Once you’ve decided on the type of automatic lubrication system (ALS) you want, questions you would want to ask of a supplier include the following. (For guidelines on choosing the right type of system for your operation, see the online digital edition of the December 2013 issue of Machinery & Equipment MRO magazine, ‘A Guide to Automatic Lubrication Systems’, on page 21.)
1. Does the pump package include a high-pressure, inline, lubricant filter? A filter prevents the introduction into the distribution lines of contaminants that can cause system failure and costly component replacement and labour costs. For most system manufacturers, a filter is not supplied as standard – it must be specified.
2. Are the hose, tubing and tube fittings standard NPT thread? Some system manufacturers use metric hose ends and tube fittings. Special adapters are required to adapt to NPT bearing inlets, causing increased costs and labour and possible delays during servicing if you are not prepared with the proper replacement fittings.
3. Does the system include a pressure gauge? A pressure gauge allows for visual monitoring of the system pressure during regular maintenance inspections. For most system manufacturers, a pressure gauge is not supplied as standard – it must be specified.
4. If it’s a grease system, do the metering valves incorporate high-pressure, manual grease fittings? Having a manual grease fitting at every metering valve allows for easier troubleshooting, servicing, priming and flushing of grease lines.
Not having a manual grease fitting means lines have to be disconnected to perform many of these tasks, substantially increasing labour costs. Most manufacturers either do not include grease fittings, or use standard grease fittings that leak when faced with the high back pressure of a blocked line.
Alternatively, using high-pressure grease fittings specifically designed to handle high back pressure on every metering valve ensures that in the unlikely event of a blocked line, the only leak will occur where the machine operator will see it – at the pressure relief valve on the pump package.
5. How do you know if a bearing is not getting grease or oil? With a progressive system, the metering valves work in series to each other. Some systems incorporate a cycle indicator pin (CIP) at the master valve assembly to provide visual confirmation of system cycling every time. If any line/bearing is not taking grease or oil, the entire system shuts down and there is visual indication (CIP) to the operator that there is a problem, allowing the operator an opportunity to take action before any damage occurs.
In a parallel type system, the metering valves operate simultaneously but are independent. The parallel type system incorporates a pressure switch that only monitors main line pressure, so there is no indication (related to pressure) if each individual feed line is operating. The remainder of the system will continue to function normally, but the lubricant-starved bearing will likely be lost.
For some manufacturers’ systems, if any feed line or bearing is not taking grease or oil, the only visual indication is the lack of lubricant at the bearing point. Others will include indicator pins on every injector, which move in and out as lubricant is dispensed, to visually confirm each individual feed line is operating.
Some manufacturers require you to purchase lubricant directly from them in order to warranty the system. Others have no restrictions on the brand of lubricant, which allows you to use your standard in-shop grease and considerably reduce inventory and costs.
Most important of all, when sourcing an ALS, ask the questions outlined in this article and you’ll be on your way to purchasing a tool that will help maintain your machinery, reduce your costs and increase productivity for years to come.
Mike Deckert, vice-president of FLO Components, Mississauga, ON, is an active member of the Conestoga College Advisory Council, Faculty and board of directors, an instructor of the Lubrication School at Mohawk College, an active member of the Canadian Lubrication Professionals, and a Member in Good Standing of Society of Tribologists & Lubrication Engineers. He has an Industrial Maintenance Mechanic (Millwright) license. Gabriel Lopez is the marketing specialist with the company. For more information, visit www.flocomponents.com.