Winter Words: Lubrication Advice for Ensuring Desired Levels of Plant-Equipment Performance Year-Round
Jane Alexander | February 19, 2015
Implementing a best-practice, engineered lube-management program will help ensure equipment health, efficiency and productivity, no matter the operating environment or time of year. Weather conditions across much of North America this winter are a case in point.
Weather got you down? As you try to tough it out, don’t forget your plant equipment. While blizzards, monster snowfalls and unusually brutal (and lingering) temperature extremes are taking a toll on countless communities and families in North America this winter, it’s a good bet they are also posing problems for some industrial machinery and processes.
Contributing Editor (and lubrication expert) Ken Bannister reminds us that many critical equipment systems aren’t operating comfortably inside plants. They’re working outside, often in remote locales, where they’re expected to stay up and running as needed, regardless of changing seasons and weather conditions—much like the maintenance professionals who are charged with managing them.
To help achieve desired levels of performance from your equipment, including any hardworking, moneymaking systems that might be exposed to the elements year-round, Bannister urges implementation of a “7-Step Engineered Lubrication-Management Program.” This type of approach, he says, can lead to significant reductions in energy costs, lubricant inventories and lubricant consumption, as well as fewer lubricant spills, cleaner equipment, higher levels of reclamation and reuse of existing lubricants and responsible disposal of old lubricants. But that’s not all: An engineered approach to lubrication also leads to increases in equipment reliability, availability and throughput—for little or no capital outlay.
According to Bannister, although winter may currently have a strong grip on many operations, it’s never too late to consider and implement this type of program, the elements of which he sums up as follows:
STEP 1: Lubricant Consolidation
Many companies carry an inventory of 20 or more lubricants throughout their facility, often stored in half open containers open to atmospheric contamination and in danger of being spilled.
Today’s lubricants are capable of out-performing many of the lubricants you have continued to use and purchase over the past decades. Consolidation programs can easily reduce lubricant inventories by up to 75% and higher depending on the industry, resulting in lower purchase and carry costs, and a simplification of the lubricant application program. Investigate the use of synthetic lubricants for extreme temperature situations.
“Consolidation,” says Bannister, “forces you to inventory all lubricants in your facility and list every storage location. Engage with your lubricant suppliers and have them bid on performing a lubricant-consolidation exercise.” This program, he notes, is usually offered at little or no cost—in exchange for blanket order that can also work in your favor by fixing lubricant costs for a set period.
Step 2: Contamination Control
Contamination is an enemy of both wear surfaces and lubricants. Fortunately, it can be controlled with a little effort and awareness. Contamination issues are largely caused by poor storage, handling and application practices.
Although fine-toleranced bearing surfaces and radial lip seals don’t take kindly to lubricants carrying abrasive bodies to the wear surface, Bannister says, among other things, some personnel continue to grease nipples without first cleaning them and the grease guns on which they are used. Many maintainers also fail to replace reservoir lids and breather caps on hydraulic systems or lids on lubricant containers. Some sites still store barrels of lubricants outside, often in extreme conditions, where they rust and collect water. Even today, he laments, the use of non-dedicated and dirty lubricant-transfer devices is not uncommon in some plants.
It’s crucial to review your site’s procedures for keeping contaminants out of its lubrication systems. Bannister emphasizes the importance of developing improved housekeeping practices and investing in one of the many new, dedicated lube-transfer systems offered by your industrial distributor(s).
Step 3: Filtration
Poor machine-filter management can manifest as reduced lubricant flow and cause the bypass of deadly wear contaminants to your bearing surfaces. Make sure that filter replacement is a high priority in your PM program.
In an effort to conserve and reuse lubricants, an external pump/filtration cart can be used to clean your large reservoir lubricants and ready them for reuse, thereby saving lubricant, change-out, and disposal costs. Contact your lubrication-hardware or filter supplier(s) for details on these easy-to-use systems.
Step 4: Spill Containment
Oil spills are never easy to deal with: Proactive preventive measures can translate into much less effort should a spill occur.
When storing lubricants ensure all full or partially full containers are kept in an area protected by an impermeable berm used to contain the spill in a localized area. This containment system, Bannister explains, “can be a steel box tray, a concrete berm system or one of the many plastic containment systems sold by your local supplier.”He also cautions sites to keep spill-management kits on hand, “just in case.”
Step 5: Engineered Lubricant Delivery
Under- and over-lubrication can both cause a significant spike in energy requirements: one to overcome metal-to-metal collision and the other to overcome fluid friction. Bannister reports that tuning your lubricant delivery can result in energy savings as high as 20%. He points to the importance of investing in a Lubrication Operation Effectiveness Review (LOER) by an accredited lubrication consultant who can make recommendations on how to improve your current approach to delivering the right lubricant, in the right amount, in the right place, at the right time, whether it be from a grease gun or a fully automated lubrication system.
Step 6: A Lubricant-Disposal Program
Local legislation is increasingly forcing companies to own their waste and implement waste-disposal plans or programs. Many companies operating under a consolidated program have been able to set up recycle programs in which all of their old reservoir lubricants are taken back, cleaned, reconstituted with additives and resold back to the originating company as recycled oil—at savings of up to 25% for virgin oil. Run the numbers, Bannister says: ‘This not only saves disposal costs and the environment, it also reduces the purchase cost of new oil.”
If your operation enters into such a disposal program, remember that collecting oil by type makes it easier for the disposal company to work with your used lubricants—and, accordingly, reduces the disposal costs it charges back to you.
Bottom line on this: Bannister encourages end-users to engage with disposal companies and evaluate programs that they can take advantage of immediately.
Step 7: Lubrication Training
A little basic lubrication training can dramatically boost understanding and enhance your program. As Bannister puts it, “While lubrication, on the surface, appears very intuitive in nature, it is perhaps the least-understood area of maintenance there is.” Investing in a basic lubrication-training course, he advises, will facilitate your program immensely.