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How can you reduce the cost of lubrication?

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Stocking up on a healthy supply of lubricant is not the biggest outlay in a typical budget for maintenance. It’s often viewed as an expense that yields less importance, and as a result is targeted frequently as an option to reduce running costs. However, when it comes to procuring lubricants, it is not advisable to attempt to save money by purchasing cheap and inferior products. There are still many ways that companies can reduce the cost of lubrication without impacting their operation.

The role of lubricants and the consequences of using the wrong products

Greases, oils, fluids, and other lubricants are recognised as the lifeblood of any operation that involves mechanical equipment. The length of a machine’s active service life depends largely on the condition and quality of the solutions used to lubricate the often heavily loaded frictional machine surface. This also applies to investing in high-quality tools and technologies used in an onsite lubrication programme (like automated lubricators and routing software for instance) to promote efficiency. Maximum dependability and lubrication always go hand in hand.

When incorrect or poor products are used to lubricate machinery, a wide range of unwanted consequences can occur. These include sub-par performance at a loss to overall output, but also serious issues like excessive wear and tear to components. This can lead to replacement parts and repair work with negative productivity due to system downtime. Labour and parts can be expensive, but machines out of action for maintenance can be far more harmful to operations. Damage caused by improper lubrication can even result in machines becoming completely inoperable, resulting in a loss of investment.

Using poor-quality lubricants can also lead to less obvious perils. Inferior products will usually have a shorter active service, resulting in more frequent drain intervals. This can result in a need for greater quantities of lubrication to ensure machines are operating effectively at a larger expense.

Opportunities to reduce lubrication costs without compromising dependability

The first step is to assess every machine on site and write a simple but accurate lubricant specification for each. You will find recommendations available in the machine’s service manual or from the original equipment manufacturer. For best results, the lubricant specification must be aligned with the optimal reference state, delivering machine reliability. By constructing this specification, you will have a clear picture of overall machine criticality that you can use as a foundation for defining each machine’s specific lubricant requirements.

Today, there is a vast number of lubrication types offered from both independent and major suppliers. While navigating the many options may be daunting, it is often worth the effort, and expert help is always available when needed. Cutting down lubricant expenditure requires change as well as initiative. While there are many different methods deployed by operations to reduce costs, there are five leading strategies used by successful organisations.

Select optimum life lubricants for your operation

While it is important not to overspend, it is also important to avoid underspending. Operators procuring products should always resist the lure of poor-quality cheap lubricants. Trying to save money by purchasing economy-formulated lubricants and using them in the wrong application can be hazardous. However, it can be equally dangerous to believe buying premium expensive lubricants if you are using poor lubrication practices.

Many operations selecting lubricants are influenced by performance specifications, but it’s important to be aware of minor differences. Choosing an optimum lubricant for a specific machine application is always an engineering process, and small differences in how a lubricant performs can translate into vast differences in machine dependability and lubricant cost. The best practice is to never select just any lubricant but to seek the optimum product with a long lifespan.

It is wise to be conservative regarding how many lubricants you use onsite. Reduce the number of products in your storeroom whenever possible, limiting it to an efficient few. Obviously, the range and number of lubricants your plant needs will always depend heavily on your operating environment and the types of machines you run.

Long-life lubricants used in the proper application makes perfect sense. They can extend drain intervals and reduce both the risk and cost of premature lubricant failure. Choosing a lubricant with longevity and resistance to ageing can also reduce oil consumption by over 50 per cent in many cases, significantly reducing annual costs.

However, it is critical to be prudent. Never invest in long-life lubrication solutions for an application where lubricants must be changed frequently, due to contamination or systems where excessive leakage is hard to control.

Proactively extending lubricant lifespan

During normal service, all lubricants will age over time, commonly in a linear fashion. It is understood that eventually they will become unusable due to a wide range of causes including additive depletion. It’s worth remembering though that life expectancy isn’t just related to the lubricant’s quality, but also to the lubricant type and extent of exposure experienced while in service.

