The Mystery of Industrial Lubricants

If you want to maximize the life of the bearing and maximize uptime of your equipment you need to use the proper lubricant with the right viscosity. You also have to make sure that you use precision lubrication — meaning the right amount at the right time.

This article originally appeared in IMPO's April 2015 print issue.

Industrial lubricants can often be a mystery, but it is an important mystery to solve. Industrial lubricants offer a variety of benefits for numerous applications on the plant floor. Yet, an efficient management program for these industrial lubricants is often easier said than done. In order to optimize a lubrication program on the plant floor it is crucial to consider three things: selection, storage and handling.

Selection

“Choosing the right lubricant for a certain application requires doing some homework first,” explains Alain Noordover of SKF Maintenance Products. The homework that Noordover is describing may be a bit extensive, but it will be extremely beneficial in the long run.

According to Clay Calk of Lubrication Engineers, “The most important, single thing that a customer has to consider is the right viscosity and OEMs lubricant specifications of the equipment.” OEMs generally indicate which lubrication and what viscosity is best for certain applications. But, it is also advisable to consider and cross-reference the operating conditions alongside the manufacturer’s recommendations. The operating conditions that are most important include: load, temperature, environment and speed. Each of these factors could alter the requirements for the lubrication needed. For example, if a machine is running at higher loads than original manufacturer may have foreseen, the viscosity of the lubricant may not be the same as the OEM recommended lubricant.

“From a technical point of view, in order to select the right lubricant, information on the machine should be collected, such as bearing or component type, size and material, “says Noordover. Only after gathering all of this information can engineering rules be applied to determine what lubricant will be best suited for the application.

Another important consideration when choosing the proper lubricant is whether a synthetic-based lubricant or a mineral-based lubricant is best for your operation. When deciding between the two, the temperature that the machine will run at is extremely important to consider.

“Typically mineral-based oils can handle temperatures up to 180 to 190 degrees Fahrenheit,” says Calk. “But if the application is running at 200 Fahrenheit or over, you never want to use a mineral because the heat will cause the minerals to oxidize faster. 

“We normally make the recommendation of synthetic-vs.-mineral-based first on temperatures. The second consideration is if the customer is looking to consolidate the number of products they are using in the plant. Because synthetics can actually cover two different viscosity ranges.”

The practice of consolidating lubricants is often quite attractive for manufacturers because it reduces misapplication of lubricants and human errors. Consolidation is made easiest through the use of synthetic lubricants.

While synthetics may be more expensive upfront, they can give at least 4 to 5 times the life span over a conventional mineral oil-based lubricant. Typically, synthetic lubricants have a longer life span than oil-based lubricants and are often biodegradable. On the other hand, synthetic lubricants are more prone to contamination and can fall out of viscosity more quickly than a mineral-based oil. This can negate the benefits of longer life and a returning investment.

Storage

The way lubricants are stored is extremely essential to running an efficient and effective lubrication program. The ideal storage environment for lubricants is a cool, clean and dry environment.

“You want to keep the lubricant dry and treat it as an asset,” explains Calk. “Contamination is the number one problem and causes 75 percent of all asset failures. It is typically not the lubricant itself. The shortened lifecycle of an asset is due to outside contamination. That is why we teach customers how to protect against moisture ingression and dirt or outside debris ingression.” 

Another key storage consideration in regards to lubricants is the barrels in which they are kept. It is a common misconception that when the lubricant or oil arrives at the factory that it is perfectly clean — but this isn’t the case. In fact, oil samples tested after delivery often register high particle counts.

“We recommend that customers store their lubricants in storage containers that have three way filtration, so when the oil arrives in drums they can filter it going into the storage container, as well as going out,” advises Calk. As a result, the lubricant that is used on the factory floor will be clean of contaminants and will produce the best results.

Handling

While lubricant selection and storage are vital to maximizing reliability and efficiency with lubricants, the way in which they are handled and understood on the plant floor is of equal value. The first component of proper handling is how the lubricants are perceived.

“The best lubrication management practices can only start when management realizes the importance of overall reliability and decides to act on it,” says Noordover. So best lubrication program are only possible when it is viewed as asset instead of just a commodity or a physical component.  

Another main practice in regards to handling is color mapping and coding. “It is crucial to color map and color code for lubricant identification. That way as the lubricant moves from your lubricant room to your transfer container, down to your application point, it is clear for the lubrication tech which oil goes where. This helps reduces error and misapplication,” explains Calk.  

Applying the right lubrication isn’t the only factor however. It is also imperative that the right amount of lubricant is applied.

“If you want to maximize the life of the bearing and maximize uptime of your equipment you need to use the proper lubricant with the right viscosity. You also have to make sure that you use precision lubrication — meaning the right amount at the right time,” says Calk. To find this balancing point, predictive technology such as ultra sound can be used to listen to the sound of a bearing or other component to determine when it is properly filled. 

The final aspect of handling that is crucial to a successful lubrication program is analysis and monitoring of the lubricant. This stage of lubricant management mainly falls on oil analysis program. According to Calk, “Everything begins with an oil analysis program.” Through this program it is possible to maintain the health of the lubricant, as well as the asset. This, in turn, maximizes the life cycle of the lubricant, helps to prevent premature failures and increases production because the equipment is able to consistently run properly.

“In a nutshell, lubrication management is the art of selecting the right lubricant, bringing it in a clean way to the machine, at the right time and in the right quantity,” sums up Noordover. 

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