A Lubrication Technician performs lubrication related tasks in a plant, like topping up machines with oil and regreasing bearings, he could also be responsible for diagnosing a potential issue with the machine’s health. Equipping your lubrication technicians with the right tools and skills is crucial for solving many maintenance related issues. In this article, we will discuss methods and tools for a Lubrication technician that will directly influence how your machines are maintained.
While a lubrication technician (Lube tech) is someone who makes smart inspections by using specialized tools, simple tools like a flashlight are essential as it is used to perform basic tasks like inspecting the lubricant through a sight glass, bottom sediment and water bowl (BS&W) or level gauge. Analyzing the lubricant for detecting solid contamination, wear debris, color change, water or other contaminants, requires a strong flashlight.
The Sight glass’ design plays a very important role in enabling a proper inspection. If you have a 3-D design such that the sight glass protrudes out, then you can use the flashlight to illuminate the sight glass from one side to the other. This enables the lube tech to better inspect the lubricant, ensure that the light passes through the glass without much refraction. Various optical viewing aids and types of flashlights can further help your lubricant inspections. For example, blue light LED flashlight, a borescope, a laser pointer, a quality camera with a flash, pipettes, an oil color gauge, a telescoping mirror and a spatula, or a telescoping magnet can be used to enhance your lubricant inspections.
The ability to have proper inspections through sight glass is crucial as it is not practical to take oil samples frequently in most cases. But there are obviously other ways to inspect your lubricants other than through a visual inspection. An effective way of identifying possible issues is by measuring the machine's temperature. If your machine does not have an oil temperature monitor, you can use a thermal camera or a simple temperature gun to get a quick reading. This inspection route should be regularly followed especially for critical assets that have a history of overheating.
Taking an oil sample requires sampling hardware and tools that are meant specifically to take oil samples. They include certified clean bottles, sample bottle labels, a vacuum sampler, zip-lock bags, a lint-free cloth, plastic tubing and a written procedure. After obtaining the sample, the lube tech should perform a quick visual inspection by shining a strong laser through the oil which illuminates small particles and helps in detecting any entrained or emulsified water.
When the initial visual inspection is complete, keep the sample still for an hour or more. A second visual inspection can be made to detect any water separation or accumulation of particles at the bottom. Use a magnet to check if the particles are ferrous in nature, this would indicate the presence of wear debris.
While it is always beneficial to have certain instruments onsite to have a quick analysis, to carry out the full analysis the oil samples will have to be sent to a well-equipped laboratory.
The most common instruments that are found onsite are - a viscometer, a hot plate with a dimmer switch, a particle counter, a patch test kit with a comparator, a Schiff’s reagent test, acid and base number test kits, a magnet for quick ferrous-density inspection, a laser light for debris inspection, and portable water testers.
The filter cart is an integral equipment set for lubrication technicians. It enables them to perform a number of tasks as given below:
Power Flush – Reduce the oil level in the stump or tank and flow oil at high velocity across the bottom for pushing out the sediment at the bottom.
Wand Flush – Attach a wand to one of the cart hoses and use it to discharge at high pressure (thus kicking up adherent debris) and reverse the flow so that the wand vacuums the sediment.
Transfer Cart – Used to transfer oil from storage containers such as drum and tote to the lubricant compartment of the machine.
Cleaning Stored Lubricant – Draw contamination out of the lubricant by multi-passing fluid inside and out of the tote or drum.
System Drain – For better washing the stump and reservoir, pump the waste oil out rather than simply relying on gravity to wash out debris.
Line flush – Many components and remote lines need to be partitioned before flushing. Filter cart can be used to do that easily.
Hose Cleaning – Before installing new hoses on a machine, its components can be flushed using a filter cart to eliminate any debris.
Offline filtration - To supplement a machine’s filtration, Filter carts can be permanently mounted to a machine.
Equipment Rebuild Flushing – After repairs and servicing, Machines need to be thoroughly flushed before returning them to service.
Equipment commissioning – Transport and storage results in dirt and debris entering the machine so it needs to be flushed before commissioning.
Contamination control inside a well-designed lube room starts even before the oil reaches the machine with the help of various special tools apart from a filter cart. They include refillable and sealable top-up containers, parts cleaning station, dedicated grease guns for each lubricant, cleaning tools, posted procedures for all lubrication tasks and labels to identify all devices that utilize lubricants.
The most important tools that a lube tech has are arguably his safety equipment. Special clothes to protect against potential hazards, safety glasses, steel-toe boots, earplugs and hard hats are all standard personal protection equipment. Other safety items that are necessary, change according to the job like breathing masks, gloves, etc.
Training with regards to safety measures is a common requirement for any activity inside the plant, including lubrication. For lubrication technicians, however, the training should go beyond safety. Maintenance of machines whether proactive, predictive or preventive, can often be complicated. Based on the tasks that are to be performed, special lubrication training should be obtained.
Certifications such as Machine Lubricant Analyst (MLA) and Machine Lubrication Technician (MLT) can be achieved via such training from the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML). These certifications are extremely beneficial for a lube tech.