Jimmy Kukulski is helping build the factory of the future and it includes the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence, big data—and millions of precisely timed drops of industrial lubricant.  

Kukulski, a lubrication expert and consultant, is equipping his clients’ factories with advanced software, sensors and cloud-based technology that not only automate the process of lubricating equipment bearings and gearboxes, but also predict equipment problems long before they occur. To deliver these so-called Predictive Maintenance services, Kukulski’s company, Rockford, Mich.-based Elite Lubrication Specialties LLC, is accessing technology and expertise from best-in-class partners around the world.

Earlier this year, Elite Lubrication Specialties (ELS) launched a new division to help other manufacturing, energy, food-processing and municipal operations harness smart-factory technology to improve their overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and reduce maintenance, replacement and lubrication costs.

“Industry 4.0 is going to require Maintenance 4.0—and precision lubrication is a huge part of that,” Kukulski said. “As more factories implement automation technology, they’re also starting to turn to automated maintenance solutions that deliver the right lubrication at the right time in the right quantity and at the right cleanliness.”

Lubrication-related equipment failures happen every single day, costing an estimated $1 trillion a year in reactive maintenance, downtime and lost productivity in the United States, according to the U.S. Dept. of Energy. Proper preventive maintenance can help operators avoid these failures, especially when complemented by proactive and predictive maintenance solutions.

The 40-year old Kukulski is a Navy veteran and self-described machine enthusiast who has always been obsessed with machines. As a six-year old, he ran his bike into the back of a parked van and knocked himself out. When he came to, he carried his bike home, took it apart, fixed it and lubed the chain.

Over the past 25 years, he’s worked on thousands of machines and diesel engines in his work as a consultant, an independent sales representative for one of the nation’s leading lubrication firms, and as owner of a diesel engine business. A graduate of Liberty University, Kukulski is a member of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) and the International Conference on Machine Learning (ICML). In his spare time, he’s involved in diesel drag racing.

Before Kukulski joined the Navy, a 90-year-old co-worker and mentor at an auto-parts store where he worked taught him the secret of machines: Pay attention to each moving part. “He taught me to look at each part and what it’s doing, what it’s connected to and what it sounds like, feels like and smells like when it’s doing its job,” he says.

“Honestly, you can even taste it. If you breathe in really heavy, you can get the lubricant that’s atomized from a machine, especially if it’s a hydraulic machine or turbine that’s so hot you can actually taste the vapor and figure out what’s going on with the lubricant.

“I’ve done it so many times, I’ve probably cut 10 years off my life, but you just kind of get used to it.”

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