MRO Magazine

Smart Choices: Lubrication plays critical reliability role


December 18, 2009
By PEM Magazine

Manufacturers, engineers and maintenance professionals from a wide range of industries rely on their lubricants to provide dependable service. Especially in challenging environments, companies count on lubricants to maximize equipment productivity and operation reliability. By following a few simple guidelines you can minimize downtime and maximize profits:

1. Get Informed
Lubrication products and techniques are changing constantly, which means you need to stay in the know. Knowledge about your lubrication system is one of the most important ways a plant manager and staff can prevent costly downtime and repairs. In-depth application knowledge is particularly important for engineers in challenging, niche environments, such as food-processing facilities, which put components under heavy loads or high speeds in wet, dry, hot and cold conditions.

2. Implement an oil analysis program
Essential to extending the working life of lubricants is the implementation of a thorough oil analysis program, which tracks critical wear-related characteristics of oil in service by comparing the results with previous reports and noting the trends. Such a program helps identify contamination, lubricant degradation, abnormal machine wear and problems with sampling. It also can transform a lubrication program from time-based to condition-based, eliminating unnecessary changes.

3. Know the warning signs
Typically an analysis report will include the following information:


Total acid number: This measures the amount of oxidation that the fluid has undergone since start up. It’s a useful measure of the performance of a lubricant and a good predictor for when it should be replaced. As lubricant fluid is used and exposed to the air, its oxidation level increases. As a result, a total acid number that’s significantly higher than its initial value is a key warning sign of lubrication problems.

Water: The aspect of water is a major enemy of lubricants. Especially in moist environments, or wherever the lubricant is exposed to open water or steam, water can significantly impact performance. Different lubricants have varying tolerances for water content. For example, a polyalkylene glycol has higher water limits than a polyalphaolefin product. Each lubricant has its own guidelines on acceptable parts-per-million (ppm) water levels, which can be obtained from your lubricant supplier. 

Metals: Analyzing metals can reveal information about the wear in your system and the performance of certain additives. Metals are found in lubricants both as a result of additives in the fluid and as a result of wear, depending on the type of lubricant and the configuration of your system. In order to provide a measure of the amount of metal "ingested" by the lubricant, the typical oil sample test targets common engine metals, such as copper, aluminum and iron. As with water content, different lubricants have varying tolerances for metal content. Plant managers should consult with their lubricant supplier to best predict when metal analysis results indicate the need for lubricant change.

Particle analysis: Conducting particle analysis can help detect metal contamination and ensure that the lubricant system has correct filtration specifications, which can significantly increase the amount of time required between lubricant changes.

Viscosity: Perhaps the most simple and common sense test of lubricant wear is a lubricant’s kinematic viscosity, or thickness. By tracking a fixed amount of oil as it travels through a lubrication system, increases in viscosity can easily be measured. An increase in viscosity is directly related to lubricant wear. As a rule of thumb, lubricants should be changed before their viscosity changes more than 10 percent.

4. Work with a qualified lubricant specialist

A good lubricant supplier should be able to provide a comprehensive product line that fills all your lubrication needs. With a working knowledge of the basics of machinery lubrication and careful attention to the applications and conditions of their lubricants, plant managers can be well equipped to prevent the costly damage caused by poor lubrication.

This is an edited article provided by Dow Corning. For more information about the complete line of Molykote high-performance lubricants from Dow Corning, visit or e-mail