Green greases that work great? Yes

Sheila Kennedy says industrial lubricants are becoming cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable.

By Sheila Kennedy

Industrial lubrication products, practices, and services are advancing at a rapid pace, driven by regulatory requirements as well as practical business needs. The resulting solutions are cleaner, healthier and more sustainable, and promote equipment cost savings and performance improvements.

Environmentally friendly solutions

A growing number of marine operations mandate the use of environmentally acceptable lubricants (EALs), but land-based operations can benefit from use of EALs as well.

"Aside from their ability to offer quick wins in helping meet sustainability goals, these functional fluids are growing in popularity thanks to their ability to enhance the performance and reduce the cost of operation for plant machinery through increased fuel efficiency, less drive-train drain and wear, longer fluid life, and fewer changeouts," says Bernie Roell, a vice president at RSC Bio Solutions. "The different types of EALs must be chosen and used based on their own unique chemical properties, but each offers distinct advantages over petroleum-based counterparts," he adds.

Lubrication Engineers, a provider of lubricants and related products, has seen the EAL market evolve. "Early on, no single definition existed for EALs, and lubricant marketers made claims based on a variety of factors," says John Sander, VP of technology at the company. "While these products may have been friendly to the environment, their performance was less than desired. Today, things have changed."

He continues: "To qualify as an EAL, a product must be biodegradable, have low environmental toxicity, and not bioaccumulate. In addition, technological advances have increased base fluid and additive options, and it is now possible to formulate lubricants that are environmentally acceptable yet still provide excellent lubrication performance. Sander calls Lubrication Engineers' Earthwise EAL Wire Rope Grease is a good example of a next-generation, better-performing green grease.

Contaminant protection tool

Ensuring the clean transfer of lubricants can be a challenge. "I've seen … open buckets, galvanized cans, and even detergent bottles used to transfer small quantities of lubricant from the lube room to the machine," says Mark Barnes, VP of reliability services at Des-Case. These makeshift vessels and many other oil transfer products, he says, don’t fully protect the lubricant.

Des-Case's new IsoLink oil transfer containers, Barnes says, protect lubricants from contaminants with a desiccant breather and a quick-connect port. The square-shaped containers also feature an ergonomic handle grip and a trigger lock.

Internal process optimization

Auditing and training programs can help companies ensure that current best practices for lubrication are employed. "In reliability, we can do precision alignment, precision balance, and precision installation, but if we add a dirty lube to the component, it will fail very early," Reliable Process Solutions President Terry Harris says. "Learn and apply lubrication excellence principles early in the process."

Reliable Process Solutions' Lubrication Excellence Audits examine a company’s lubrication practices—from the ordering of lubricants to their receipt, storage, handling, and use—so that training can be focused on areas that need improvement.

Third-party services

When internal resources for oil condition monitoring are limited, specialty contractors focused on machine lubrication can fill the void. "The salient issue is focus," says Mike Johnson, president of Precision Lubrication Services, a provider of contract lubrication services. "With the aging boomers moving into retirement in large numbers, manufacturers will increasingly be in a bind with hiring experienced machine repair and operations personnel."

He continues: "Technicians dedicated to machine lubrication tasks are being drawn back into daily fix-and-repair tasks, which leaves lubrication work undone, which causes more repairs. Eventually the lost productivity becomes intolerable."

Users of the Shell LubeAnalyst oil condition monitoring service take oil samples and send them to a Shell Lubricants laboratory for testing and analysis. Shell's diagnosis and recommendations are emailed back to the customer so that corrective actions can be taken before failure conditions become critical. The company also offers advisory and training services, including an artificial intelligence-powered service called Shell Virtual Assistant, to answer common lubricant-related questions.

"The selection of the right lubricant according to the specific operating conditions, and in addition, oil condition monitoring, are crucial in equipment longevity and extending oil drain intervals," says Richard Tucker, general manager of technology at Shell Lubricants.


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