Efficient lubrication strategy?
16 March 2017
Effective lubrication is the backbone of equipment reliability. The trick is delivering that lubricant in the most efficient way for your application, as Phil Burge, country communication manager, SKF (U.K.), explains
Moving parts require lubrication, but many common production conditions, like high operating temperatures or the ingress of dust, dirt and water, can compromise lubricant performance. For most manufacturing equipment, therefore, periodic re-lubrication is a fact of life. Operators seeking to maximise the overall productivity of their assets need to find an approach that prevents lubrication-rated failures while minimising the cost of the associated labour, equipment and materials. Are you sure your current practices get the balance right?
An optimal lubrication strategy begins with an understanding of the lubrication requirements of your equipment. That depends on a host of factors, including the design of its components, the operating environment and the duty cycles involved. It depends on the criticality of the asset too. The cost of a bearing failure due to poor lubrication in an ancillary fan might be relatively low. The failure of similar bearing in the production line might result in hundreds of thousands of pounds in lost production. Equipment manufacturers or lubrication specialists like SKF can advise on suitable lubrication intervals, and analysis of maintenance and failure records can also provide useful insights.
The next step is the adoption of processes that deliver the right lubricant in the right quantity at the right time. Many companies rely on manual intervention to do this, and that can be the best strategy, especially when lubrication intervals coincide with other maintenance or inspection processes. Providing maintenance teams with the right tools is important, however. Hand-held systems like the Lincoln PowerLuber grease gun range make lubrication faster and less physically stressful for personnel, while also improving accuracy. These tools can be set to deliver a precisely metered quantity of lubricant, for example, reducing waste and the risk of over- or under-lubrication
Sometimes, it is more efficient to take the person out of the loop. Critical components may be in areas that are hard for maintenance staff to access, for example, or require lubrication at a frequency that doesn’t match planned shutdown or maintenance intervals. A cost-effective solution here is the installation of an automated single point lubrication system, which can deliver small quantities of a suitable lubricant from a local reservoir at pre-set intervals.
If automated lubrication is required at a large number of separate points, it makes sense to centralise. Advanced lubrication systems, like the SKF MonoFlex or Lincoln Centro-Matic systems use pressure pumps and a network of distribution pipes and valves to deliver lubricant wherever it is required. These systems can service hundreds of lubrication points across a machine or an entire production line.
Today’s automated and centralised lubrication systems are smart as well as efficient. As the scale and complexity of the lubrication environment increases, better control becomes valuable. Advanced control systems can tune lubrication performance to meet changing production conditions. They can deliver at different rates to different parts of a machine, respond to changes in operating conditions or raise the alarm in the event of a problem. SKF’s LMC 301 controller, for example, can operate three different pumps, each of which can deliver lubricant to up three different zones. That makes it ideal for machines or production lines that require multiple lubricant types.
The SKF EDL1 meanwhile is an innovative compact, electrically-operated lubricant delivery system that can be mounted on a machine close the final lubrication points. Fed by a low-pressure lubricant supply, the EDL1 pressurises the lubricant and dispenses it based on an internally programmed schedule or in response to external control signals. The approach greatly simplifies distribution pipework improves flexibility and allows easy modification of the lubrication system as the production system is altered or extended.