The most damaging exposures are often common contaminants like heat, moisture, water and air. This has been explored extensively in the pages of Machinery Lubrication. Mitigating exposure can proactively extend the active service life of a lubricant, but also enhance machine reliability, which can offer some of the most easy and effective savings opportunities.

Exposures can also relate to topping up machines that contain remnants of a lubricant that has degraded with brand-new lubricant. When a new lubricant is mixed with older oils that are degraded and oxidized, they will deteriorate far more quickly, shortening their lifespan.

In some cases, the additives included in older lubricant can be reconstructed. Instead of disposing of the aged oil and replacing it with a fresh supply, a more economical method is to just replace the specific additive that has degraded. Today, analytical services are available that can test lubricant samples and help companies make good science-based choices to make savings.

Such organisations specialise in increasing the life expectancy of the lubricating oils in use while reducing the total cost of lubrication for the company. Operated by expert teams of chemists as well as processing engineers, they help operations revitalise and reuse quality lubricants leading to a reduction in overall spending on lubricants. Some lubricant suppliers will offer these services, while larger operations have onsite testing teams and facilities.

Maximising relubrication intervals

For companies seeking to save, it is essential to never change over lubricants too late or too soon. Different approaches are used for changing lubricants, from regimented practices to rough guesswork. This can often be the case when it comes to automotive oils and filter changes. It can also be true for most industrial applications requiring lubrication. Lubricant sumps are frequently purged and replenished too soon.

A smarter move is to employ oil analysis as a metric, to optimise the oil drain interval and mitigate the chance of premature disposal of what is an expensive commodity. For example, if the lubricant is analysed towards the end of a standard service interval and its remaining useful life is identified to be 75 per cent, operators can extend the interval between the next drain and recharge. With continued analysis, operators can fine-tune the interval until the ideal interval is encountered.

Many types of machines should not be subject to an interval-based oil change at all. Their lubricants should instead be changed depending on their condition, and only when necessary. In simple terms, allow the lubricant to tell your operators when it requires a change, not your calendar. Making condition-based lubricant changes is the best practice for machines with large sumps full of expensive lubricants, as well as those that require top-ups periodically.

In specific applications, a grease lubricant can also be optimised considering relubrication frequency and volume. This can be carried out with grease analysis following proper sampling, but also via inspections of used grease in motor and bearing rebuilds.

The condition and amount of grease in the bearings can provide insightful data for optimising the relubrication interval and amount.

Limiting package waste

Today, many modern lubricants sold in packages and drums fail to be fully used. Frequently, there is unused lubricant remaining in the package that is then discarded. Multiple strategies can aid to minimise waste lubricants, including purchasing bulk oil or smaller packages. However, these tactics must always be optimised for the single machine, or the group of machines which rely on the lubricant.

Another source of waste is the lubricant top-up container. Such small containers are typically carried to the lubrication point and are not entirely empty when they are put aside. When found later, the lubricant left inside the container is questioned regarding its condition and type. Doubt over its contents or quality typically sees this unused lubricant disposed of in the waste oil container. To save money, residual oil should be effectively labelled, stating its condition and whether it can be used.

Leak reduction

Finally, leakage control is an important practice to reduce lubrication spending, but for many other reasons too. Along with lube consumption savings there are also safety and dependability benefits. Never ignore a leak and address it as soon as possible. Instead of finding a temporary fix, seek out a comprehensive and permanent solution.

As stated earlier, buying cheaper lubricants is a false economy. To make overall and lasting savings year on year, choosing an optimum selection of lubrication products and adopting a proactive strategy to reducing lubricant consumption is a more effective method of reducing spending. With minimal investment and effort, such efficiencies can have a dramatic impact for operations, improving their bottom line while never sacrificing using the high-quality lubricants their equipment needs to run at optimum performance.

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