Some Common Lubrication Problems and Their Solutions

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Issues related to your engine needs 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 very topic through some 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 of the common lubrication problems and will also put some light on their solutions.

 Absence of Documented Procedure

The success of a great lubrication program mostly relies on the people doing the work. For its utmost success, it needs to be done by someone with sheer perfection. But what we see today is the lack of experience in the technicians, this is because a lot of the experienced ones are retiring from the job raising a great concern. So the personal work experience and knowledge of this particular job are also getting eloped following the retirement of these 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! These experts have mastered their domains and know every bit of detail of the machines; however; it is also important to create a legacy of this commitment and knowledge to the following generation of lube-tech professionals. But sadly this legacy is not been created due to the lack of proper procedure and their 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 along with practical supervision is needed.

Now you find several published books and articles showing the best way to document the procedures, however, the documented procedures need to be practically implemented for the complete effect to be achieved.

The Solution

  • The precise documentation of every performed task in the lube-program will help to create a complete procedure.
  • Writing the procedure must not contain only the applications such as regreasing, oil changes, etc. but should also contain the actions like handling the lubricants in storage, purify them upon arrival and their disposal after use.
  • The procedures need to be documented keeping in mind the best practices and not represent anything casual currently been done in the plant. For example, practice like putting new oil into service right after its arrival in the plant without properly tested or decontaminated is considered a poor practice that cannot be documented.
  • Best practices should be implemented and included in the written procedure. As in the above-mentioned example, a best practice is sampling new oil on delivery to be confirmed about the properties and also tested for any contaminants. If contamination found, the new oil needs to be decontaminated before it is up for service or getting stored into storage containers.
  • Other best practices that need to be documented 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 rather the design of the documented procedure should be able to enable the program to reach a world-class standard.


Incorrect Sampling Points and Hardware

The oil analysis is one of the most valuable tools when it is used correctly. Using this tool you can monitor both 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 the right hardware for the job.

Incorrect sampling points/hardware selection will lead to samples that have full of historic data leading to one of the most popular and common lubrication problems. This happens because a lot of plants consider oil sampling as a trivial option. For the reason that they take samples from the drain port or using the pretty inconsistent drop-tube method. Sampling in such a way will lead you to a sample with historic data like layers of debris and mud.

Wear trash trends will also be difficult to verify, as these samples usually include a high amount of contaminants.

With the drop-tube method of sampling, you 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.

The Solution

  • All machines used in the oil analysis must be made ready for the correct sampling hardware. 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 minimizes sampling along with the pilot-tube extensions can help a great deal.
  • As extenders shall be hooked up into a ‘live’ zone near the gear teeth or the bearing, it will allow the good and consistent sample to be taken from ‘live’ zones or areas where oil flow is facing turbulence.
  • You also need to 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 from it 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 also in the area where the oil flow experiences turbulence (usually an elbow).
  • The secondary points also need to be placed in the return line following every lubricated segment. These points will help you to find the exact problem in the system after a primary point triggers an alarm.
  • Technicians, along with the installation of correct sampling hardware, should also be an expert in the best way for pulling 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 volume of contamination included in the sample throughout the whole process. Applying these techniques can get you rid of these lubrication problems.

 Overgrazing

Other phenomena noticed in most plants is their inability to recognize the grease guns as a precision instrument. For this, they fail to realize the problems that arise due to their misuse.

The common but vague way to grease a bearing is to simply attach the grease gun and operating the lever till the grease was seen preventing from somewhere.

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

The common problem caused by such greasing technique is called the over greasing that result in some serious consequences such as higher operating temperature, unanticipated failure of the bearing along with a great threat of contaminant ingression.

The earings 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 multiplied 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 10 strokes of grease onto a plate, weighing it on the digital scale, and finally, divide the weight by 10.

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

The Solution

  • Apart from these above calculations, few more concerns also need to 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 needs to be a particular type one that should be checked every year.
  • The bearings with grease cleaning fittings will help to expel the excess grease without hazarding the seal’s integrity. Nonetheless, only well-trained professionals should be involved in the operation to regrease a wheel bearing. For this purpose the best grease gun should be used, you can try for the cordless grease gun that gives better control and can prove to be very useful. This grease gun is also called a battery grease gun. 


 Improper Labeling System

One of the most common lubrication problems occurs with the improper labeling system. The labeling is an important part of all the world-class lube programs. It reduces the danger of cross-contamination by giving insight on 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).

The labeling might just be a simple step, however, a standard lube program involves labeling everything including the machines, top-up containers, bulk containers, grease guns and so on. 

The Solution

  • A labeling system may take time to develop, but once it is properly done, it will provide different types of information about both the lubricant and lubrication intervals.
  • The best of the label design should include a shape/color scheme for different lubricants used. This provides a shred of fast visual evidence that helps to determine the lubricant in the machine.
  • 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, the labels must be applied to the application devices and lubricant storage.

Ineffective OEM Breathers

Many of the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) breathers and dust caps do not restrain the ingression of small 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 into the oil and also not restricting the moisture from getting in touch with the oil. The hygroscopic nature of the oil makes it absorbing moisture from the ambient air. So where there is higher humidity or steam, you will find the moisture can easily get pass 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.

The Solution

  • Replacing the OEM breathers with better quality versions can restrain the particulate and moisture ingression. Out of so many breather makers on the market, you need to find one suitable for the particular operating conditions. When the ambient humidity is low, particulate filter with the spin-on works fine even in very dry 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 along with a desiccating state that bares moisture from the air coming inside.
  • All of the above breathers 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 along with the 5 above-mentioned common lubrication problems. These aren’t very common but still, need to be notified.

Constant-level Oilers

Constant-level oilers are used to provide a small amount of oil to the sumps and replenish lost oil. However, if these devices are not properly installed or maintained, they can cause problems. For instance, sediment can block the piping which will make 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 appropriate side of the housing to keep the shaft rotation towards the oiler. The oil level also needs to be set in a way 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 result in increasing operating temperature and torque requirement for turning the bearing. With increased temperature grease can drain quicker causing a bearing failure due to 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 need to select a grease meeting the required viscosity with a proper additive package for the application.

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 are used to drain oil fast, top-up with clean oil, flush outlines and hoses and so on.

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

Conclusion

These common lubrication problems are not the all, you find across industries, in fact, there are many more. However, these 5 common lubrication you will encounter mostly in your whereas others vary depending on the processes or types of machines. The experience, success, and lessons learned while solving them should be shared 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

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