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Effective lubrication

Effective lubrication The wealth of features offered by today's automatic lubrication systems, which prevent machine wear and failure by delivering precisely regulated volumes of lubricant exactly where and when they are needed, are discussed by Phil Burge of SKF.

Effective lubrication is crucial to the efficient operation of machinery, but the need for re-lubrication at regular intervals is often overlooked. Even if lubricants are applied at specified intervals it is common in manual systems for either too little lubricant to be used, leading to machine wear and failure, or too much, creating excessive waste and increased cost.

The modern solution is to fit automatic lubrication systems that deliver precisely regulated volumes of lubricant, exactly where and when they are needed, helping to improve machine life and reduce operating costs. Today's lubrication systems offer a wealth of features, enabling the delivery of lubricant to be carried out easily and efficiently. These features now include ergonomically designed interfaces, compatibility with iOS and android apps, and tool-free set-up - all of which offer the opportunity to establish an efficient and easily managed lubrication regime.

For readers who may not yet appreciate the benefits of automated lubrication, let's consider a hypothetical scenario in which manual lubrication is carried out. Take for example, a bearing that has to be re-lubricated with 2g of grease every week. Using a standard grease gun this would mean that the bearing should receive about 1.3 'strokes'. However, manually delivering 0.3 strokes is difficult. So, in reality 2 strokes would likely be given. In other words, the bearing will receive 3g instead of 2g of lubricant each time. If we assume that the technician is satisfied with 2 strokes the bearing will receive 156g over the year instead of 104g. This means that up to 52 grams (50%) of grease is being wasted.

This leads us on to the issue of frequency. Most engineers are aware that insufficient lubricant can bring a system to a standstill because without lubrication the bearings will run dry and the elevated temperature will ultimately cause machine failure. However, it is also important to remember that too much lubricant can increase friction, increase temperature and effect the migration of grease into parts where it can cause damage, such as electrical motors.

An automatic lubrication system prevents these problems, delivering the right amount of grease at the right time to each lubrication point. This reduces both grease wastage and the risk of bearing failure.

A third issue is cleanliness and here again the manual process is vulnerable. For example, if the applicator (such as a grease gun or pump) is dirty, the lubrication process may be doing more harm than good; while attempting to protect the equipment with lubricant, the engineer is adding dirt into the system at the same time. Manual lubrication processes must be clean to ensure no external contamination ingress to the grease, and each lubrication point must have a cap on its grease fitting. Nevertheless, if the engineer re-lubricates a given point 52 times a year, the bearing is at risk of exposure to external contamination on 52 occasions, as well as to over or under lubrication.

By comparison, a properly installed automatic lubricator such as SKF's SYSTEM 24 will supply a continuous and accurate flow of fresh and clean lubricant, keeping the application in proper condition, while at the same time preventing contaminant ingress. These easy to install and use devices deliver premium quality SKF lubricant, and allow a large number of lubrication points to be covered cost-effectively. By removing the need for manual lubrication practices, the end result is continuous and optimum lubrication of machine components, even in applications subject to high levels of contamination, or in demanding, hard to reach, remote and hazardous areas.

The automatic lubricator is a powerful tool that significantly reduces demands on maintenance, but even the best equipment requires a little care and attention. Regular inspection is still required to achieve the best results from an automated system, while inspection will help to identify installation issues (damaged fittings, leaking or blocked pipes) and, of course, manual assistance will eventually be required to change or refill lubricants. The lubricant must also be appropriately selected before lubrication system selection is made. Not all lubricants are suitable for all automatic lubrication systems and, considering that investments in components such as high quality precision bearings are made to reduce failures and keep machinery running smoothly, it is counter-productive to then maintain these parts with the wrong type of lubricant.

With appropriate consideration given to specification and installation, automatic lubricators offer strong potential to minimise maintenance, enhance performance and cut costs. There are now automatic lubrication solutions available on the market for virtually every application, and it is difficult to imagine a critical application that is not worth equipping with an automatic lubrication device.
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