Lubrication and its importance to a consistent, reliable workflow

Whether it’s the large pieces of machinery in your factory or the smaller motors, wheels, and bearings that make up your equipment, lubrication is an essential component for improved function and longevity. Many people believe lubricants are solely used to make parts “slippery.” Although this is the primary purpose, there are additional benefits to using the correct lubricant. Lubrication allows parts prone to friction to move smoothly, creating less wear and tear. Depending on the type of machinery, proper lubrication can also offer additional benefits, such as improved temperature regulation, better material protection, and longer service life. Upwards of 40% of all bearing failures can be attributed to poor lubrication. If a small, but important part fails, a total shutdown can occur, leading to lost time and revenue.

Understanding the need for equipment lubrication

The use of proper lubrication is the best way to reduce friction. Friction can be best described as “the force that resists relative motion between two bodies in contact.” Therefore, if friction did not exist, your machines and equipment would constantly be in motion. While we do need friction for proper function, there are many instances where the reduction of friction is necessary. Often, machinery generates heat. If a correct lubricant that corresponds with your equipment’s standard operating temperatures has not been utilized, disastrous failure can happen. Bearings can seize up if your machine is too hot or become worn down far too fast without lubrication resulting in lost time, extra manpower, and potentially a need to purchase new equipment. To avoid heat and wear and tear-related failures, lubrication is needed to lessen the resistance to movement.

What is a lubricant made out of?

All lubricants have a base oil that is either synthetic, vegetable or mineral-based. In most industrial equipment, mineral and synthetic are used. Mineral oil is made from crude oil, and the quality of the mineral oil is contingent on the refining process used. A grading scale for oil exists, and different applications have different oil requirements. Mineral oil contains four different types of molecules (paraffin, branched paraffin, aromatic, naphthene), and each molecule has a different structure. Synthetic oils are artificially made and possess identical structures. In general, synthetic oil properties maintain molecular size and weight, while mineral oils can fluctuate greatly. Both mineral and synthetic oils have positives in terms of usage, and the types of equipment you have will determine which oil would work best.

What type of lubricant do I need?

When determining which type of lubrication to use, you must take into account several factors such as viscosity, properties, and needed additives. Reducing heat and friction are only two reasons lubrication is required. When machinery rubs together very small, abrasive particles can break off. Although breakage cannot be prevented, using lubrication with either a hydrodynamic or elastohydrodynamic film helps mitigate the issue. Hydrodynamic films work for parts with sliding contacts such as journal bearings, while Elastohydrodynamic films work in rolling contacts such as ball or roller bearings. So, what can be done with unavoidable wear particles? Specific additives in some lubricants will attract contaminants, suspend them in the oil and then move them to a separator or filter installed in the system.

Most equipment will be affected by a certain degree of humidity. When water and air come into contact with metal, corrosion can take place. Just as additives can be used for contamination regulation, there are additives available to keep metal surfaces from coming into contact with water. These additives will prevent rust, thus preventing water damage to metal machines.

A high-quality lubricant can go a long way

An understanding of lubrication can go a long way when selecting the best product for your equipment. Increased efficiency, longevity, more reliability, and fewer dollars spent on maintenance are goals that every company can meet when a proper lubrication schedule is maintained.