January/February Lubrication Management & Technology Oil Analysis

Building On Real-World Success

EP Editorial Staff | February 12, 2013


This year, we explore lubrication trends, techniques and benefits using the scale of proven success. 

By Ray Thibault, CLS, OMA I, OMA II, MLT, MLT II, MLA II, MLA III, Contributing Editor

Over the past eight years, I’ve written articles on lubrication principles, best lubrication practices, oil analysis, the importance of cleanliness to equipment reliability and how to develop a world-class lubrication program. This year, I’ll cover many of these topics, but from a real-world standpoint. Here’s a summary of what you’ll see:

PART I: Developing a World-Class Lubrication Program
A large chemical plant in the Southwest that lacked an organized lubrication program experienced many failures due to poor lubrication practices. A decision was made to hire an outside company to investigate the company’s practices and implement a world-class lubrication program. A lubrication engineer with program experience at a major oil refinery was placed in the plant full-time to evaluate and develop the new program. This was five years ago. Since then, major reliability gains have resulted from dramatic improvements in the lubrication program.

In this and any world-class program, at least some of the following criteria must be met:

  • Right attitude
  • Lubricant champion
  • Updated lube survey
  • Proper scheduling & record keeping
  • Consolidation
  • Hiring of competent personnel
  • Training/certification
  • Use of correct lubricants
  • Minimizing lubricant contamination
  • Utilizing an oil-analysis program for condition monitoring
  • Continuous updating and improvement of the lubricant program

Each of these criteria will be examined before and after the chemical company’s world-class program was implemented. Also covered will be the results achieved with the new program and future improvements to be implemented.

PART II: Using Synthetics for Energy Savings and More
Properly used, synthetic lubricants can result in significant benefits that far outweigh their cost. Several case histories involving various synthetic types will be investigated to demonstrate real-world cost benefits. Major benefits for synthetics are shown here in Fig. 1.


 Fig. 1. The major benefits of synthetics

While the justification for synthetics typically has been associated with energy savings, as the following points make clear, that’s just part of their appeal:

  • Temperature Extremes. . . Because synthetics contain no wax, many can be used in very low-temperature conditions. Because of their purity and molecular structure, many are also stable at very high temperatures, and will often greatly exceed the high-temperature stability of mineral oils.
  • Wear. . . Synthetics’ uniform molecular structures result in higher film strengths and enhanced lubricity, causing less metal-to-metal contact between lubricated surfaces, which leads to less wear.
  • Energy Savings. . . Synthetics’ uniform molecular structures also reduce internal fluid friction between metal surfaces, lowering energy requirements. This is particularly evident with gears where a high level of sliding between the metal surfaces occurs.

The common synthetics we will investigate are detailed in Table I.


PART III: Oil Analysis Improves Mine-Equipment Reliability
Oil analysis is one of the most power-ful tools you can use for achieving condition-monitoring objectives and enhancing equipment reliability. For example, a comprehensive oil-analysis program implemented at a major mine in the western U.S. generated substantial cost savings and reliability improvements. A case history on this mine will discuss the program from development through implementation, and the benefits it produced, based on the careful documentation of its 40,000 annual samples.

The objectives of this program were to. . . 

  • Improve asset reliability
  • Identify and eliminate repetitive problems
  • Reduce unscheduled maintenance
  • Maximize use of lubricants in service
  • Reduce maintenance and lubrication costs
  • Achieve fault-free component life extension
  • Utilize proactive maintenance, flanked by predictive maintenance technology
  • Achieve condition-based maintenance

The following steps were identified to properly 
implement the program. . . 

  • Select an oil-analysis laboratory to help achieve objectives
  • Develop criteria for equipment to be sampled; prepare an equipment list
  • Develop a sampling strategy
  • Select the appropriate oil-analysis tests, based on equipment type
  • Select and allocate personnel for the program, along with a program coordinator
  • Work closely with the oil-analysis laboratory to improve program and meet objectives
  • Train personnel to use internal and external resources
  • Track and document cost benefits
  • Practice continuous improvement by adapting to changing conditions and requirements

PART IV: Improved Oil Cleanliness Boosts Pump Reliability
A growing number of companies recognize the importance of oil cleanliness to equipment reliability. An estimated 70% of equipment failures in circulated fluid systems are caused by particulate contamination. Abrasive wear, caused by clearance-size particles between metal surfaces, accounts for more than 66% of total wear. Therefore, controlling particulate contamination through exclusion and filtration will result in enhanced equipment reliability.

Table II illustrates the benefits of clean oil on the life of rolling element bearings.


Table II. The Benefits of Clean Oil on the Life of Rolling Element Bearings (Source: Eaton Corp.)

How to read Table II…
Fluid cleanliness is designated by a three-number code per ISO 4406. This code is expressed as all particles ≥ 4µ[c], ≥ 6µ[c], and ≥ 14µ[c]. The numbers are obtained from the chart in Table III.


For example, consider a fluid where the particles per milliliter of fluid were measured as follows:

4µ[c] 7500 particles

6µ[c] 850 particles

14µ[c] 95 particles

In the above example, fluid cleanliness is expressed as 20/17/14, which comes by first determining the range number that expresses the number of particles per milliliter. In this case, 7500 particles were found at the range number of 20 where the range is 5000 to 10,000 particles. Note that for every increase in range number, the number of particles can double. Thus, even a moderate increase in range number can result in a large introduction of particles.

As can be seen by referring back to Table II, improving the cleanliness of lubricating rolling element bearings can result in a dramatic increase in rolling element life. For example, starting with a 22/20/17 fluid and cleaning it to a 16/14/11 fluid can result in a tripling of the rolling-element bearing life. These tables are available for many types of equipment components.

In Part IV, we’ll meet a specialty metals producer in the Northwest that was lubricating vacuum pumps with 23/20/14 oil and experiencing high failure rates. After realizing that cleaning the oil could reduce failures, the producer enlisted the help of a filter manufacturer to create a filtration program that improved oil cleanliness to 18/17/15. This resulted in a 70% reduction in pump failures and more than $350,000 per year in pump-rebuild savings. This case history will discuss the steps taken to improve fluid cleanliness and the economic impact on the operation, as well as future steps that will further optimize pump reliability.

PART V: The Benefits of Training and Certification
Lubricator training is not only a crucial element of any effort to improve job performance, it can—and should—lead to professional certification for lubrication proficiency. Two major organizations provide competency testing that can lead to certifications: the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML) and the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE). Following are the certifications they offer:

  • ICML—Machinery Lubrication Technician Levels I and II; Machinery Lubrication Analyst Levels I, II, & III; and Laboratory Lubricant Analyst levels I and II
  • STLECertified Lubrication Specialist; Oil-Monitoring Analyst Levels I and II; and Certified Metalworking Specialist

Certification is a hallmark of two major groups of users…
The first group includes the lubrication technicians and engineers in manufacturing plants. Certifications most popular with these professionals are Machinery Lubrication Technician Level I and Certified Lubrication Specialist.

Certification is also important to lubricant sales and marketing personnel. Becoming STLE-certified gives this group an edge over the competition because lubricant purchasers want to deal with technically competent sales engineers. A recent industry salary survey, for example, revealed that salespeople who were Certified Lubrication Specialists averaged $20,000 per year more than uncertified salespeople. They also had greater management opportunities. 

Part V of this series will focus on several lubrication professionals and the benefits they reaped after obtaining certification.

Coming up
Look for the first installment of this series, “Building A World-Class Lubrication Program,” in the March/April issue. LMT

Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training for operations around the world. Telephone: (281) 250-0279. Email: rlthibault@msn.com.

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