The lubricants industry is certainly not a static one. As technological advances in industrial machinery create ever greater demands, manufacturers have stepped in with new lubricants that can perform in heavy-duty applications and harsh environments, sometimes even with a long oil life.
Synthetic lubricants, for example, have revolutionised lubrication in some applications where mineral lubricants struggled to perform in the past.
Here are some recent advances in the world of lubrication. While you may not be able to order such products from Mobil industrial lubricants distributors quite yet, they may become commonplace before too long.
Water is generally regarded as an undesirable contaminate in industrial lubricants, but one German lubrication manufacturer has come up with a water-based lubricant that it claims will revolutionise lubrication in certain applications; for example, it could mean that industrial gearboxes will be topped up with water rather than oil in future.
So, why hasn’t water already been used as a base for industrial lubricants? After all, it’s abundantly available on our planet, is not toxic, and does not burn. According to the company’s head of research and product development, Dr. Stefan Seemeyer, water has generally been overlooked because of its susceptibility to freeze and evaporate, as well as the oxidation and microbiological growth it can cause.
Despite these limitations, Dr. Seemeyer points out:
“By means of additives in the lubricant or technical solutions at the component concerned, these limits can be shifted, and the water-specific effects rendered beneficially usable. With a water-based product concept, we’ve even been able to reduce the friction involved far enough to bring the range of ‘super-lubricity’ within reach.”
With the barriers to hydro lubricants apparently having been addressed, you may wonder what benefits water can bring as lubricant ingredient. Firstly, using water as the base ingredient enables new ingredients to be used that would otherwise not be soluble in oil. This could potentially open up new levels of performance for certain applications that were previously thought impossible. Secondly, water’s physical properties could be useful in some applications; for example, its electrical conductivity could mean hydro lubricants would be useful to the electric transport industry.
While the potential applications of this new technology are still being explored, it is already being used in one lubrication product for conveyor belts.
Ultra-low friction without additives
Modern lubricants contain additives to achieve ultra-low friction by helping oil molecules bond to metal surfaces and form a protective film. The downside of this is that machinery oil needs additive levels to be monitored and topped up when necessary, possibly through a drain and replace. But what if ultra-low friction was possible without these additives?
This is exactly what researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology claim to have found. In their tests, the researchers blasted the surfaces of cast iron blocks with a blend of copper sulphide and aluminium oxide. This process chemically modified the surface and changed how oil molecules bonded with it, which in turn improved lubricity. According to Michael Varenberg at Georgia Tech, this happens because:
“Making the surface more active chemically by deforming it allows for replacement reaction to form iron sulphide on top of the iron. And iron sulphides are known for very strong bonds with oil molecules.”
The published results show the technique can outperform the top commercial oils on the market and is only matched by lubricants based on tungsten disulphide-based nanoparticles. Varenberg clearly expresses his belief in the new process by saying:
“Moreover, our finding may result in a paradigm shift in the art of lubrication and initiate a whole new direction in surface science and engineering due to the generality of the idea and a broad range of potential applications.”
Better solid lubricants
Solid lubricants are commonly used in many applications, such as drilling rigs, the hydraulic motors of cranes and winches, food industry equipment and space vehicles. Even modern liquid lubricants are unsuitable for extreme operating environments, such as low-pressure and high-temperature situations, so engineers have needed to turn to solid lubricants.
Solid lubricants often have a number of drawbacks when compared to liquid lubrication, however, such as poor self-healing properties and a greater degree of friction of wear. This may change with a development at Purdue University, however. Researchers have developed a new solid lubricant that, according to Vilas Pol of Purdue University:
“…has superior thermal conductivity, high strength and provides ultralow friction.”
While graphene is already commonly used as a solid lubricant, the new lubricant combines this with zinc oxide and the polymer polyvinylidene difluoride. The zinc oxide facilitates adhesion to the surface, while the polyvinylidene difluoride acts as a binding agent for the mixture. The end result is a durable and resilient coating that offers great potential for lubricating bearings in high-load applications.
While the above innovations may revolutionise industrial lubrication in some areas, many smaller advances are constantly being made by lubricant manufacturers like Mobil in terms of formulations that improve the efficiency, reduce the unscheduled downtime, and simplify the maintenance routine of industrial equipment. Mobil industrial lubricants distributors should be able to offer advice on whether you can benefit from more advanced lubricants in your operations.
Other advances have enabled easier monitoring of oil quality. Equipment is now available for easy on-site testing of oil condition, while lubricant makers like Mobil offer off-site oil condition testing with a rapid turnaround. Technicians can now make informed decisions about when a full drain and fill is required, potentially avoiding the unnecessary cost of a premature oil change and the equipment damage that can occur from a late change.
While technology can play a big role in getting the most from an industrial setup, it’s still important to get the low-tech stuff right. Even something as simple as colour-coded lubricant dispensers can help by avoiding problems that occur from incorrect top-ups. On accessing the wealth of advice available from Mobil industrial lubricants distributors, you may find out that you can consolidate your necessary oils and greases into a fewer number of products, potentially saving you money and simplifying maintenance procedures.