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What are the properties of a good lubricant for industrial use?

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Industrial lubricants are applied to the surfaces and components of machinery where relative motion exists between them. The lubricant works to reduce friction and wear, but these industrial solutions perform multiple functions in roles that promote high performance levels and extend equipment lifespans.

Lubricants act as a sealing agent, protecting parts from dirt and debris, but also work as a coolant transferring heat. Oils and greases also defend components from corrosives like rust and help keep mechanical systems clean by trapping and then expelling contaminants.

While specific industrial equipment will always have its own unique requirements, in this blog we’ll cover the common properties that every lubricant should deliver in this sector.

Component separation

An industrial lubricant’s first job is to separate moving components within a system. This process helps reduce friction, undue wear as well as surface fatigue but also allows parts to move freely, enhancing operational speeds. It also reduces heat generation, vibration and operating noise. This is achieved in multiple ways. By far, the most common is by creating a physical barrier via a thin layer of oil or grease to separate the moving parts.

Friction reduction

Usually, lubricant-to-surface friction is less than friction that is surface-to-surface in a system that has no lubrication. Using lubrication greatly reduces overall friction within the system leading to many benefits. Heat generation and wear particle formation are reduced, and system efficiency is improved.

Heat transfer

Liquid and gas industrial lubricants can both transfer heat. However, out of the two, liquid lubricants like oil are far more effective because of their high specific heat capability. Usually, liquid lubricants are circulated constantly to and from cooler parts of the mechanical system. However, lubricants can also be employed to warm areas as well when systems require regulated temperatures.

Lubricants that are low-flow like pastes and greases and pastes are not efficient for heat transfer, however, they can still contribute by reducing how much heat is generated initially.

Clearing debris and contaminants

In circulation systems, industrial lubricants can carry away debris that is internally generated along with any external contaminants that are introduced to the system from the outside. As they pass through the system, circulation oils collect any varnish, filings, dirt, grime and other unwanted particles, taking them to a dedicated filter where they are safely removed.

When industrial lubricant is formulated for machinery that regularly generates debris or is subject to contaminant creation like internal combustion engines (ICE), detergents and dispersant additives are included. These built-for-purpose additives help transport contaminants to the filter and aid removal. However, over time, oil filters will become clogged and need cleaning or even replacing. In many cases, when oils are changed over, the existing filter is disposed of and a brand-new one is fitted in its place.

Power transmission

Certain industrial lubricants like hydraulic fluid are selected for their capacity to supply power transmission. Dedicated hydraulic fluids are used in a multitude of industrial operation and make up a significant portion of all lubrication solution produced around the world.

Protecting against unnecessary wear

Working under intense work rates, and under heavy loads, industrial lubricants must often be able to prevent excessive wear. To help them cope with considerable pressure, industrial lubricants designed to deliver high performance will include specific additives. These include anti-wear (AW) additives and Extreme Pressure (EP) additives to help prevent system and part fatigue that can lead to costly downtime and loss of productivity.

Preventing corrosion

Operating environments for industrial lubricants are often challenging. A wide range of different contaminants can lessen the effectiveness of oils and greases. For example, water contamination, a common issue in industrial operations like paper mills, can impact how well a lubricant works. However, another issue where there is excessive moisture is corrosion of metal machine parts. When exposed to air and water, iron alloys like steel can rust, causing parts made of this material to become brittle and break.

For this reason, most lubricants are also engineered to act as dedicated rust preventatives. Oils and greases seal the parts, surfaces and smaller components, like bearings, from contamination. In some cases, where the base oil of a lubricant lacks this capability, advanced anti-rust and anti-corrosion additives are included during formulation.

Thermal stability

Intense industrial processes often inflict extreme operating temperatures on machinery and the lubricants that serve them. As a result, it is vital that industrial lubricants can remain stable at both extremely high and low temperatures and maintain the viscosity required by an application.

As mentioned, while these are among the most common qualities that an effective industrial lubricant must have, more specialised equipment and processes will have more specific requirements that must be met.

Modern industrial lubricants supplied by leading manufacturers like Mobil, Shell and Fuchs can all be counted upon for a diverse range of oils and greases to suite every need.

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