Clean is Green: Profit from Equipment Cleanliness

Bernie Hall
Tags: green manufacturing, energy management

Clean is Green: Profit from Equipment Cleanliness

Maintaining clean oil is one of the most valuable investments a company can make, especially for those focusing on higher profitability and sustainability. Oil cleanliness has a direct impact on machine reliability, productivity and uptime — three factors that directly contribute to a company’s bottom line.

Clean oil also increases a company’s sustainability and reduces its equipment’s oil consumption rates, leading to more efficient machines. For example, studies have found that companies that upgrade their lubricants can reduce their power requirements by nearly 15%.

One way to measure power improvements is by tracking the machine’s operating temperature. Proper lubrication reduces the friction between two surfaces. When friction is reduced, less electricity is required to operate the machine, decreasing the machine’s temperature. These reductions will often give companies the biggest return on investment and significantly reduce their carbon footprint.

Did You Know?

Manufacturing consumes 54% of the world's total energy each year.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

In a competitive market, companies that maintain machine reliability and uptime can keep their costs at a more stable level. These clean machines consume less, produce more and break down less frequently — all factors that lead to increased profits.

Get Clean

Set Targets

The first step to getting clean is to set goals for target lubrication cleanliness. ISO 4406:99 is the reporting standard for fluid cleanliness. A code number is assigned to particle count values derived at three different micron levels:

The ISO 4406 cleanliness code should be clearly recorded and coded for all lubricated equipment.

Here is an ISO code of 19/14/12 as an example:

While the ISO code is a simple way to understand particle counts, it is important to note that for each unit increase in the code number, the number of particles typically doubles. Although ISO cleanliness is helpful, there are other factors, based on the equipment and its operating temperature, that should be considered.

You can base cleanliness targets on:

The more sensitive a component is to contamination, the cleaner the system should be. Likewise, the more critical a system, the cleaner the oil should be. You should also be mindful of Original Equipment Manufacturers’ (OEMs) cleanliness guidelines, which must often be met to maintain warranty terms.

The table below outlines target cleanliness levels for common component types.

Even with targets set, remember that oil cleanliness is not achieved through any one practice. Most plants will need to revise or upgrade their lubricant storage and handling methods as part of a holistic contamination control strategy.

New and Stored Oil

Ensuring oil cleanliness starts at the source — new oil delivery. Remember, no manufacturing or delivery process is perfect; human error and cross-contaminated delivery trucks, drums and totes can all be responsible for introducing contaminants into your machine. If you’re not actively checking your lubricant before putting it into service, you’re risking your machine.

While inspecting new oil deliveries, consider using a sampling adapter, which draws a sample directly from the lines of bulk fluid deliveries. Additionally, invest in drum and totes mounts, which allow you to sample, monitor, filter and transfer oil from storage containers without introducing contaminants. Other potential investments to consider include:

·         Flush face quick connects: Connect drum tote mount to filtration system.

·         High-flow sampling valve: Check on oil without opening the drum.

·         Desiccant breather: Protect against moisture and particle contamination.

It’s important to ensure your drum and tote storage areas are clean. A properly designed lube room must be functional, safe and expandable. Oil drums and containers should be stored indoors and away from temperature variations whenever possible. You may also consider period filtration and agitation to prevent additive settlement.

Finally, lubricants should always be properly labeled and easily identifiable through labels and a color coding system. This ensures the right oil goes from the correct storage container into the appropriate machine every time, effectively preventing cross-contamination.

Oil Transferring

It’s critical to transfer oil to machines or other containers cleanly. If shortcuts are taken during this stage, all the time, effort and money spent building your bulk storage system and ensuring the quality of your new oil will be wasted.

With that in mind, here are some tips for transferring oil:

·         Remove plastic funnels, which attract dirt and moisture.

·         Keep transport containers clean and away from dirt.

·         Consider installing flush face quick connects on drains and breather adapters for adding re-filtered oil to the machine without opening the system to airborne contaminants.

Maintain Cleanliness

Oil Analysis and Oil Sampling

Maintaining cleanliness and controlling contamination is a top priority. Contamination continues to be one of the biggest causes of component failure and declining productivity, and it’s estimated that it costs ten times more to remove contaminants from equipment than to exclude them.

Investing in oil analysis and improved oil sampling will help you achieve and maintain oil cleanliness. For example, while particle counting determines the number and size of the particles being generated, it doesn’t reveal what type of particles are present. Fortunately, additional oil analysis testing can provide this information.

