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Rethink your auditing of lubrication practices

07.01.2012  |  Bloch, H. P.,  Hydrocarbon Processing Staff, 

Keywords: [lube oil] [lubrication oil] [synthetic oil] [motors] [bearings] [maintenance] [grease] [drives] [shafts]

All hydrocarbon processing industry (HPI) facilities use machinery, and every one of these machines requires lubrication of some type. Modern, profitability-minded plants thoughtfully manage their lubrication practices and reap substantial benefits from the resulting enhanced equipment reliability.

However, not all lubrication practices are cost and value-optimized. A one-day audit of your lube management practices may uncover near-zero-cost improvement opportunities that, if implemented, have paybacks measured in days and may quickly move the plant into the best-of-class grouping.

The audit

During an audit conducted by the authors at a world-scale, state-of-the-art petrochemical plant in the US, the lube program was generally judged to be well managed. The plant had selected a competent supplier of both mineral oils and synthesized hydrocarbon (synthetic) lubricants. Management and the reliability group had engaged an experienced oil analysis laboratory and were certainly aware of the merits of sound lubrication management. Still, they had to be encouraged to make changes and improvements. A few illustrations will serve as examples here and convey part of the story.

Storage and transfer

Examples of questionable transfer and storage practices are shown in Figs. 1 and 2. Many lube audits uncover unsatisfactory lubricant dispensing practices; little oversights can have serious negative consequences. For example, it is important to minimize contamination on lube carts. Galvanized steel dispensing containers are frequently attacked by certain lube-oil additives; therefore, good practices mandate the use of plastic dispensing containers. Leaving transfer containers open is simply not acceptable, as shown in Fig. 1A.

  Fig. 1A.  Leaving a transfer container uncovered
  invites lube contamination and machinery
  distress. 1B. Outdoor storage drums are
  notorious for collecting rainwater.



Storage drums should be located and positioned so that water accumulation is ruled out, as shown in Fig. 1B. Changes in ambient temperature can cause rainwater on top of the storage drum (see Fig. 2) to be drawn into the drum via capillary action. Under these conditions, a drum containing valuable lubricant is, thereby, rendered unserviceable.

  Fig. 2.  Ambient temperature cycling explains the
  mechanism for water entering into oil drums
  stored outdoors in the upright position.



Audit findings and recommendations frequently deal with lubricant contamination. Also, the effective labeling of points-to-be-lubricated is often found wanting.

Pitfalls of standardizing

Finally, we still find plants that are somewhat arbitrarily “standardizing” on less-than-optimum grease formulations. These facilities are applying incorrect regreasing practices on thousands of electric motors. We have seen superior plants experience as few as 14 motor bearing replacements per 1,000 motors/yr; the average plant bearing replacement is 156 motor bearing replacements per 1,000 motors/yr. We will spare the reader the statistics of less-than-average plants.

Best practices

Suffice it to say that being unaware of best-available lubrication practices can be expensive. Deviations from best lubrication practices may incur significant, yet readily avoidable maintenance and downtime expenses. Periodic lubrication audits are recommended. Experience shows that lubrication audits can be extremely cost-effective and almost always pointing to areas of improvement.

Next month

The discussion continues regarding oil lubrication practices and areas for improvement. HP

The author

Heinz P. Bloch teamed up with Raymond L. Thibault (rlthibault@msn.com). Mr. Thibault holds BS and MS degrees in chemistry. In 2001, he retired from ExxonMobil as a territory manager after 31 years of developing lube programs and providing technical support for numerous major HPI and other industrial clients. Mr. Thibault is considered the most knowledgeable independent consultant in the field of lube reliability improvement, and he teaches the subject worldwide.




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