Some Common Lubrication Problems and Their Solutions

Issues related to your engine need a technical consultation that includes in-depth knowledge of engine problems and how to solve them. This article is intended to guide you on this topic through practical experience gained in different industrial sectors such as power plants, refineries, food-processing plants, etc. Here the discussion will revolve around one of the most common and recurring phenomena noticed throughout the industries – lubrication problems. This article will help you understand some common lubrication problems and shed some light on their solutions.

Absence of Documented Procedure

The success of a great lubrication program mostly relies on the people doing the work. Therefore, for its utmost success, it must be done by someone with sheer perfection. But what we see today is the lack of experience in the technicians; this is because many experienced ones are retiring, raising a great concern. So the personal work experience and knowledge of this particular job are also getting eloped following the retirement of this personnel. As a result, this has become one of the most common lubrication problems.

It is noticed that some plants have appointed their lube-technician position to one person for years! Of course, these experts have mastered their domains and know every detail of the machines; however, it is also important to create a legacy of this commitment and knowledge for the following generation of lube-tech professionals. But sadly, this legacy is not created due to the lack of proper procedure and documentation. So it steeps the learning curve and results in difficulties for lube technicians and, eventually, the lubrication process.

To reduce the blow and get the same perfection from the new personnel, documented procedures and practical supervision are needed.

Several published books and articles show the best way to document the procedures. However, We must practically implement the documented procedures to achieve the complete effect.

Image Source: UE Systems

The Solution

  • The precise documentation of every task in the lube program will help create a complete procedure.
  • Writing the procedure must not contain only the applications such as regreasing, oil changes, etc. Still, it should also contain the actions like handling the lubricants in storage, purifying them upon arrival, and their disposal after use.
  • The procedures must be documented, keeping in mind the best practices, and not represent anything casual currently being done in the plant. For example, putting new oil into service right after it arrives in the plant without being properly tested or decontaminated is a poor practice that one cannot document.
  • Best practices should be implemented and included in the written procedure. As in the example mentioned above, a best practice is sampling new oil on delivery to confirm the properties and test for contaminants. We must decontaminate the new oil if contamination is found before it is up for service or stored in storage containers.
  • Other best practices we must document in the procedure include inspections, top-ups, and other small tasks in the lubrication program. In short, documenting anything currently being done is not the way; the documented procedure’s design should enable the program to reach a world-class standard.

Incorrect Sampling Points and Hardware

Oil analysis is one of the most valuable tools when used correctly. Using this tool, you can monitor the oil and machine’s health. It also helps to detect malfunctions before they reach any catastrophic level. While obtaining all the advantages of an oil analysis program, it is imperative to have the correct sample points and hardware for the job.

Incorrect sampling points/hardware selection will lead to samples full of historical data leading to one of the most popular and common lubrication problems. This happens because many plants consider oil sampling a trivial option. After all, they take samples from the drain port or use the inconsistent drop-tube method. Unfortunately, sampling in such a way will lead you to a sample with historical data like layers of debris and mud.

Wear trash trends will also be difficult to verify, as these samples usually contain many contaminants.

The drop-tube sampling method may require the machine to be brought out of service frequently. As a result, particles will be settled at the sump’s bottom, preventing a good and corresponding sample from being reaped from the system.

Image Source: Isel Inc.

The Solution

  • All machines used in the oil analysis must be ready for the correct sampling hardware. However, a slight modification of the machine can help you achieve the right sampling ports.
  • Equipping splash-bathed segments like bearings or gearboxes with the valves of minimizing sampling along with the pilot-tube extensions can help immensely.
  • Extenders shall be hooked up into a ‘live’ zone near the gear teeth or the bearing, allowing the good and consistent sample to be taken from ‘live’ zones or areas where oil flow is facing turbulence.
  • You must also examine the circulating systems for the best sampling points possible. Usually, these systems require numerous points.
  • Primary point sampling is very important as the regular samples are represented to provide a picture of the whole system. The smartest way to locate such a point is on the principal return-line manifold before a return-line filter and in the area where the oil flow experiences turbulence (usually an elbow).
  • Following every lubricated segment, we must also place the secondary points in the return line. These points will help you to find the exact problem in the system after a primary point triggers an alarm.
  • Technicians and the installation of correct sampling hardware should also be experts in the best way to pull samples. All the sample tubing needs to be rinsed with five to ten times the dead space’s volume.
  • Intense attention should be given while reducing the sample contamination volume throughout the process. Applying these techniques can get you rid of these lubrication problems.
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Another phenomenon noticed in most plants is their inability to recognize the grease guns as a precision instruments. For this, they fail to realize the problems arising from their misuse.

The familiar but vague way to grease a bearing is to attach the grease gun and operate the lever till the grease is seen preventing from somewhere.

Although it can be effective for hinge pins and a few other applications where purging grease is not damaging, it is not suitable for all grease applications.

The common problem caused by such a greasing technique is called over-greasing, which results in severe consequences such as higher operating temperature, unanticipated failure of the bearing, and a significant threat of contaminant ingression.

The earrings need a set amount of grease for proper lubrication. A famous formula to calculate the volume of required grease in ounces is done by multiplying the outside diameter by the width (both in inches) and then multiplying by 0.114.