One common contaminant that causes catastrophic damage to your machines is water. Water can:

·         Form rust

·         Increase wear rates

·         Create acids through chemical reactions between the additives and base oils

·         Create biological formations and growth in low-temperature applications

·         Weaken critical additives and additive function

There are several methods for testing for water, such as a hot plate tester (crackle test) or Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. Regardless of your test slate, oil samples are the key to a successful oil analysis program. It is critical to take a relevant, data-rich oil sample when measuring particle counts to properly determine the contamination level. Incorrect oil sampling can adversely affect the cleanliness of the sample and sample bottle, which skews results and leads to incorrect insights.

Oil sampling valves make it possible to take reliable oil samples while the equipment is running, ensuring the sample is a direct representation of the equipment’s condition. Because sampling valves are installed on the equipment, they ensure each sample comes from the same location and that the sample will contain information-rich oil that can be trended against previous samples. Sampling valves are typically faster and cleaner than other sampling methods.

Clean Profits

Extend Equipment Life

Cleaning your lubricants by as little as one ISO cleanliness code can increase your equipment’s life by 35%.

The Noria Life Extension Chart demonstrates the relative life of a component based on its cleanliness. Let’s take hydraulic systems as an example. If you improve oil cleanliness levels from an ISO 21/18 to an ISO 15/12, component life can be increased by a factor of five. It’s important to remember that actual savings will vary depending on:

Extending equipment life can also bridge the time gap needed to receive a replacement part. For example, a chemical manufacturer installed condition monitoring equipment on gearboxes to help meet their cleanliness target. As reports came in, they saw the gearboxes trending higher in iron levels. Upon further investigation, they found the gearbox operating outside its original design envelope. While they still had to order a new gearbox, they made the necessary adjustments and prolonged its remaining life until the replacement came in.

Reduce Unnecessary Maintenance

Contamination is a leading cause of component failure and reduced productivity. Oil analysis is an early predictor of impending machine failure on the PF curve (potential to functional failure). The PF curve represents the behaviors of an asset before functional failure occurs; this decline may last days, weeks or even months, depending on factors such as the equipment’s condition.

When used effectively, its early warning capabilities can provide a significant amount of time for maintenance members to plan and execute the necessary maintenance activities before functional failure occurs.

Optimize Drain Intervals

A thorough oil analysis program is essential for optimizing drain intervals. Without analysis information, you don’t know the condition of your oil or if it’s fit for service. Utilizing oil analysis information can extend drain intervals, reducing not only oil disposal costs but your company’s carbon footprint. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, each gallon of lubrication contributes nearly 24 pounds of CO2. By reducing your carbon footprint, you can become more efficient, reducing operating costs and bolstering your bottom line.

For example, a plastics manufacturer wanted to optimize their drain intervals. With their previous preventive maintenance strategy, they were performing automatic oil changes semi-annually. These oil changes cost the company over $12,000 in oil disposal costs, and they were discarding nearly 1,000 gallons of oil a year.

To resolve the issue, they installed a closed monitoring system on their gearboxes, improving their overall sampling practices and giving them a better representation of their equipment’s oil condition. This new system moved them from time-based oil changes to condition-based changes. By filtering more efficiently and adjusting their oil change practices, they only discarded 160 gallons of oil in a year and significantly reduced both their oil disposal costs and their carbon footprint.

What You Need to Do

Adjusting your lubrication program will move your company toward a more profitable and sustainable future.

To start, invest in quality lubricants. Remember to double-check with the lubricant manufacturer and distributor to ensure the right oil is in the right machine.

Next, invest in an oil analysis program with condition-based monitoring and maintenance strategies to maintain lubricated equipment. With oil analysis, companies can monitor oil health, contamination and machine wear. When abnormal conditions are identified, immediate action can be taken to prevent functional failure.

Representative Sampling is Key

Oil analysis results are only as good as the submitted sample. In fact, labs often report that over 20% of submitted samples are not representative of their system. A sample taken randomly, often in “dead zones” or the bottom of the barrel, can create a false positive. Another cause of false positives includes the introduction of airborne contaminants or moisture into the sample.

However, a false negative sample, which equates to missing a problem, is worse. This can occur if samples are taken cold, after particulates have settled, from the top zone, or after fresh fluid has been added. False negatives threaten to undermine the confidence of any lubrication program.

Repeatable Sampling is Vital

To trust your reliability decisions, you must eliminate variability. Taking hot, active samples of the actual lubricating fluid from the same location every time is vital to fully understanding the changing dynamic of that specific piece of equipment, the lubricant, and the operating conditions.


By taking care of and monitoring your lubricants during storage, use, and testing, you not only take care of your critical assets and your profitability, but the environment around you.

Through the maintenance of your lubricants, you can effectively reduce your waste, decrease your spending, and reduce your carbon footprint. Focusing on the health of the lubricant allows us to build a solid foundation for the facility to thrive.