Develop and execute a sound lubrication strategy

Ahmet Guven from Shell discusses lubrication strategies and methods for companies looking to improve efficiency and maintenance


Ahmet Guven, global solutions product application specialist for hydraulics and circulating oils for Shell International. Courtesy: Shell InternationalThe lubrication of the gears, motors, and bearings in your plant is a given. The how, when, and why of lubrication often is a less precise process. Plant Engineering content manager Bob Vavra discussed how to develop a sound lubrication plan with Ahmet Guven, global solutions product application specialist for hydraulics and circulating oils for Shell:

PE: Let's start with the basics: What are the most common mistakes manufacturers make when executing a lubrication strategy? 

Guven: Fluid selection is vitally important in operating all hydraulic machines, because most produce high volumes of product and operate on a continuous basis. Any production stoppage will of course impact directly on the operator’s bottom line. Moreover, the equipment is expensive—typically in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars each, so operators are well advised to ensure that they have selected the most appropriate fluid. The cost of that fluid is just a fraction of the cost of the machine. More forward-thinking operators understand that it would be a false economy to consider the hydraulic fluid merely as an add-on to the overall operation.

Although most of the plant operators are aware of the importance of investing in a lubrication strategy, it is far more common to find that no such plans exist in a majority of organizations. This also varies from region to region. For example, in Europe, where plant manufacturers are more established, they are more likely to have lubrication procedures already in place.

In my experience, there are generally three common errors committed by organizations when it comes to lubricants.

Firstly, plant managers tend to have too many lubricants. For example, a plant operator purchased a lubricant of a specific viscosity two years ago and then someone else in the team introduced a different one from a different supplier and started using it at the same time, so you get an element of cross-over usage.

Secondly, plant operators often don’t have a lubrication schedule set up. This document offers guidance on oil change intervals and other tips that are related to oil handling in the plant.

Thirdly, some plant manufacturers don’t use any software to systematize the use of their lubricants. Having an up-to-date application allows businesses to increase their output and reduce headcount in the workplace as a result. 

PE: How many of these mistakes are attributable to training and execution, and how many are issues as a result of trying to reduce costs within a plant? 

Guven: A recent survey commissioned by Shell found that 70% of all operational disruptions were due to the condition of the fluid, or due to the fluid being unsuitable for the application. Mechanical failures caused 10% of the failures, while lack of knowledge contributed to another 10%. Pushing units beyond their recommended operating speed, pressure, or volume contributed to 5% of the problems, while the remaining 5% had miscellaneous causes. These typically would include excessive packing friction on hydraulic rams and chatter that prevents the oilways from being sufficiently lubricated.

To develop a successful lubrication strategy, I would recommend plant managers to make a list of all the equipment that is available on-site. Secondly, it is mandatory to keep a log of the lubricants that are recommended to be used for the plant. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to list the lubricants which are actually being used in the machinery.

Some plant manufacturers follow OEM specifications without taking into account the special high temperatures and high load conditions of their specific operations and purchase an excessively wide range of lubricants for use in the various components of the plant. Sometimes it makes sense to use the same lubricant for different operations, which helps to reduce the number of lubricants used in a plant.

Developing a lubrication manual could also help operators systematize the process, outlining the types of the equipment that need lubrication as well as the lubricants and the quantities required. The lubrication manual can be kept either manually or electronically. Lubrication needs can also be affected by the work order that is in operation at a particular plant. 

PE: How do you educate plant managers and maintenance managers on a proper lubrication strategy, and also the cost of not having a good strategy?

Guven: More often than not, plant manufacturers blame their equipment breakdowns on mechanical and maintenance failures rather than poor lubrication. Plant managers would often rather replace their equipment than change their lubrication strategy. Effective lubrication can help extend the life of pieces of equipment and avoid unexpected costs as a result of unplanned downtime. It might have been the bearing that has broken down, but it could have been caused by poor lubrication.

To educate our customer plant managers, we offer a range of training programs, mainly on-site so that we can replicate accurate training environments.  We offer this training to specialists from a number of departments, ensuring that a lubrication “culture” is fostered in the organization.

The cost of purchasing the right lubricant is a fraction of the cost of the maintenance budget and can vary between 1% and 3%; however, if you use the right lubricant, this helps eliminate the risk of the equipment breakdown and, as a result, all associated costs. These training programs include lube surveys, training on fundamental lubrication application, lubricating gears, hydraulic oils, and the use of greases. 

PE: What do your customers tell you are their main pressure points when looking at lubrication within the plant?

Guven: Our experience shows that customers make their lubrication strategy decisions under significant pressure from the purchasing departments. They are forced to buy cheaper lubricants, but this is a false economy.

Secondly, most of the time customers don’t realize that the breakdown is caused not by the mechanical failure but by poor lubrication.

Thirdly, choosing the right lubricant sometimes can be difficult. OEMs provide plant manufacturers with guidelines but no instructions on how to meet any specific temperature or load requirements.

Fourthly, a number of our customers report leakage as a problem. This significantly increases the consumption of the lubricant, sometimes by up to 30%. At Shell, we implement specifically designed dyes to identify where such leakages are happening, and this seems to be a very effective tool in convincing our customers to optimize their lubrication strategy.

Our experience shows that our customers are mainly interested in lubricants’ energy efficiency characteristics, which may help them reduce electricity consumption. The top performers in this area go beyond just avoiding production problems. Some are selecting new fluids to unlock performance improvements. For instance, AGI Freden, a high-volume injection molding company in Germany, recently cut its electricity consumption when it switched to our new state-of-the-art fluid—Shell Tellus S4 ME hydraulic fluid.

Before upgrading, AGI Freden had run its molding machines on Shell’s former top-tier hydraulic fluid for some 48,000 hours (6 years) without a fluid change. With  the company operating at maximum capacity, running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it was crucial that machine downtime be limited, and that there were no subsequent production upsets. In addition, the management was not able to commit resources away from its more immediate production requirements without a compelling business case. 

PE: What new kinds of lubrication needs or issues are showing up in manufacturing, and how are companies like Shell working to address them? 

Guven: Technology is improving every day, with electronics taking over many mechanical operations. We call them mechatronics. This is dictated by the changing conditions of the industrial environment. For example, we need to meet the requirements of high speeds, high loads, anti-oxidant properties, smaller spaces, etc. Two years ago highly loaded systems were working around 350 bars, and now with high technology equipment we will be talking no less than 450 bars.

Shell’s investment in world-class technology helps us to deliver value to our customers. Innovation, product application, and technical collaboration are at the heart of our products. We invest significantly in technology and work closely with our customers to develop innovative lubricants. From the lab to the field, we directly apply our knowledge to help improve our customers’ performance, productivity, and profitability.

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