; this is not a case of adopting the latest technology simply to have the latest technology.

Data-driven maintenance, self-monitoring of routine tasks, adoption of the genuinely proactive maintenance regimes that 4IR and IIoT can facilitate, and the understanding that lubrication will play a fundamental part, all come together to improve performance.

The leading oil and lubricant companies have spent millions of dollars, pounds and euros in developing sophisticated fluids that are marvels of tribological study – the complex science and engineering of interactive surfaces in relative motion. By effectively deploying lubricant monitoring technologies, you can reap the benefits of that investment in terms of optimised performance, efficiency, uptime and lifetime costs.