Contamination of lubricants is a massive issue on the industrial landscape. One micron of dirt can cause a huge amount of damage to plant and machinery.
The late Dr Ernest Rabinowicz, who was a professor emeritus at MIT, introduced a calculation now known as Rabinowicz’s Law. This law stated that up to six per cent of US Gross Domestic Product is lost each year through bearing wear and tear and failure primarily caused, among other things, improper lubrication.
The problem with unclean lubricants is that, in many cases, plant maintenance staff find out contamination has occurred at the same time their plant ceases operation. As well as the costs related with having to replace or refurbish plant, there is the issue of downtime, which in itself can be costly with not only the loss of production, but reputation, too. A survey by Jobbersworld on lubrication quality found that 85 per cent of respondents said ‘yes’ when asked whether there was an issue with low-quality lubricants in the workplace.
In a recent piece by Ken Bannister titled State of the Lubrication Nation he said: “Up to 70 per cent of all moving equipment failures (loss of bearing surface usefulness) are caused by mechanical wear and corrosion, which can be directly and/or indirectly attributed to ineffective lubrication practices.”
Bannister further calculated US losses from lubrication-related issues to be an eye-watering $1 trillion annually. While these numbers are at the top end of the scale, even if it was only 10 per cent of that figure, it is still a significant amount and one on which a lot of companies can ill afford to pay.
Even as far back as 1938, engineers and plant maintenance staff knew how important lubrication was to industry. Writing in the Mining and Metallurgy Journal author Charles W. Frey had this to say: “Lubrication should not be considered a bothersome detail, something to be attended to after the rest of the work has been done. It should be regarded as insurance against costly breakdowns and repairs. Proper lubrication will definitely prolong the life and usefulness of any piece of machinery, and the amount of money invested in proper oils and greases is fractional compared to the value of the service rendered.” Frey could well have been writing the piece in the 21st century as it is still relevant today.
Another issue is applying the wrong lubrication with the wrong piece of equipment. Not all lubricants are created equal. Lubricants have been designed to be compatible with specific types of equipment and if the wrong type of product is entered into the plant, it can have catastrophic consequences. The liquid’s viscosity and ability to handle temperatures are examples of the different properties needed for different applications.
The process and control landscape offers examples of where contamination of lubricants is a daily hazard. Millions of dollars of plant and machinery are invested throughout Australia so it is important that measures are in place that prevent contamination. Because there is a lot of plant and equipment moving all the time, the chances of contamination run high in certain operations. This includes when plant and machinery are being serviced.
There are many ways maintenance staff can ensure lubricants are not contaminated. Two simple ways are making sure that lubricants are stored and labelled correctly.
Traditional methods of storing lubricants are no longer considered as safe and secure. Drums, oil cans and similar media have an array of issues – from degradation of the vessel itself, through to storage containers looking the same. Then there is the issue of dispensing the fluid without it spilling, which in itself cannot only cause a hazard but waste, too.
If you have an array of plant and machinery that require different types of fluids, how can you store and label them appropriately so they won’t become mixed, or in a way that they are easily identifiable?
One solution that works is a colour-coded labelling system. But even this method can cause issues because labels fall off and, again, containers can degrade. This causes discolouration and therefore confusion as to what is the correct lubricant in the container.
There are systems that not only are easy to use but is a cost-effective method of stopping cross contamination of lubricants. One such system is Alemlube’s iCan, a colour-coded method that allows the user to clearly label containers. It is also robust and can survive harsh environments.
The iCan containers are made from HDPE plastic, which come with UV and anti-static-resistant additives. The UV resistance is important because UV light can cause degradation of lubricant. The anti-static feature is necessary if users are storing flammable lubricants.
Then there is the key element to the iCan range – its labelling system. As well as having iPouches that hold and store labels onto the container, there is also the Allsafe option of colour-coded bands that fit tightly on the lid. These lids are also made from tough material and will not degrade over time, so there is no chance of employees or third-party contractors getting the lubricants mixed. There are even colour-coded labels that come with the system.
The container itself has a couple of nifty features designed with the end-user in mind. They are rust proof and are fully sealed, which makes the chances of cross-contamination virtually nil. Most have a quick-fill port that is designed to not only make filling easy but also spill-free, and they have a desiccant port for added protection.
If plant maintenance staff want to promote a clean and healthy working environment where lubricants are stored and labelled safely, then the iCan system is just one example of how this can be achieved. It is incumbent on maintenance managers to find one that is suitable for their workplace not only to promote a healthy workplace but also save money.