Visual management helps improve maintenance practices and remove human error from the lubrication process.
by Patrick Fasse, Fluid Defense

New standards are emerging in maintenance operations across the U.S. Under enterprise-wide pressure to increase productivity, maintenance managers are responding by finding new ways to maximize uptime, extend equipment life and eliminate human error.

Given the realities of modern manufacturing, the recent movement is only expected to grow. While some new solutions may be difficult to integrate into current practice, one is simple, economical and delivers maximum impact—color coding.

The Easy Path to Efficiency

Lubrication processes can be optimized with the addition of a new, visually intuitive, color-coded system. The system communicates essential information in a universally understood way, transcends language barriers and requires little training. It is a solution for all plants—especially those with seasonal staffing or complex lubrication requirements. One simple, easily integrated solution can help maintenance operators achieve best practice in their lubrication management operation.

Maintenance managers who use color coding are able to manage the lubrication process more accurately. They see simple, clear progress that makes a major impact on their processes.

Color coding is an important step in 5S and poka-yoke lean concepts, and a good solution for ensuring best practices and a straightforward lubrication management process. The visually driven identification (ID) system ensures that every lubricant goes in the right place, every time, which eliminates the major (and costly) issue of human error.

Eliminate Human Error, Boost the Bottom Line

Color-coded labeling systems are an effective way to eliminate operator error. Lube technicians quickly adapt to the color-coded labels, and system implementation has proven to be simple. Workers can achieve lubrication accuracy and efficiency with color-coding clarity, positively impacting the entire business with reduced error, diminished waste and increased productivity.

A lubrication storage system is a best practice for color-coded lubrication management.

How does color coding eliminate human error? The system removes the guesswork from the maintenance process. The decision is taken out of the hands of the plant operator, because the process of finding, applying and returning lubricants is clear. Custom labels are integrated throughout the system. Technicians can match the colored shapes on the lubricant labels to those on the fill-point tags—without the need to scrutinize the lubricant information. The risk of human error is virtually eliminated with color coding. The right product goes to the right place, in the right amount, at the right time.

Eliminate Cross-Contamination in 
Complex Environments

Anyone who has worked on a plant floor knows how complex—and contaminant-heavy—these environments can be. A systemized process that reduces cross-contamination benefits any lubrication process and the entire plant floor.

Color coding clearly communicates organizational information faster than any other method as an economical way to transform and standardize maintenance operations. In the process of storing and transferring, airborne particles, moisture and other environmental contaminants easily breed on fittings and transfer points. In addition, a handful of lubrication issues will often occur because cross-contamination—such as clotting, base oil separation, thermal breakdown, thinning, thickening and the formation of hard deposits. Cross-contamination occurs when lubricant types are mixed. Color coding promotes safer and more accurate fluid transfer, eliminating environmental contamination and cross-contamination with a cleaner lubrication process.

This sample lubrication ID chart represents 41 lubricants—each identified by a unique color and shape.

Best Practices

Minimizing costly mistakes attributed to human error, extending the life of equipment and maximizing uptime by adhering to concepts such as 5S, Lean and OSHA Right-to-Know compliance are the most significant benefits of applying a visual lubrication system for a maintenance operation.

A lube technician dispenses lubrication into a color-coded transfer container with a corresponding identification label.


Color coding introduces 5S practices into the workplace. With a visual lubrication system, the Sort, Set, Shine, Standardize and Sustain of the 5S method are easily attained while improving quality, productivity and safety. It creates an orderly environment with equipment and lubricants that are clearly identified, systematic and safe for workers. The system also improves workers’ pride in their craft by giving them the right tools for their jobs, where and when they need them.


Lean, derived from the Toyota Production System, is a production practice that considers the expenditure of resources for any goal other than creating value for the end customer to be wasteful, and thereby something to be eliminated. Poka-yoke, or mistake-proofing, is any mechanism in a lean manufacturing process that helps an equipment operator avoid mistakes. Poka-yoke is an important lean tool for lube technicians to prevent mistakes, and color coding helps accomplish this. Color-coded labeling delivers higher productivity rates through improved equipment reliability and sensible storage solutions that make the job easier, faster, safer and cleaner.