As a maintenance engineer, getting lubrication right is essential. Improper lubrication, including using the wrong oil or not using enough of it, can lead to increased friction and greater wear, which in turn can lead to equipment breakdowns and downtime.
Bob Wood, a technical engineer with more than four decades of experience at Total Lubricants, estimates that almost a third (28%) of industrial equipment failure is a result of inadequate lubricant maintenance and incorrect lubrication. He also calculates that, on average, just 1% of an industrial plant’s overall maintenance budget is allocated to lubricants.
“The lubricants that industrial equipment requires to keep operating smoothly represent a fraction of the cost of the equipment itself. However, it’s important this vital maintenance function is undertaken, with condition monitoring for critical equipment, including oil analysis, vibration analysis and thermography, being carried out regularly,” he says. “Industrial equipment failures, and the associated costs from unplanned downtime and reactive maintenance, could be prevented by having an effective, proactive lubrication strategy in place.”
Eriks UK and Ireland offers on-site services, including the handling, specification and storage of lubricants. It echoes that lubrication is vital to machine longevity, but warns that it is often carried out without proper understanding of the correct application principles.
Graham Wignall, product manager for lubrication at Eriks UK & Ireland, advises that maintenance engineers and managers remember ‘the four Rs’ when looking to apply any form of lubricant:
Right amount: Over-lubricating a bearing can be equally as damaging as under-lubricating one. “Excessive quantities of lubricant could damage the surface area of a bearing, leading to cracks and the ingress of dirt,” says Wignall. “It could also cause the bearing to overheat, which will lead to lubricant failure.”
Right lubricant: Many maintenance managers rely on the original equipment manufacturer’s (OEM’s) recommendation when choosing a lubricant, but this may be counter-productive, warns Wignall. “The OEM won’t have a full understanding of the machinery’s working environment and may also be biased towards a brand.”
Right place: Storing a lubricant correctly has a direct impact on its performance and efficacy. “Lubricants should be stored in sealed containers that prevent the ingress of dust, dirt or moisture,” advises Wignall. “Also ensure that lubricants are stored at the correct temperature, as stipulated by the lubricant’s manufacturer.”
Right time: Application frequency is often recommended by the OEM, but this is usually based on a general set of rules regarding the machine’s parameters. “Use this as a guideline, rather than a steadfast rule,” Wignall says. “Consider your machine’s working environments and apply these to any lubricating schedule. For example, higher levels of temperature or pressure will require the frequency of application to increase.”
Right know-how: Not a part of the four Rs, but this remains an important part of creating a lubrication process that works for you, says Wignall: “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to lubrication. You’ll need to consider a number of variables, from the process to the machinery, before deciding on a strategy. You’ll also need to be flexible and willing to change this strategy as your organisation scales and shifts.”
He adds: “Specific guidance will vary depending on the type of equipment being lubricated, as well as where and how it will be used. [But] the four Rs provide a useful point of reference for any application, by breaking down lubrication into four key areas.”
Another company whose advice comes in four parts is Fuchs Lubricants. Making minor improvements in maintenance can add up to major savings, and these measures don’t need to be complicated if you remember ‘four rules of thumb’, it says.
“One good starting point is to look at how many suppliers your company has at present. The reason is simple: each supplier contact takes time, and therefore costs money, quite a lot of money, in fact. Add together all the time for meetings, negotiations and other administrative tasks, such as drawing up agreements, prices constantly being adjusted and other practical matters. All in all, these procedures really add up, [so] a review of your suppliers could be very worthwhile in terms of how much time and money you could save,” Fuchs says.
“As with suppliers, so too with products: the more you have, the more time and energy that goes into keeping everything organised. Once again, the key is to perform a complexity review and slim down your range of products to keep things simple to save money. Having many different products in circulation also increases the risk of incorrect usage.”
Maintenance personnel should also think ‘smarter lubrication’ when it comes to oil changes and lubrication points, as these cost time and money (emptying and handling old oil, as well as fetching and refilling the new products). “When it comes to oil changes and lubrication points, the key word is ‘documentation’. Map out the preventive maintenance and record the results in an Excel file, for example. This will serve as both an instruction manual and a follow-up tool in the day-to-day operation,” Fuchs explains. Lastly, “buy lubricants that pay for themselves, such as products of a high technical standard”. This helps to reduce maintenance costs, for instance in the form of lower consumption, which also reduces the time spent on changes.
THE TWO T’S
Technological advancements, condition monitoring equipment, and training can also help get lubrication right, every time.
One example is the LRM2 lubrication remote monitor from SKF. The monitor is designed for use with lubrication systems that cannot be checked daily. It utilises a SIM card to send and receive messages, such as low supply level warnings. It can also be used to start an additional lubrication cycle.
Meanwhile, Fuchs Lubricants has recently-upgraded its Fluids Live monitoring system, which is said to be an easy to navigate web-based recording, tracking and reporting tool. It is designed to provide instant access to key data, enabling more informed decision-making to help maximise reliability through an effective lubrication strategy.
Training can also aid in getting lubrication right. Total Lubricants, for example, has recently launched ‘LubInstitute’, a certified training course to improve the capabilities of employees involved in lubricants. The course contains a foundation module focusing on composition, application and issues. This is followed by tailored modules, including common machine lubrication, and handling.
These are just some of the wide-ranging tips, technologies and training opportunities available to industry. The last thing any company wants is to suffer downtime due to incorrect or poor lubrication because, as Total Lubricants’ Wood says: “Costs associated with downtime and lost productivity can run into the thousands, and potentially millions of pounds.”