Don’t slip up on lubrication11 May 2020

A motor bearing being lubricated. Image: SKF

Operatives and engineers must have the relevant knowledge and skills to perform lubrication. That is why comprehensive training is so vital

The importance of regular lubrication for industrial equipment, such as motors, compressors and fans, is well documented, but there is far more to lubrication than a simple top-up. Factors include the quantity and quality of lubrication, determining the optimum intervals, safe handling and correct disposal. Demand for effective lubrication training, therefore, is on the rise.

One organisation with complete buy-in to this school of thought is the UK Lubricants Association (UKLA), which represents the UK lubricants industry. Its director general David Wright, explains: “Safeguarding expensive investments means matching the right lubricant to the right application, and the right equipment. Ensuring the correct lubricant can reduce maintenance, and avoid unnecessary downtime and unplanned breakdown costs, but it’s more than just a top up.”

The role of any lubricant is to provide a thin film separating two moving parts. Without this film, the two parts would meet, causing accelerated wear to components like gears and bearings, and eventual failure in the application, such as a motor.

“The choice and application of the correct lubricant is best left to engineers and maintenance personnel. Many companies even outsource the management and maintenance of the fluid to a specialist lubricant company, leaving them to focus on what they are best at – the job in hand,”
David Wright, director general of UKLA

Managing lubricant condition is a technical process that takes into account operating conditions, environmental conditions (such as temperature and humidity), existing lubricant condition and the presence of any foreign bodies, such as metal particles or bacteria. To make the process less daunting, pertinent training is essential.

For those working in an operational capacity, the UKLA offers a one-day overview ‘Introduction to Lubricants’ course, along with the role that lubricants and lubrication provide. The course is designed for anyone new to the sector, new to lubricants, or staff in support roles who are looking for a brief and concise overview of lubricants and lubrication.

Says Wright: “For those in a more technical role, we offer a ‘Certificate of Lubricant Competence’ course, which provides a comprehensive foundation in all aspects of lubricants, from basic tribology (the study and application of friction, lubrication and wear), base oils and additives, through to product distribution and final disposal of used lubricants, with particular emphasis on the health, safety and environmental issues. This course is taught in the Midlands, UK, and each of the 10 modules is a stand-alone course, so if you do not wish to study everything you can choose the most relevant modules.”

Of course, plenty of original equipment manufacturers are equally aware of the need for knowledge, skills and training when it comes to lubrication, including bearing and seal specialist SKF. “Lubrication is often understated and many required activities are overlooked,” says Phil Burge, the company’s PR and brand awareness manager. “The reason for such an oversight may be the limited impact that lubricant purchases normally have on the total maintenance budget. On average, lubricant purchases amount to a mere 3%. However, circa 40% of the total maintenance cost is influenced by lubrication activities. In addition, overtime labour is mostly a result of machine failures typically caused by inadequate lubrication.”

Notably, according to the Tribology Action Handbook from IMechE, investing in a good lubrication programme yields a return on investment (ROI) of up to 400%. This impressive ROI comes about because a sound lubrication programme will help prevent the most frequent failure modes occurring in an industrial plant.

By adopting the right programme, engineers and operatives can extend service life, and improve asset reliability and efficiency. SKF recommends applying the ‘5R’ approach: the right lubricant, in the right amount, reaching the right point at the right time, using the right method. “To ensure the right lubricant at the right time, it is worth following a detailed learning plan that incorporates data, such as lubricant selection, storage, transfer, dispensing and disposal, as well as lubrication tasks, including planning and scheduling, application procedures, analysis and condition monitoring,” says Burge.

“Correct lubrication is an essential step in reaching the bearing’s service lifetime,” he continues. SKF’s expertise in bearing lubrication has been encapsulated into a computer programme based on knowledge and education. OE highlighted ‘LubeSelect’ last year, which provides engineers with a user-friendly learning tool to select the right product.

“In addition, we can offer the SKF Lubrication Planner. This is a user-friendly piece of software (available to download at that has been specifically developed for companies that normally use basic spreadsheets, paper lists or even memory to manage lubrication tasks,”
Phil Burge, PR and brand awareness manager at SKF.

Another bearing supplier, Eriks, delivers a course entitled ‘Bearing and lubrication essentials’, with training provided throughout the UK or at the customer’s site. The course focuses on the functions of lubrication, base oil viscosity, lubrication regimes, contamination, the composition of lubricant and the compatibility of greases.

Clearly, when maintenance is challenged on-site, staff training is one of the best investments that a company can make to improve efficiency and limit costly errors. Through LubInstitute, which was launched in 2018 by Total Lubricants, training can be tailored to specific needs. Depending on the depth of knowledge targeted, supplier Total can organise anything from a one-hour training on basics, to three days on all types of applications, including rotating equipment, gears and hydraulics. Last year, its technical experts delivered more than 20 sessions to various clients in the UK, directly on-site or via e-learning.

Correct lubrication is an essential step in reaching the bearing’s
service lifetime, says SKF

Beyond training for operators and maintenance engineers, lubrication is such a vast subject that it can be considered a science all of its own. Demonstrating this point is engineering consultancy Kew Engineering, which for many years has offered intensive training classes with an emphasis on machine lubrication, oil analysis and contamination control. Aimed at anyone struggling to understand a lubricant data sheet or interpret an oil analysis report, the company’s courses not only promote the need for best practice in lubrication and condition monitoring, but show how to achieve world-class standards. Courses, which include ‘Mastering Lubrication Technology’, ‘Mastering Lubricant Analysis’ and ‘Mastering Lubrication Engineering’, can lead to a qualification from the International Council for Machinery Lubrication.

Universities also have offerings in this area. For example, the IfM (Institute for Manufacturing) – a division of the University of Cambridge's Department of Engineering – provides a three-day course on tribology, looking at friction, wear and lubrication. Study areas include rheology (the flow of matter), fluid film lubrication and lubricant chemistry, aiming to help scientists and engineers who need an appreciation of the technical basis of the subject. Design and operations engineers who have recently moved into the field and wish to improve their background knowledge and understanding, will also benefit.

Steed Webzell

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