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Why are lubricants so important for machinery?

Category   Metalworking   Coolant Monitoring Equipment min

Whether its stationary or installed in vehicles, mechanical equipment typically has multiple moving parts which allow it to function. From engines in commercial passenger cars to hydraulic systems fitted in industrial lifting equipment machinery can be found throughout our world in numerous applications. However, for it to work effectively, a machine’s components require lubrication. In this blog we’ll break down the reasons why lubricants are vital for the machinery they serve.

Lubricating machinery

It might seem obvious, but the primary role of a lubricant is to allow the innerworkings of a machine to move smoothly and easily. Whether an oil or grease is added to a mechanical system, the lubricant creates a thin but strong film on moving parts.

When the parts of machines work, they often come into proximity with one another. To the uninformed it might appear that metal components are entirely smooth, but if you were to examine them under a microscope, you’d see they are quite rough. Peaks of metal called asperities jut out from metal surfaces and when other parts get close, they connect with the same style of imperfections present on them.

Left without lubrication, components grind against each other, causing wear and tear. Such damage can be expensive. System downtime is required to effect repairs or replace ruined parts which mean the cost of new components and labour, but also loss of productivity and profit while machinery is inactive. Furthermore, mechanical systems are slowed by such abrasive forces at a loss of performance.

However, if sufficient lubricant is added to machines, this unwanted situation can be avoided. The lubricant allows parts to move freely, optimising work rates and protecting parts from damage.

Cooling machinery

Friction isn’t the only threat to machinery when parts are allowed to grind against each other. When abrasion occurs, heat is generated often at extreme temperatures. If allowed to build up, this heat can cause damage to machinery and lead to the same unwanted maintenance scenario described above.

Luckily, lubricants also act as coolants. Their heat transfer properties allow them to reduce operating temperatures at key work areas of a mechanical system and take the heat to another part of the system where it can harmlessly dissipate or be put to good use.

Keeping machinery clean

Mechanical systems must work hard, often in extreme operating environments and in conjunction with combustible products such as fuel. From aircraft turbines which become clogged with dirt and debris to internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles that must contend with soot and sludge, a wide range of debris can build up in machinery.

When these deposits accumulate in key areas, they can quickly become a serious problem. They can stop pistons and gears from moving correctly, or even become a fire hazard in operations where high temperatures are involved.

As a result, another job that lubricants perform is to keep mechanical systems clean. When lubricants are added to machinery, they circulate through their innerworkings and as they travel, they collect unwanted particles and carry them harmlessly to the sump or filter where they can be cleaned out. In closed systems, oil and other lubricants can become too polluted over time and require changing so they can still perform their task.

Machinery operators must regularly test the oil in their system to ensure it is still in excellent condition. If it requires changing, systems must be drained of old oil and if necessary, flushed before a fresh supply is added. Sumps and filters also require regular checks. In some cases, it may also be necessary to replace filters periodically.

Protecting machinery from rust and contaminants

Machinery typically represents a sizeable investment. As a result, it is always in the best interests of machine owners to protect their equipment from potential harm. Made mostly from metal parts, machinery is often at risk of rust and other corrosive processes. When iron alloys like steel are subject to air and moisture rust (iron oxide) forms causing metal parts to become brittle and break causing lasting damage.

However, there are many other forms of corrosion and contaminants which can harm machinery. For example, coastal and marine based equipment must contend with the corrosive properties of sea water which can cause considerable harm to components when they are left unprotected.

Fortunately, lubricants can also protect mechanical parts from rust and other corrosives. While some applications require regular rust prevention action, equipment which only sees active service seasonally can also benefit from a lubricant treatment. Once lubricated with a rust preventative, users can ensure their machinery will be ready for use when required, even when it has been in hibernation for some time.

It’s not tricky to see why having a strong supply of lubricants is essential for operations involving machinery, but it’s important to always select the most suitable products for any given application.

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