Lubricant’s impact on plant sustainability objectives

When one thinks of plant sustainability, the concept of proper lubricant management is not typically the first thing that jumps to mind. However, how lubricants are selected, monitored and maintained can have a fundamental impact on a plant’s sustainability objectives. Lubricants are often considered the lifeblood of machines.
By Greg Livingstone, CleanOil September 15, 2008

When one thinks of plant sustainability, the concept of proper lubricant management is not typically the first thing that jumps to mind. However, how lubricants are selected, monitored and maintained can have a fundamental impact on a plant’s sustainability objectives.

Lubricants are often considered the lifeblood of machines. When a lubricant is in excellent condition, it allows all of the other components of the equipment to run smoother. Conversely, when poor lubrication practices are employed, a whole host of issues can arise that impact sustainability. If your organization has initiatives to improve sustainability, the first step is to examine the entire life cycle cost and impact on sustainability of your lubricants. Although this sounds obvious, this step influences every aspect of how your lubricant management program is established and how much is appropriate for you to invest into it.

How lubricants can help you be sustainable

Lubricants are non-renewable resources. Effort made to maximize the life of the lubricant reduces a plant’s carbon footprint. This can be realized across a broad spectrum of activities such as lower energy consumption in prematurely disposing of lubricants to reducing the amount of paper required in creating orders for lubricant disposal and new lubricant purchases. Reducing the disposal requirements also minimizes the liabilities associated with off-site disposal.

Selecting the most favorable lubricant for the application can also increase sustainability. Exploring the use of advanced fluid chemistries such as synthetics will increase the fluid’s life and potentially have a significant impact on energy requirements. Too often, lubricants are considered commodity items and purchased based on price. However, there is a considerable difference in the performance of lubricants %%MDASSML%% even if they all meet the same OEM specification. In order to determine which oil manufacturer is producing the best product for your application, talk with other plants that use similar equipment to yours. Read online user group postings, and establish testing benchmarks to evaluate the performance of your lubricants.

Minimizing the amount of contaminants in the lubricant not only keeps it in pristine condition, but can also extend the life, productivity and efficiency of your machine. Over the years, significant advancements have been made in contamination control technologies. Breather technologies and filters provide more value for the money than ever before. Next-generation technologies not only remove wear metals, dirt and debris, but can also remove oil degradation products. These sub-micron particles can be removed with electrostatic separators.

Some proactive engineers are also investigating methods to extend oil life by performing strategic “bleed-and-feeds” to maintain additive levels. A more aggressive approach is to replenish some of the additive components when they deplete. Additive replenishment provides a significant impact on a plant’s sustainability initiative, since only a very small percentage of additive will extend the life of the lubricant. This process sounds very appealing on paper, but in reality it requires extremely advanced chemistry knowledge and formulation expertise to be carried out successfully. Additive replenishment is considered one of the riskier techniques to extend fluid life.

The key objective in a lubricant management program is to optimize the life of the lubricant, which means knowing precisely when to change the fluid before it causes adverse effects on the plant’s equipment. Extending the lubricant’s drain interval to beyond its useful life can have a very negative impact on sustainability, and your plant’s bottom line. This is where condition monitoring tools are an essential part of this equation. For example, using condition monitoring tools that can measure the active additive components in your lubricant (example: ASTM D6971) can help ensure that you do not change your oil too early or too late.

World-class lubes: the way to sustainability

The proper management of lubricants can have a net benefit to your organization’s bottom line. Optimizing the life and performance of a lubricant lowers your plant’s environmental impact, improves productivity, lowers energy costs, extends the life of your assets and helps you attain higher reliability. This just makes good business sense. It is no wonder that the organizations with the best lubricant management program are also among the most profitable and successful organizations in the world. The next time you’re reflecting on ways to improve your sustainability efforts and your bottom line, don’t leave lubricants out of the equation.

Author Information
Greg Livingstone, CLS, is director of fluid technology for