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How to overcome the common misconceptions of lubricants

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Lubricants are products commonly used in every industry involving machinery.

Unfortunately, the prevalence of lubricants sometimes leads users to disregard their importance to operations. Over time, several misconceptions have grown around the topic of lubrication, and while myths always rise and require debunking periodically, when it comes to lubricants, the impact of such an oversight can be consequential for companies.

The adverse impact of common misconceptions about lubricants can harm an operations productivity and performance, but also increase risks of health and safety. A lack of understanding about lubrication can also cause damage to the components of machinery, resulting in mechanical downtime for repairs to the detriment of workflow. When left unchecked, this can result in total failure of equipment at a loss of investment. Misconceptions about lubricants can also see users spend more money on lubricants than necessary.

To summarise, by having a stronger grasp of lubricants and the role they perform, facilities can access greater opportunities for profit while enhancing operational excellence. To this end, it makes good sense for every company to look beyond these myths and ensure they are overcome in their operations.

In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into some of the misconceptions most often encountered that surround lubricants, and the process of lubrication, to help operations avoid these impactful falsehoods.

Lubricating industrial equipment is of only minor importance

As it is a basic requirement, lubrication is often overlooked in terms of priority. Many companies misinterpret its role, and consider it a minor aspect of their operation. As a result, they mistakenly believe that it has little effect, and therefore requires only minimal attention. Often, enterprise owners never get further in their understanding of lubricants than “it greases the wheels of industry”.

If machinery is considered the workhorses of every industrial site, then lubricants are the life blood that keeps them operating. While lubricants do help moving parts in mechanical systems to move freely, under the microscope, they are doing far more.

While metal machine components often seem smooth, if you look closer, you’ll see that they are covered in minute peaks that jut out, called asperities. When two moving metals surfaces are in proximity during operations, the asperities grind against each other, wearing down and damaging parts. However, when lubricant is used, it forms a barrier between the parts, allowing them to move easily without incurring harm from friction.

Lubricants not only protect against friction, but also cool parts, dissipating excessive heat and ensuring no damage is caused. Lubricants also seal parts to safeguard them against rust and other forms of corrosion, and can filter out unwanted contaminants that clog up components, impacting their performance.

Research on industrial maintenance costs suggests that repairing mechanical damage caused by friction equates to approximately six per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The key cause of wear and tear caused by friction is always directly related to lubrication. Industry studies show that incorrect lubricant application is responsible for 54 per cent of bearing failures, 43 per cent of mechanical failures and 70 per cent of all equipment failures.

Inadequate or inefficient lubrication practices, from using too little or too much oil, grease, or fluid, or using an incorrect or inferior product can result in substantial losses. To overcome the misconception that lubricants are not important and have little impact, consider the expense involved in replacing parts like bearing from labour, and component costs to the money lost during an emergency shutdown. Put simply, lubrication is key to any successful and profitable operation, and has a powerful effect on costs and how well a site operates.

Lubricating equipment is a simple task

Another myth is that the process of lubrication is an easy job to perform. Consider how many different types of mechanical systems are in use on your site that require lubrication. From engine oils and brake fluids serving the automotive vehicles you use, gear and bearing oils protecting stationery equipment, hydraulic fluid keeping pumps running, heat transfer oils reducing excessive temperatures in systems, compressor oils serving cooling equipment and industrial greases, there are a multitude of different equipment types, each requiring a specific lubricant.

Every piece of equipment will have a recommended lubricant type suggested by its manufacturer, but operators must also consider different work environments and adjust their selection. For instance, machinery operating in extreme temperatures, in proximity to moisture, or in an outdoor environment will have specific needs that must be met. Furthermore, different applications and industries will also have to comply with regulations and legislation. For example, lubricants that may encounter water or soil in an agricultural operation will need to meet environmental laws to ensure no risk of contamination occurs.

Even once a lubricant type has been selected, the specific grade needed must be identified, and the correct amount to apply must be analysed. When to change lubricant is also an important consideration, and requires regular testing and monitoring.

As lubrication can have such a sizeable impact on an operation and its equipment, the process of lubricating is a complex and involved area requiring meticulous consideration. When handled correctly and performed successfully, it can have a powerful impact on a company’s performance, and profits both annually and in the long term.

How you store lubricants doesn’t matter

Many companies neglect the lubricants they use and pay little attention to how they are stored.

However, making such a mistake can have a negative effect for many reasons. Lubricants are often flammable products, so keeping them in areas where they could be exposed to extreme heat can present a severe risk to safety on site.

However, keeping lubricants outside where they are exposed to low temperatures can also have an impact. Industrial lubricants are categorised, and often selected for their specific viscosity when required by a type of machine or mechanical process. Lubricants are impacted by temperature, and can become thicker and flow less quickly when they become cold, or flow too fast and become less viscous when heated.

Using a lubricant with incorrect viscosity can seriously impact mechanical processes, but so can using the wrong product entirely. As a result, a key principle of lubricant storage is labelling all products to ensure they are never used for the wrong application. Filling containers should also be marked to avoid cross contamination. It is also vital that any spillages that take place in the storage area are immediately attended to. To avoid waste, order your stores by use-by dates to ensure older oils and greases are always used first.

Keeping your lubricant store organised can improve health and safety on your site, but also increase profitability. An orderly store will ensure you never over or under order lubricants, and that the wrong lubricant is never used in error. It will also make sure that your lubricants remain in good condition and preserve the properties that you ordered them for.

Buying cheaper lubricants can cut costs for companies

Among the most common myths about lubricants is that cost is more important than quality.

Today, there are many standard lubricants designed to be used with a wide range of equipment from different ages, like universal tractor oil (UTO) used in the agriculture industry. However, companies attempting a blanket approach to lubrication with one product for all equipment will never get the best from their machinery. In fact, mechanical troubles are likely to be a constant menace.

While conventional oils and greases might seem more affordable than the latest synthetic and semi-synthetic lubricants, buying them can be a false economy. To get close to the same results with a standard oil that a cutting-edge product can supply, you will likely need to use a great deal more. As a result, you’ll not only be buying more oil, but also performing more change intervals at a loss of productivity.

Higher priced lubricants are often designed to last longer and maintain their characteristics for lengthier periods. They are enhanced with specific formulas that enhance performance using EP (extreme pressure), anti-oxide, anti-corrosive, and anti-wear additives. among others.

In the long run, the benefits from using higher quality oils than cheap products can save your operation money by providing enhanced operation, better protection of parts, less mechanical downtime, fewer change intervals and longer lubricant lifespan.

You can cut down lubricant costs by using less product

Finally, while using an inferior lubricant is a bad choice, the notion of lubricating less is even worse. This harmful misconception can be popular for companies seeking to cut costs even more and streamline their budget.

Lowering the maintenance budget might be a popular request where crews are requested to make the materials they have go further, but lubricant is not an area to attack. This is not to say there are not practices that can improve how much lubricant is being wasted. Monitoring and adjusting lubricant use is essential to ensure you are never changing oils and fluids while they are still in excellent condition, but you should never attempt to use less lubricant to reduce expenses.

A proactive approach to maintenance

Effective lubrication is a 100 per cent preventative maintenance measure that ensures that all equipment can run properly and stay protected. Ensuring that you select the correct lubricants, store them properly and apply them correctly in the right quantity, you can avoid a wide range of negative consequences.

Examine your company and its attitude towards lubricants, and make sure that these misconceptions have not taken root. If they have, overcome them by ensuring that from your decision makers to your operators, everyone understands the critical role that lubricants play on site.

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