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Lubrication Solutions

Lubrication consolidation reduces maintenance costs, extends equipment life and simplifies the purchasing process.

David Como

A n oft-cited study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates that 6 to 7 percent of America's gross national product - about $240 billion - is spent repairing factory machinery damaged from wear caused by poor lubrication. How could something as mundane as properly lubricating machinery add up to so many billions of dollars?

Consider the lubrication requirements of a large manufacturing plant: it typically can have more than 80,000 lubrication points, involving hundreds of combinations of lubricant types, lubrication frequencies and methods of application. The wrong lubricant, or the correct lubricant applied in the wrong manner, can halt plant operations. With so much at stake, making sure the right lubricant is used at the right time is critical.

Unfortunately, the importance of proper lubrication management is often ignored or not understood. Reasons for expensive neglect include:

Inconvenience/lack of process: Plants that have thousands of moving parts have unique lubrication requirements and schedules that are difficult to meet and to track effectively and efficiently. Mistakes and oversights include empty oil reservoirs, or grease fittings that may have been overlooked due to lack of proper documentation. If it is difficult to find, it will be even more difficult to repair.

Unclear or multiple lubricant choices: Maintenance professionals can make mistakes that can damage equipment, causing preventable maintenance and increased downtime. What's worse, suppliers offering only a limited line of lubricants sometimes try to force-fit their products, regardless of specific application requirements. As a result, lubricants over- or under-engineered for a given application can cost machine life and maintenance dollars.

: Many maintenance professionals typically adopt a conservative but costly approach to machine lubrication by replacing fluids more frequently than necessary. Although the decision often follows conservative original equipment manufacturers' (OEM) maintenance guidelines, oil drain intervals can be extended in many instances just by selecting better oils for the application. For example, the switch from conventional oils to a new generation of ultra-high-purity mineral oils or synthetic lubricants can extend drain intervals by as much as three to 10 times, respectively.


Total Lubrication Management

To recapture money lost through their own maintenance efforts, many companies are beginning to turn to outside consultants to implement Total Lubrication Management (TLM) programs. Consolidating lubricant purchases into a single, integrated program can enhance productivity by making it easier to automate preventive maintenance routines, increase the efficiency of inventory management, and use a local product supply to reduce on-site inventory costs.

While TLM is a seemingly simple concept, success almost always depends on finding the right single source of lubrication products and services to meet complex needs. When evaluating TLM suppliers, maintenance managers must look for a complete product line, knowledge of equipment and applications, an oil analysis program, and oftentimes, lubrication management software. Software can be extremely helpful, especially if the supplier is experienced in setting up such programs.


Complete Product Line

The suppliers best equipped to meet requirements for diverse lubricating solutions offer a complete line of industrial lubricants, not just a wide range of products. Fluids for high-volume applications include hydraulic, compressor and vacuum pump, gearbox and chain, and multipurpose oils. Specialized industrial compounds such as greases, pastes, anti-friction coatings and dispersions must be added to the mix. In addition, a wide range of base stocks is essential. Synthetics provide excellent resistance to emulsification and last longer, extending maintenance intervals. Ultra-high-purity mineral oils also resist emulsification and promote improved additive performance, which results in longer life than for conventional mineral oils. The full-line supplier also must be able to draw on functional additive technologies including anti-oxidant, anti-wear and extreme temperature additives.

Knowledge Of Equipment And Applications

Effective lubricant consolidation demands technical support from local representatives who know the right lubricants to use at the right time. Their expertise helps maintenance professionals avoid mistakes in lubricant selection and application that can shorten equipment life and stop production. For example, high temperatures in air compressors accelerate reactions between compressed oxygen and impurities, resulting in rapid oxidation and a sudden increase in viscosity and lubricant failure. Mineral oils in air compressors generally last only 1,000 hours. By comparison, a synthetic compressor oil, specially formulated for air compressors, can last around 12 times as long. The knowledgeable consolidated lubricant supplier understands such applications.

Oil Analysis

Integrated oil analysis/monitoring provides important criteria that help determine when oil drain intervals can be extended, and prevents wasteful early change-outs. At the same time, superior-performing lubricants of the highest quality can pay for themselves in many instances through extended drain intervals and longer life for plant machinery and equipment. Less product use and less maintenance time mean less cost.

To gauge the condition of industrial lubricants in service, an integrated oil analysis program is essential to compare each lubricant with its own performance benchmarks. Effective analysis tracks multiple critical wear-related characteristics of oil in service by comparing the results with previous reports, and notes the trends. As an essential part of a lubricant consolidation program, oil analysis helps identify contamination, lubricant degradation and abnormal machine wear. Industry-accepted tests reveal the presence of metal particles, water and other contaminants.

Lubrication Management Software

Dedicated lubrication management software is a powerful tool to schedule, supervise and record a consolidated lubrication program. It exploits and complements oil analysis by collecting trend data and developing responsive lubrication schedules. By enabling maintenance managers and workers to schedule and record lubrication changes for specific equipment, lubrication software automates the lubrication management function.

A typical large plant, for example, requires maintenance managers to track a complex schedule of lubricants and applications. While general maintenance software cannot manage complex lubrication programs, dedicated lubrication management software can help reduce lubrication errors by automatically generating information that coordinates daily maintenance routines in the most efficient manner possible. A good software package also can identify opportunities to more efficiently schedule lubricant orders and reduce inventory.

Cut Costs, Extend Equipment Life

In a complex manufacturing operation, commodity lubricants bought from many suppliers are easy to take for granted. This is a mistake that can compromise productivity and profitability. The consolidation of lubricant purchasing with the right supplier can help manage and enhance a key maintenance function. However, the selected vendor must offer a complete solution in the form of a full line of lubricants and fluids backed by local distribution and technical support. The package should include detailed oil analysis services and lubrication management software to track lubricant scheduling. The key difference between a full-service lubricant supplier as a partner rather than as a vendor is that a locally supported total lubrication program enables maintenance managers to cut lubricating costs and extend the lives of costly equipment.

Editor’s Note: David Como is a member of the US Lubricants Expertise Group at Dow Corning Corp., Midland, Mich.

April 2003