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Improving lubrication practices can significantly reduce energy consumption in your plant, saving you thousands of dollars. How? When moving parts lack proper lubrication, the result is an increase in friction. Excessive friction makes the machine work harder than it needs to, causing an increase in power usage. Once you have made improvements to your program, you can monitor productivity levels, temperature changes, and electricity usage to track progress. But first, let’s go over six ways to slash energy costs.

1. Correct Volume

When too much lubricant is applied to equipment (especially grease-lubricated parts), it results in an effect called churning. Churning is like walking along the beach in water that is waist-deep compared to ankle-deep; the components are working unnecessarily hard to push through the extra lubricant. Consider investing in condition monitoring equipment to determine the amount of lubricant needed, and only regrease components with the appropriate amount rather than pumping grease until it purges out of the seals.

2. Correct Application Method

Lubricant application rarely gets evaluated for improvements and most don’t know the proper way to use a grease gun or add oil without disrupting the efficiency of the machine. Lubricants should be added slowly to greased machines when they are running to minimize churning. For increased precision (and ease of use), consider a single-point lubricator. The OnTrak not only dispenses grease in small doses, but it also uses ultrasound technology to measure friction and dispense the correct amount.

When it comes to oils, dispense in a manner that won’t create significant turbulence in the system that can impact pump efficiency or kick up debris that leads to the wearing of machine parts.

3. Correct Base Oil

The type of base oil used in the finished lubricant can affect long-term energy savings. The amount of savings is determined by how well the molecules of lubricants can slide past each other. At a microscopic level, lower refined lubricants can have millions of combinations of molecular shapes and sizes, which makes it difficult to move relative to each other. In a highly refined mineral or synthetic oil, on the other hand, the molecules repeat and move more easily past one another. Base oil selection might seem like a small factor in energy conservation, but when multiplied across many machines, it makes all the difference.

4. Correct Additives

Additives serve to protect surfaces and extend the useful life of a lubricant. Choosing the right one can help minimize friction during start-up, which saves energy on equipment that tends to start and stop frequently. Lubricants formulated with friction modifiers allow for a slight chemical film to be established at cooler temperatures than traditional wear-control additives; this allows for easier starts and stops, less friction, less wear, and ultimately, savings associated with their use. For additional savings, consider the use of viscosity index improver additives. These additives allow for a temporary “thinning” of the fluid in areas of high flow, so they are more easily pumped than a fluid without them present.

5. Correct Viscosity

Selecting the wrong viscosity can become problematic and enhance energy costs. Too high, and machine components will be churning through excess fluid friction; too low, and mechanical friction between machine parts increases. Ideally, we have completely separated the operating surfaces without adding a significant strain on the driving part. This is the most common mismatch between a lubricant and a machine: the selection of the wrong viscosity.

6. Correct Frequency

When it comes to lubrication, timing is everything. Though many plants use interval-based lubrication for the sake of convenience and consistency, the practice is doing more harm than good. A bearing’s need for grease is often influenced by a number of factors rather than just time. By implementing condition-based lubrication, you can ensure the lubricant is staying healthy without an unnecessary break in production based upon a calendar date interval that may not be applicable to the system at hand.