Plant & Works Engineering
Lubrication optimisation
Published:  24 February, 2014

PWE’s Aaron Blutstein spoke to Ahmet Guven, Shell Global Solutions, product application specialist (hydraulics & circulating oils) about the problems that OEMs are experiencing when operating their machinery and how lubrication optimisation can help them achieve savings.

AB: What are the most common mistakes manufacturers make when executing a lubrication strategy?

AG: Fluid selection is vitally important in operating all hydraulic machines, because most produce high volumes of product and operate on a continuous basis. Any production stoppage will of course impact directly on the operator’s bottom line. Moreover, the equipment is expensive – typically in the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars each, so operators are well advised to ensure that they have selected the most appropriate fluid. The cost of that fluid is just a fraction of the cost of the machine. More forward thinking operators understand that it would be a false economy to consider the hydraulic fluid merely as an add-on to the overall operation.

Although most of the plant operators are aware of the importance of investing in a lubrication strategy, it is far more common to find that no such plans exist in a majority of organizations. This also varies from region to region. For example, in Europe where plant manufacturers are more established, they are more likely to have lubrication procedures already in place.

In my experience, there are generally three common errors committed by organizations when it comes to lubricants.

Firstly, plant managers tend to have too many lubricants. For example, a plant operator purchased a lubricant of a specific viscosity two years ago and then someone else in the team introduced a different one from a different supplier and started using it at the same time, so you get an element of cross-over usage.

Secondly, plant operators often don’t have a lubrication schedule set up. This document offers guidance on oil change intervals and other tips that are related to oil handling in the plant.

Thirdly, some plant manufacturers don’t use any software to systematise the use of their lubricants. Having an up-to-date application allows businesses to increase their output and reduce headcount in the workplace as a result.

AB: How many of these mistakes are attributable to training and execution, and how many are issues as a result of trying to reduce costs within a plant?

AG: A recent survey commissioned by Shell found that 70% of all operational disruptions were due to the condition of the fluid, or due to the fluid being unsuitable for the application. Mechanical failures caused 10% of the failures, whilst lack of knowledge contributed to another 10%. Pushing units beyond their recommended operating speed, pressure or volume contributed to 5% of the problems, while the remaining 5% had miscellaneous causes. These typically would include excessive packing friction on hydraulic rams and chatter that prevents the oil-ways from being sufficiently lubricated.

To develop a successful lubrication strategy, I would recommend plant managers to make a list of all the equipment that is available on site. Secondly, it is mandatory to keep a log of the lubricants that are recommended to be used for the plant. Thirdly and perhaps most importantly, it is crucial to list the lubricants which are actually being used in the machinery.

Some plant manufacturers follow OEM specifications without taking into account the special high temperatures and high load conditions of their specific operations and purchase an excessively wide range of lubricants for use in the various components of the plant. Sometimes it makes sense to use the same lubricant for different operations which helps to reduce the number of lubricants used in a plant. Developing a lubrication manual could also help operators systematise the process outlining the types of the equipment that need lubrication, as well as the lubricants and the quantities required. The lubrication manual can be kept either manually or electronically. Lubrication needs can also be affected by the work order that is in operation at a particular plant.

AB: How do you educate plant managers and maintenance managers on a proper lubrication strategy, and also the cost of not having a good strategy?

AG: More often than not, plant manufacturers blame their equipment breakdowns on mechanical and maintenance failures rather than poor lubrication. Plant managers would often rather replace their equipment than change their lubrication strategy. Effective lubrication can help extend the life of pieces of equipment and avoid unexpected costs as a result of unplanned downtime. It might have been the bearing that has broken down but it could have been caused by poor lubrication.

To educate our customer plant managers, we offer a range of training programs, mainly on-site so that we can replicate accurate training environments. We offer this training to specialists from a number of departments, ensuring that a lubrication ‘culture’ is fostered in the organisation.

The cost of purchasing the right lubricant is a fraction of the cost of the maintenance budget and can vary between 1-3% however, if you use the right lubricant, this eliminates the risk of the equipment breakdown and as a result all associated costs. These training programs include lube surveys, training on fundamental lubrication application, lubricating gears, hydraulic oils and the use of greases.

AB: What do your customers tell you are their main pressure points when looking at lubrication within the plant?

AG: Our experience shows that customers make their lubrication strategy decisions under significant pressure from the purchasing departments. They are forced to buy cheaper lubricants but this is a false economy.

Secondly, most of the time customers don’t realise that the breakdown is caused not by the mechanical failure but by poor lubrication.

Thirdly, choosing the right lubricant sometimes can be difficult. OEMs provide plant manufacturers with guidelines but no instructions on how to meet any specific temperature or load requirements.

Our experience shows that our customers are interested in lubricants’ energy efficiency characteristics which may help them reduce electricity consumption. The top performers in this area go beyond just avoiding production problems. Some are selecting new fluids to unlock performance improvements. For instance, AGI Freden, a high-volume injection molding company in Germany, recently cut its electricity consumption when it switched to our new state-of-the-art fluid - Shell Tellus S4 ME hydraulic fluid.

Before upgrading, AGI Freden had run its molding machines on Shell’s former top-tier hydraulic fluid for some 48,000 hours (six years) without a fluid change. With the company operating at maximum capacity - running 24 hours a day, seven days a week - it was crucial that machine downtime be limited, and that there were no subsequent production upsets. In addition, the management was not able to commit resources away from its more immediate production requirements without a compelling business case.

Shell Tellus is the best-selling hydraulic oil worldwide, with approximately 1 in 8 litres sold around the globe being Shell Tellus.

AB: What new kinds of lubrication needs or issues are showing up in manufacturing, and how are companies like Shell working to address them?

AG: Technology is improving every day, with electronics taking over many mechanical

operations. We call them mechatronics. This is dictated by the changing conditions of the industrial environment. For example, we need to meet the requirements of high speeds, high loads, anti-oxidant properties, smaller spaces etc. Two years ago highly loaded systems were working around 350 bars and now with high technology equipment we will be talking no less than 450 bars.

Shell’s investment in world-class technology helps us to deliver value to our customers. Innovation, product application and technical collaboration are at the heart of our products. We invest significantly in technology and work closely with our customers to develop innovative lubricants. From the lab to the field, we directly apply our knowledge to help improve our customers’ performance, productivity and profitability.