After calculating the quantity of grease needed, the amount of grease dispelled per stroke by the grease gun is also needed to be determined. You can do this by pumping ten strokes of grease onto a plate, weighing it on the digital scale, and dividing the weight by 10.

You need to be careful while using a grease gun as they can produce pressures of as much as 15,000 psi and may cause several problems if improperly used.

Image Source: Graco Inc.

The Solution

  • Apart from these above calculations, a few more concerns must be addressed to solve these common lubrication problems—for example, the variation of the grease output between guns. However, using one particular kind of grease gun will standardize the output. The grease used in the guns must be a particular type that we should check annually.
  • The bearings with grease cleaning fittings will help expel the excess grease without harming the seal’s integrity. Nonetheless, only well-trained professionals should be involved in the operation to regrease a wheel bearing. For this purpose, we should use the best grease gun; you can try the cordless grease gun that gives better control and proves very useful. This grease gun is also called a battery grease gun. 

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 Improper Labeling System

One of the most common lubrication problems occurs with the improper labeling system. Labeling is an essential part of all world-class lube programs. It reduces the danger of cross-contamination by giving insight into which lubricant is going where. Individuals can also get familiarized with the lube program to fill with the right grease or oil. Anything touching a lubricant should be dedicated and labeled to a single lubricant. 

Labels are more than just identifying the lubricants. These lube labels can also be barcoded to allow the assets in the plant to be integrated into the work-order generating automation system called a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS).

Labeling might be a simple step. However, a standard lube program involves labeling everything, including the machines, top-up containers, bulk containers, grease guns, etc. 

The Solution

  • A labeling system may take time to develop, but once it is correctly done, it will provide different types of information about both the lubricant and lubrication intervals.
  • The best label design should include a shape/color scheme for different lubricants. This provides fast visual evidence that helps determine the machine’s lubricant.
  • There is a well-developed system called the Lubricant Identification System. This includes the primary information for a machine, such as application, base oil, and viscosity.
  • After a labeling system is ready, we must apply the labels to the application devices and lubricant storage.

Ineffective OEM Breathers

Much original equipment manufacturer (OEM) breathers and dust caps do not restrain the ingression of tiny particles into the critical spaces of the machine and even oil. As a result, machine surfaces get damaged. The breathers are a cap packed with iron wool or mesh screen working as an obstacle for the larger particles.

For instance, the size of the lubricant film inside a journal is approximately 5-10 microns, and particles of that size can contaminate the oil, which greatly increases the chance of wear following a mechanical failure. 

Many OEM breathers pass particles to enter the oil, not restricting the moisture from getting in touch with the oil. The hygroscopic nature of the oil makes it absorb moisture from the ambient air. So, where there is higher humidity or steam, you will find the moisture can easily get past these breathers to be ingested into the oil. This can result in rust, increased hydrolysis rates and oxidation, and a more corrosive potential of acids produced due to the hydrolysis and oxidation.

Image Source: Grainger

The Solution

  • Replacing the OEM breathers with better quality versions can restrain the particulate and moisture ingression. However, it would help if you found one suitable for the particular operating conditions out of so many breather makers on the market. For example, when the ambient humidity is low, the particulate filter with the spin-on works fine even in arid environments.
  • In the case of moist environments, you need to go for a hybrid-type breather. This breather uses a particulate filter to catch solid particles and a desiccating state that bares moisture from the inside air.
  • The above pauses can also be threaded into the currently used breather port to have the quick installation done.

Few Other Lubrication Problems

Now it’s time for some honorable mentions in the list and the five above-mentioned common lubrication problems. These aren’t very common but still, need to be notified.

Constant-level Oilers

Constant-level oilers provide a small amount of oil to the sumps and replenish lost oil. However, if these devices are not correctly installed or maintained, they can cause problems. For instance, sediment can block the piping, making the bearing starve for oil. As a result, air pressure will raise the oil level causing additional drag and excess heat.

To prevent this problem, they should be installed straight and on the proper housing side to keep the shaft rotation towards the oiler. The oil level also needs to be set so that the bottom of the bearing is submerged in the oil.

High-speed Grease

High-speed grease meaning a higher viscosity grease, can cause viscose drag that may increase operating temperature and torque requirement for turning the bearing. With increased temperature, grease can drain quicker, causing a bearing failure due to a lack of lubricant or excessive heat.

To solve this problem, it is important to assess the bearings and determine the required operating viscosity. Then you must select a grease meeting the required viscosity with a proper additive package for the application.

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One-dimensional Filter Carts

Filter carts are very useful tools for any lube program. They decontaminate new and in-service lubricants to increase lubricant life and reduce equipment failure. They drain oil fast, top up with clean oil, flush outlines and hoses, and so on.

But unfortunately, many plants do not utilize them properly but limit their purpose by using them one-dimensionally to transfer oil from the drum to the reservoir.


These common lubrication problems are not all you find across industries; there are many more. However, this five standard lubrication you will encounter mostly in your whereas others vary depending on the processes or types of machines. Therefore, we should share the experience, success, and lessons learned while solving them with everyone in the industry. With the change and evolution of the industry, understanding the problems and solving them would be much easier.

Feature Image Source: Micro Lube

Mia A Chloe
Author: Mia A Chloe

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