An essential part of maintenance in almost every production facility is lubrication, and machinery manufacturing is no different. Lubrication and its related activities amount to approximately forty present of your total lubrication maintenance costs. To optimize such a large part of your operations for achieving optimum reliability and maximum benefits, you have to account for all the lubrication related factors known as the five “R”s of lubrication.
An effective lubrication system firstly requires detailed mapping of all its lubrication points, describing their lubrication requirements, working conditions and criticality. Using this information, you can easily do the first three “R”s – Selecting the most suitable lubricant, determining the required quantity of lubricant and calculating the ideal time and frequency for lubrication.
The fourth “R” refers to best practices that are to be followed for proper lubrication, like colour-coding, tagging or other such methods. This is important as it helps in avoiding cross-contamination.
Once the application conditions, maintenance strategy and asset criticality are analyzed; the fifth “R” can be defined. This helps in selecting the points that can have automatic lubrication if you have a good knowledge of automatic lubrication.
In this article, we will discuss all the factors related to Automatic lubrication system.
If you compare automated lubrication to manual lubrication, you will notice that the automatic lubrication system is better at reducing waste and reducing the risk of failure. It also requires less labour, it is clean and improves environmental health and safety.
Let us explore each of these benefits in detail.
The quantity of lubricant that should applied to a bearing is determined by the space available inside the bearing and re-lubrication intervals are determined by working conditions and degradation rate of the lubricant. Whereas, an automatic lubrication system delivers accurate amounts of lubricant, to each lubrication point, at the right time. This reduces the risk of bearing failure and lubrication wastage.
Let us consider an example for a better understanding. A bearing that requires re-lubrication, every week with 2 grams of lubricant should receive 1.3 strokes from a standard grease gun. But delivering 0.3 strokes from the grease gun is difficult so the technician will most likely give two strokes of lubrication. So every time the machine is lubricated, it will receive 3 grams of lubricant instead of 2 grams. At this rate the bearing will take 156 grams of lubrication over a span of one year (3 grams for 52 weeks equals 156 grams); instead of its intended requirement of 104 grams (2 grams for 52 weeks). This means that up to 50 % of your lubricant will be wasted.
Automatic lubrication system accurately delivers the right quantity of lubricant with the right frequency. Delivering the lubricant in the right frequency is equally important as longer intervals between re-lubrication results in lubricant degradation and may affect the health of the bearing.
Making manual lubrication processes as clean as possible, can be a big challenge. External contamination that enters the lubricant will affect bearing health and increase the risk of a malfunction. To ensure that the lubricant is safe from contamination, you need to have a cap on the grease fitting of every lubrication point. Additionally, your entire relubrication process should be clean for every lubrication point, every time.
To illustrate this point let us consider our previous example of a bearing that requires 2 grams of lubricant every week. In this case, the bearing will be exposed to contamination 52 times in a year apart from being over or under-lubricated every time. By comparison, an automatic single-point lubrication system will supply accurate and continuous flow of clean lubricant. This ensures that the bearing is in proper condition and there is no lubricant contamination.
Automatic lubrication helps in saving your technician’s time by replacing the simple task of using the grease gun. This helps you to get the maximum value from your maintenance technicians if they manage the lubrication program by:
While Automatic lubrication takes over basic activities performed by your staff, it cannot replace technicians who deliver value to your lubrication system.
As shown in the points mentioned earlier, improper relubrication can result in a lot of lubricant wastage. These lubricants are very harmful when exposed to people or the environment. While the impact improper relubrication largely depends on your waste disposal practices, waste is generally bad for the environment. Automatic lubrication also helps greatly in reaching points that are difficult or hazardous to reach.
Automatic lubrication has many benefits, but it shouldn’t be considered a key to success. This technology is a tool to achieve your goals and it should be used only after accounting for all the factors that might affect your plant or lubrication system: