The application of lubricants prevents downtime and reduces the total cost of ownership, writes Anton Niemann.
All photos by Leon Louw
In any business, time is money, and this ideology stems across multiple industries. It is for this reason that downtime caused by equipment failure and breakdown can result in financial losses that many simply cannot afford. This lends to the idea that machinery should be in a constant state of perfect operation and that prevention surely is better than cure.
The belief is that apart from the moving parts of a machine, there is potential for lubrication to deliver even greater business value by contributing to improving machine productivity, and therefore reducing associated running costs. However, the potential impact of lubricants is often significantly underestimated. Understanding how lubricants contribute to total cost of ownership (TCO) is the first step to realising potential savings.
When evaluating the effect of lubricants on TCO, we consider the end to end impact on maintenance budget and processes, but also any costs related to lost production during equipment downtime. Optimising lubrication can have a significant impact on component life, maintenance costs, and unplanned downtime, which can contribute to cost savings far higher than the price of the lubricant itself.
Through research conducted by Shell, the impact of lubrication truly is underrated, with only 60% of companies believing they can reduce costs by less than 5% through lubricant selection and management, while a mere 1 in 4 think savings could exceed 10%.
Lubricant product selection or management can impact many elements of a company’s maintenance budget. Seizing the cost-saving opportunity depends on addressing two equally important elements. Firstly, by selecting the right lubricant or grease, and secondly, by ensuring effective lubrication management, including the correct storage and handling, the right place, the right time, the right amount, the right monitoring, and the right people.
Each piece of mining equipment, for example, made by different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) has its specific lubrication requirements. OEMs define the minimum requirements for lubricants or greases, but not all products that meet these standards deliver the same level
Choosing the correct lubricant or grease often depends on a combination of the equipment’s design characteristics, operational parameters and environment. Factors like temperature, humidity and location (altitude or underground) all pose different challenges for lubrication.
There are numerous misconceptions about the true effects of lubricants. Globally, 47% of mining companies believe that a higher quality lubricant or grease will not help to reduce maintenance costs. The three primary lubricant applications in the mining industry involve components such as engines, drivelines, and open gears; and in all cases, selecting the right lubricant is a critical first step in improving productivity as well as realising significant TCO savings.
Effective engine lubrication is critical to protect high-cost equipment, and minimise downtime due to frequent oil changes, maintenance or even component failures. Important factors to consider are viscosity control in extreme conditions, soot build-up, corrosion protection, and long oil life.
Driveline technology is critical to mining operations; and component life, equipment downtime and oil drain intervals – and therefore TCO – can be significantly impacted by the quality of the oil. Equipment often operates for long periods of time at high load, which can put further stress on both the component and the oil designed to protect it.
Grease application in the mining sector can be a specialist technical area, where selecting the right grease for the right application can be critical to avoid costly equipment failures and unplanned downtime. This is particularly true for open gear applications, which are exposed to the elements in extreme conditions, and where contamination poses a significant challenge. These parts are subjected to an array of hazards, including extreme temperatures, extreme conditions, extreme pressure and shock, misapplication, and misalignment, where misalignment causes the contact ratio to drop below 85%, the load and stress on the gearing will increase. This overloads the gears and the lubricant film and can result in sub-surface cracks and pitting, which significantly reduces component life and may result in gear failure.
With machinery exposed to the elements and working all-year round in these harsh conditions, they are particularly susceptible to contamination which could see vital machinery grind to a halt. It is worth investing in the resources as well as selecting the correct lubricant as the performance benefits in terms of protection far outweigh the investment.
Anton Niemann is the general manager at Shell Downstream South Africa Lubricants.