The Evolution of Lubrication Technologies in Predictive Maintenance

Rick Davies, Plant Tours
Tags: predictive maintenance, reliability-centered maintenance, maintenance and reliability

The Evolution of Lubrication Technologies in Predictive Maintenance

Lubrication technologies help to ensure the smooth running of industrial machinery and equipment. Proper lubrication reduces friction and wear, thereby producing less heat so extending the lifespan of the components, and reducing downtime. Engineers and industrial maintenance professionals should stay abreast of the latest advancements in lubrication technology such as advanced synthetic lubricants and condition monitoring systems which can enhance reliability and reduce maintenance costs while increasing overall productivity.

Historical Overview of Lubrication Technology and Advancements

The earliest evidence of lubrication technology dates to ancient Egypt, where animal fat and vegetable oils were used to reduce friction on wheeled carts. By the 8th Century whale oil was being used on ships to lubricate rudders and pulleys, but it wasn’t until 1845 that industrial lubricants were first used in cotton spinning mills which most experts agree marks the beginning of the modern lubricant industry. Although the first American oil strike was in 1859, lubricant manufacturers didn’t start processing petroleum-based oils in any volume until the early 20th century to meet the demands of the auto industry. 
The use of solvents and related processes to improve lubricant performance began in the 1920s and additives to increase lubrication lifespan were introduced in the 1930s and 1940s.  By the 1950s the use of additives was widespread and commercial lubrication oils offered enhanced oxidation and corrosion resistance, significantly increasing their service life. Synthetic lubricants were created in the 1950s, initially to meet specialized demands from the aviation and aerospace industries. 
This technology directly led to the widespread introduction of the modern multigrade automotive engine oils we see today. This evolution of industrial lubricants continues at a rapid pace with the development of increasingly advanced products to meet the industrial demands of modern machinery, balanced against the need for environmental responsibility. An awareness of the historical development of lubricants and the rate of advancement is useful as a background for engineers to understand the need to stay current with advancements in lubrication technology.

Understanding the Impact of Proper Lubrication on Equipment Lifespan

This impact of lubrication on the lifespan of machinery can be explained by detailing the importance of correct lubrication and highlighting the detrimental effects of inadequate lubrication.

Importance of Proper Lubrication

Proper lubrication is essential for maximum longevity of industrial equipment. The lifespan of machinery can be significantly enhanced as lubricant reduces friction and therefore wear and tear on moving parts. This reduces the likelihood of breakdowns, costly repairs, and equipment downtime. Industrial maintenance professionals must ensure machinery is adequately lubricated to maintain efficient performance over a long lifespan. 
Regular lubrication maintenance has been shown to significantly prolong the lifespan of machinery, however over-lubrication can be detrimental. Excessive lubricant can cause overheating and introduce contaminants which can lead to premature equipment breakdowns. Although maintaining a proper lubrication schedule does require additional time and effort, the reduction in breakdowns and repairs plus higher efficiency over a longer lifespan, more than makes up for the additional time invested. Engineers need to allocate resources to lubrication schedules and perform regular inspections so any issues can be identified and rectified promptly.

Effects of Inadequate Lubrication

Inadequate lubrication causes excessive heat leading to wear and tear on components which leads to premature equipment failures. When machinery lacks the proper lubrication, it does not last as long, requires additional maintenance and repairs, and can even be a safety hazard. Insufficient lubrication can cause catastrophic machine failure, explosions, and fires.

The Value of Effective Audits and Observing Lubrication Practices in Action

The deceptively simple process of observing industrial practices in real-time to help identify and address issues in a useful way is often referred to as a Gemba walk and was initially popularized by Taiichi Ohno, the founder of the Toyota Production System. In lubrication practices, this observation process comprises audits and monitoring.

Conducting Lubrication Audits

Lubrication audits are systematic evaluations of lubrication practices and schedules to ensure that machinery and equipment are being properly lubricated in an industrial setting. These audits are essential for maintaining the efficiency and longevity of the machinery and involve the examination of all aspects related to lubrication, including types of lubricants, the frequency of lubrication, the methods of application, and the overall condition of the equipment. 
Conducting lubrication audits allows engineers and maintenance professionals to identify potential issues and take proactive actions to prevent premature equipment failures and costly repairs. Audits help to optimize lubrication practices by ensuring the right lubricants are used at the right times and in the right quantities.  Although audits can be time-consuming and a challenge for busy engineers and maintenance professionals, they save time and money over the long term.

Monitoring Lubrication Practices

This involves observing and evaluating the actual application of lubricants on equipment and machinery in real time. This monitoring allows maintenance professionals to ensure that proper lubrication practices are being used correctly and to address any issues as they arise. Real-time monitoring provides immediate feedback so engineers can quickly identify and rectify any problems before they cause expensive equipment damage. Observing lubrication practices in real time allows for easy mentoring and continuous improvement encouragement. This monitoring also allows tracking of performance metrics and trends so engineers can implement any necessary changes to enhance efficiency in the process. 

The Main Challenges in Lubrication for Predictive Maintenance


Economic Benefits of Advanced Lubrication in Maintenance Strategies

Correct lubrication strategies can provide several economic benefits including extended equipment lifespan, reduced maintenance costs, improved energy efficiency, enhanced productivity, and better safety. The only downsides to implementing an effective lubrication schedule are some additional man-hours and lubricant costs related to regular maintenance. However, these costs are more than offset by less downtime, less capital expenditure, fewer accidents, and improved efficiency.