Good lubrication is the fulcrum of mechanical maintenance

Good lubrication is the fulcrum of mechanical maintenance

KB Mathur, Director, Global Technical Services

Lubricant is so important for a machine that without it the machine's lifecycle will be reduced from years to a few hours. Yet the industry is oblivious about the correct method to select and apply lubricants. KB Mathur, Director, Global Technical Services, elaborates on a proper lubrication plan. Excerpts from the interview.

Would you tell us about the importance of lubricants?
A lubricant in a machine is like blood in the human body. Lubricant is used to protect the machine by providing a film of media to eliminate metal to metal contact. Lubricant reduces friction in a machine and therefore makes machines more efficient in their day to day operations. Besides, it improves the machine's useful life.

In case a lubricant is not used in any machine, the life of the machine will be reduced to only a few days or hours and not for years. Modern machines are designed for a long life with good lubricants to be used as per machine manufacturers or OEMs.

How can one arrive at a lubricant changing schedule? What are the indicators that point to the need for changing lubricant?
There are various methods being practiced by industries or machine operators. The orthodox method is time bound oil change system, i.e, by operators' experience. It may be after two months, three months, six months or whatever is traditionally being followed in their industry. However, the correct method is by testing the oil from time to time, i.e, condition- based oil change system.

Lubricating oil should be tested periodically and the typical norms being adopted for oil sample testing internationally are as follows:

It should be noted that the lubricant sample should be tested as per the above norms and the test result of the sample analysis should be available to the machine operators within 48 hours maximum, failing which mechanical wear and damage will set in. Therefore, for good mechanical maintenance, lubricants should be tested periodically as per the above guidelines and the test report should be available within 48 hrs, so that the corrective action, if any, can be undertaken immediately by the machine operators.

How does one choose a lubricant and what could go wrong while picking one?
A lubricant is chosen, keeping in view the end use application, such as whether a lubricant is required for an automotive application or if it is required for an industrial application.

A typical matrix of the selection of a lubricant is as follows:

Lubricants are manufactured specifically for these specific applications.

Normal trend is that the OEM recommends a suitable lubricant in their mechanical maintenance manual. However, lubricant specialists also play a role in selecting suitable lubricant for the desired application. As long as a machine is under guarantee period, OEM recommendations must be adopted due to warrantee requirements of the machine.

In case the correct lubricant is not used in the specific application, there can be mechanical failure of the machine. Each oil is for the very specific application.

How do lubricants get contaminated and what are the consequent hazards?
Lubricating oil gets contaminated by environmental factors. In the environment, there is moisture, micro dust contamination and once the environmental air gets into the machine and comes in contact with lubricating oil continuously for a period of time, contamination gets into the oil. The oil when gets contaminated with moisture and suspended micro dust, will contaminate the oil, hence make it unfit for further use.

Lubricating oil can get contaminated while in storage, handling and dispensing in any industry. Therefore care has to be taken to ensure that the oil does not get contaminated before it is fed to machine. In case the oil barrels are kept in the open, outdoor storage, they can get contaminated. In outdoor storage, grease which consists of oil dispersed in soap gets separated from the soap, making the grease unusable or off-specifications. Therefore, storage, handling and dispensing of lubricating oils at all cement industry locations or sites assume importance. Good lubrication is the fulcrum of mechanical maintenance. As per the machine designs, 'breathers' are installed on all hydraulic systems, gear boxes, and these breathers should be maintained properly at all times. They keep environmental contamination under control.

Good filters or filtration systems are also mounted on all the machines to arrest contaminants, suspended impurities in the system. Therefore all these parameters should be checked periodically to ensure that contamination is reduced to bare minimum and/or kept under control.

It is a good idea to have an oil testing laboratory at all cement plants. It is worth the value.

Can one overdose with lubricant and does it have any impact on performance?
Over-lubrication is as bad as under lubrication. Over-lubrication can lead to enormous amount of mechanical maintenance related issues in the plant. An overdose of lubricant, should therefore, be avoided. Problems of leakages, contaminants entering the oil sumps, seals ruptures are all an outcome of over -lubrication.

Tell us about the new age lubricants that are available in the market.
Lubricating oils are also improving with technology. There has been lot of R&D activities undertaken by oil and additive companies. For the modern day lubricant, there is need for meeting the environmental requirements, e.g, Euro IV and Euro V is not too far away.

Traditionally lubricants were blended from mineral based oils. Mineral based oil is made available from some of the selected crude oils available in some selected areas of the world, and the source of these mineral oil is very limited.

Keeping in view the price increase in mineral oil base stocks (because of their limited availability) and also the need for high performance long drain oils, synthetic lubricants are emerging as great future substitute replacing mineral oils. Though the price of synthetic oil is three to five times more than that of mineral oil, in view of the increase in prices of mineral oils and long life of synthetic oils, it is expected that in the next few years, market will embrace synthetic oil and mineral oil will be substituted by synthetic oil in a very big way. At present mineral oils are almost constituting 80 per cent of the market. By 2025, mineral oils will only be 40 per cent or 50 per cent of the market, and the balance will be synthetic oils.

Tell us about your services.

We have been providing services related to total lubrication management to the cement and mining industry for the last about 15 years. Besides this, we also provide consultancy services to the industry on lubrication management.

Our predominant focus has been in the cement and mining industry and providing total lubrication management on a single window basis. Cement and mining industries are operating in dusty environment, hence feeding uncontaminated lubricants to the machines is of paramount importance to control or reduce mechanical maintenance cost.

How did the industry perform in the last year and what are your projections for this year ?
The lube oil industry has grown by about 2-3 per cent in the year 2013-14 over its sales of last year, and it is expected that it will grow by 4-5 per cent in 2014-15. The consumption of lubricants is directly related to the industrial growth and the growth of infrastructure in the country.

Who are your major clients in the cement sector?
Our major clients are Lafarge, ACC, Ambuja (Holcim), Ultratech, Orissa Cement, Asian Cement & Concretes. We are associated with almost 50 per cent of the cement production units in our country. This is an outsourced model, where our engineers and technicians undertake work of doing lubrication as a day to day activity at these plants.

We have established a Central Lubrication Cell, at each of our sites with an oil testing laboratory, modern storage, handling and dispensing systems, service vans, etc.

As of April 2014, we have 18 plants (with their mines) and these plants have achieved oil conservation and reduction in the mechanical maintenance cost.

Do you offer consultancy, too?
Yes, we provide consultancy on total lubrication management services to the industry.

We also have an oil testing laboratory at Vasai, near Mumbai. This laboratory is accredited with NABL and ISO-17025 accreditation and is rated as one of the best oil testing laboratory in the country.

By adopting good lubrication practices, the industry can save at least 20-30 per cent on mechanical maintenance cost and 10-15 per cent in lubrication costs, and achieve oil conservation by 25 per cent - 35 per cent on a year to year basis in the first two to three years of undertaking systematically and scientifically planned programmes of total lubrication management.

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