Refreshing yourself and your team on the “RIGHTS” of lubrication can help prevent plenty of lubrication “WRONGS” around your operations.
Manufacturers looking to save money in a grueling economy can profit from the following advice: If you want to boost the bottom line, turn to your plant’s lubrication program. Opportunities almost certainly exist that will cut your grease and oil disposal costs, improve rotating-equipment productivity, modernize lube replenishment practices and increase the likelihood that operating machines are safeguarded from costly lube-related downtime.
This is especially true for small and mid-size manufacturers of everything from metals to chemicals to food. The latest technologies, such as lubrication planning software and high-capacity automatic lubricators, enable smaller manufacturing plants to launch lubrication programs. Such programs were previously limited to larger operations for cost-related reasons.
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Employing a plant-wide strategy
For most plants, a comprehensive lube strategy works best. The approach gives maintenance and lubrication managers an overview of all plant activities and allows them to readily identify and capitalize on cost-saving opportunities. It fosters communication between different departments and among workers on different shifts, and encourages employees to work collaboratively rather than at cross-purposes. A plant-wide program can also promote changes in ingrained attitudes, habits and practices that often lead to costly inefficiencies.
Plant-wide lube programs maximize a site’s lubricating effectiveness and cut costs. They usually incorporate: lubricant selection, point identification and mapping, proper re-lubrication practices, tool selection, lubricant analysis, staff training and continuous-improvement goals.
Typically, the most effective programs are based on the “5Rs” concept. As most readers know, this emphasizes supplying the RIGHT lubricant to the RIGHT points in the RIGHT quantity, and doing so at the RIGHT time using the RIGHT method.
1. The RIGHT lubrication points…
When starting or expanding a lubrication program, the first step is to identify all lubrication points in your plant. This includes machine points on all critical, secondary and backup machinery. The task is made easier with the latest lubrication software programs, which are available from lubricant and rotating-equipment technology providers.
These software programs manage plant lubrication activities, replacing paper lists and basic spreadsheets. One newly introduced lubricant-planning program, for example, documents the lubrication history and status of all machine points, extending to location, lubricant type, quantity and re-lube intervals. Its capabilities include importing previous maintenance or lubrication actions and incorporating them into revised routines.
The program generates daily lubrication task lists for maintenance personnel and can produce lists based on machine criticality, lubricant type or other criteria. Tools required for each lubrication task are also displayed. The program tracks the performed tasks and saves the last 500 records for each activity in its database. The completed tasks can be archived for future reference.
2. The RIGHT lubricant…
After identifying lubrication points, it’s a good time to review your lubricant choices. Over 80% of rotating equipment applications are lubricated with grease, and many plants—especially smaller facilities—traditionally use a single all-purpose grease for a variety of applications. Although acceptable in some cases, this practice can waste grease and harm productivity in others.
Demanding applications often require specialized lubricants to optimize performance. Machines that experience high temperatures or high pressures, for example, normally call for greases that are specially formulated to meet these operational requirements. Compared with general-purpose greases, specially formulated varieties can often prolong relubrication intervals and dramatically reduce overall grease consumption.
One way to avoid lubricant mix-ups is to use fitting caps with labels that identify the correct lubricant and refill quantity for each machine point. Fitting caps also protect machine points from external sources of contamination.
3. The RIGHT quantity…
Comprehensive lubrication programs facilitate the delivery of correct lubricant amounts to each lubrication point. Both under- and over-lubrication have harmful effects and should be avoided. Under-lubrication can cause metal-to-metal contact between rotating components, resulting in premature bearing and machine failure.
Over-lubrication leads to lubricant churning, increasing operating temperatures and damaging lubricant viscosity. The result is a decline in operating efficiency.
At the macro level, over-lubrication can waste lubricant and increase lubricant-related expenses. For every dollar of lubricant purchased, plants spend three dollars in lube disposal costs. Plant-wide programs can track and control lubricant usage and reduce disposal costs.
For plants that manually re-lubricate, grease meters can help prevent over- or under-greasing by accurately measuring refill amounts. Most grease meters can be connected either to electrically driven or hand-operated grease guns.
4. The RIGHT method…
Manufacturing plants have a choice of manual or automatic lubrication. Often, the best solution is a combination of manual and automatic lubrication, depending on application type and location.
Automatic dispensing technologies, such as single-point lubricators (like those discussed in Ken Bannister’s “Delivering the Goods” feature in this issue), find use in hard-to-access or dangerous locations, or where a large number of lubrication points make manual lubrication less feasible.
In a recent case, a food manufacturer in the Midwest totaled annual savings of $332,800 by switching from manual to automatic lubrication. The company installed single-point lubricators on a number of food-processing production lines. The lubricators are equipped with canisters that hold up to 250 milliliters of grease. The electromechanically driven units supply a steady, regulated flow of grease directly to machine points.
In a 12-month period, the facility was able to eliminate 62,400 manual re-lubrication events, each requiring about 10 minutes of labor. The plant’s labor costs were then reduced by $208,000 annually.
In addition, because automatic lubricators gauge lubricant flow precisely, the plant reduced its lubricant consumption by $124,800/yr. Machine repairs also declined due to the lubricators’ effectiveness.
Higher-capacity, multi-point lubricators have been introduced for heavy-duty applications where single-point lubricators would be ineffective. These include hot-gas fans and calendar rolls in paper mills, conveyor systems and some cement, farming and forestry applications. One such system distributes grease or oil to separate lubrication points via as many as eight feed lines. The lines measure up to 16’ in length. The lubricator’s outlets can supply from 0.1 to 10 cubic centimeters of lubricant per day to machine points.
5. The RIGHT time…
According to lubrication studies, the best practice is to lubricate frequently in small quantities, rather than less often using a large amount of lubricant. This practice results in optimal machine performance.
Plant-wide lubrication programs, supported by planning software, help maintenance personnel adhere to correct practices regarding re-lube intervals. Lubrication software can prompt maintenance personnel to re-lubricate when necessary. Single- and multi-point automatic lubricators can also effectively supply a steady flow of lubricant according to a preset schedule.
Don’t forget lubricant analysis
Periodic lubricant analysis can help provide consistent lubricant quality. During operation, lubricants deteriorate over time due to contamination, heat, contact with process fluids or other factors. New, inexpensive testing technologies allow maintenance technicians to test samples of used lubricant on the factory floor and make an assessment of lubricant quality. Problem samples can be flagged and sent out for expert analysis. LMT