Guest post by Brad Loucks, Mechanical Engineer at Pioneer Engineering
When discussing machine lubrication techniques and associated maintenance tasks with industry personnel, I often hear the same story; “Once a month, we fill it up until it’s full.” This story can unfold further to reveal that every piece of machinery under such a program receives the same type of lubricant with no considerations made to temperature change, operating conditions, load requirements, and duty cycle. Technology has come a long way over the past several decades in every corner of the modern world and machine lubrication and oil analysis is no exception to this evolution. It has been discovered that choosing the right lubricant for the application significantly prolongs machine life and maintains the overall health of rotating equipment in use today.
To further illustrate this point, just consider how much thought is given to the type of oil used in your car. You won’t find a can of automobile oil in the store that is simply labeled, “Oil”. Instead, you will find several types of oil that are specifically designed to resist large viscosity changes with changing temperature. The ability to resist significant viscosity change is depicted using the nomenclature, “10W-30”, or “5W-40”, etc. A common misconception is that the “W” stands for weight. Instead, the “W” stands for “winter”, and the number that precedes it represents the oil’s ability to resist thickening when the temperature is 0° Fahrenheit. Similarly, the second number represents the oil’s ability to resist thinning in an environment where the temperature is 100° Fahrenheit.
As you can see, operating environment and temperature play a big role in choosing the right lubrication to extend the life of an automobile engine. In an industrial setting, machine lubrication plays an even larger role with proportional consequences and benefits to the amount of thought and detail given to choosing the right lubrication.
Recent advancements in technology now provide us with addition tools to collect and analyze oil samples in rotating machinery. In doing so, maintenance technicians are able to better understand the present health of their equipment as well as make determinations for further maintenance tasks to be performed. The difference between this story and the “Once a month, we fill it up until it’s full” story, is that we now have the ability to schedule maintenance tasks based on condition, instead of relying solely on a time trigger. A proper machine lubrication program enables us to recognize the root causes of machinery failure due to improper lubrication. A successful lubrication program also incorporates methods in identifying lubricant contamination and implements the best practices in lubricant storage, handling, and dispensing. By introducing these condition-based methods of scheduling maintenance tasks, machinery health is better managed, saving time and money.