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Lubricant choice key to prolonging equipment life

Lubricant choice key to prolonging equipment life
Shell UK Oil Products has released details of the "6 Rs of lubrication" to highlight the ways that planning and monitoring the use of oils and greases can help companies reduce operating costs and prolong equipment life.

When considering the importance of keeping plant running, the choice of lubricant is not always top of most operators\' lists. Lubricants are usually a small part of any company\'s overall maintenance budget so they are often seen as a commodity item bought on price alone. However, this can see companies missing out on the benefits of advanced lubricants which can justify the initial increase in price by helping lengthen oil drain periods and protecting machinery for longer, when compared to pure mineral oils. An effective and efficient lubricant regime can also help reduce waste and cut the disposal costs from maintenance which in turn can help companies to meet their environmental commitments.

"It\'s all about getting your lubrication programme right," explains Richard Lonsdale, UK marketing manager for Shell Industry Lubricants. "Operators need to ensure that they are using the right quantity of the right lubricants in the right way, that they are being delivered at the right time in the right place, and that they are sourcing them from the right people."

Shell\'s step-by-step guide starts by selecting the right lubricant for your particular application and Lonsdale is clear that if any of the six steps are not done correctly, then equipment may not perform as well as it could. The first thing to check is that you are using the Right Lubricant. "Machinery has become increasingly complex whilst often reducing in size so it uses smaller quantities of lubricants which need to work harder for longer.  That\'s where semi and fully synthetic oils have a real advantage over mineral oils because they protect equipment better and can extend oil drains to match the manufacturers\' recommendations." Operators need to check whether the lubricant meets the manufacturer\'s requirement, is the right product for the application, is fit for purpose and will cope with all changes in operating conditions.

Getting to the right parts of the machine
The second area to look at is whether the oil is in the Right Place as if it is not actually in the equipment it cannot lubricate and it cannot protect. Operators therefore need to check that the lubricant is getting to the right parts of the machinery. "It may sound basic stuff, but are there any indications that the lubricant is not getting to the right parts? Is the machine noisier than it should be or are there any signs of alarms? Are any of the supply lines damaged or broken," asks Lonsdale. 

Next, operators should examine the Right Time for lubrication and Lonsdale explains that this is not just about oil drains, but also about checking the frequency of lubrication. "Ask yourself whether the lubricant can get to the parts it needs to in time to protect as well as looking at when to change the oil and when to re-grease? For total loss systems, operators need to think of when to drip or pressure supply."

That leads to the question of whether the Right Amount of lubricant is being used at any given time and this volume can be determined by the manufacturer, by your oil supplier, or by your existing practices. Do you know what volume of oil is required and how do you confirm that this is being provided? Do you have flow meters, positive displacement valves, measuring containers, etc? And are you giving yourself more of a waste disposal problem than you need to?

There are also several ways of getting the lubricant into the equipment and this is where the Right Method plays such an important part. Does the machinery require manual application? Is it a semi-automated system with single point lubricators, drip feeders, etc? Or do you have centralised lubrication systems with timer operated grease pumps and measuring valves, recirculation oil systems, level operated oil top up systems, open gear spray systems, etc? "Whatever method you employ, is it working properly and in good condition and does it meet the OEM\'s requirements?" asks Lonsdale.

Finally, you need to have the Right People involved as the competence of staff and the quality of your supplier can greatly affect the outcome. "Do you have dedicated lubrication people? Or if this is a requirement you place on your production staff, do they know or care about lubrication?" questions Lonsdale. "Do they view lubrication as a minor part of the job or do they fully understand the value that effective lubrication can play in helping to reduce costs and prolonging equipment life?"

Machine operators need to adopt a structured approach to gain the right solution. They need to first of all consult the OEM\'s specifications and guidelines and refer to international specifications to select the right viscosity. The final fluid selection will be based on the individual application and operating conditions. Different OEMs make different recommendations and you will need a different lubricant if equipment is working less or more than initially expected or is operating at extremes of temperature.

"At Shell, we believe that by taking a \'6 Rs\' approach to lubrication and through working in close collaboration with our customers, it can help deliver a reduction in total costs of operations in a business, whilst giving peace of mind with proven and OEM approved lubricant technology," concludes Lonsdale.
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