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Motion Control Resources

Troubleshooting Tips: Lubrication - page 6

by Kristin Lewotsky, Contributing Editor
Motion Control & Motor Association

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Troubleshooting Tips: Lubrication - page 6

I feel that using the correct lubricant can double the life of a machine, but it has to be more than just the proper initial selection. It has to be maintained properly. Proper selection is often a compromise. For example, gearboxes have gears and bearings. Gears typically like to run in heavy oils, but bearings like to run in lighter viscosity oils. The same oil is used to lubricate both. Which do you choose?  The choice has to be made based on the component requiring the heavier lubricant, so the bearings in this case have to operate in an oil selected for the gears. This gets back to considering all aspects of the equipment and the lubrication of the entire machine for all conditions.

—J. C.

Lubrication keeps things moving. The wrong lubricant can make things stop...and quickly. If a bearing or gearbox fails, there is likely to be downtime and that can be very expensive. Proper lubrication can allow for many years of predictable service depending on the design and proper selection of the gearbox or bearing. The best bearing grease will not provide ideal service if the bearing is not selected properly.

—S. M.

If a gearbox is sized correctly and properly lubricated, oftentimes it can exceed the estimated life ratings.

—M. P.

What do you wish that you had known about lubricants when you started in the business? What advice would you give users?

I wish that I had known how much of an impact the use of the ideal lubricant can have on actual operational costs. Like most, I was under the impression that there were only subtle differences in the formulation of gear oils or bearing greases, and because of that, I would gravitate towards the lower cost product. I used to think that I was saving money, but it nearly always cost more in the long run. The ideal lubricant can provide huge savings in reduced maintenance, power consumption, disposal costs, reduced emissions, and longer component life.

The key is to identify all of the operational parameters that are important to an application and work with a lubrication specialist early in the design process in order to optimize the system.

—S. M.

It’s important to consider the gearbox orientation, as this can play a large role in the lubrication provided. For example, spiral bevel gearboxes have a significant number of shaft configurations and mounting orientations which means they are easy to integrate into a machine design. However, depending on the orientation, the gearbox lubrication level may need to vary in order to ensure that the gears are actually in contact with the lubrication. For all new spiral bevel gearbox applications, we always require mounting orientation from our customers.

—M. P.

In general, lubricants don’t get the attention they deserve. Common practice is for engineers to provide the bare minimum to keep OEM costs down, when a few more dollars and efforts up front could increase the life of the machine significantly. I would encourage engineering managers and supervisors to make sure that junior engineers have a solid foundation and understanding of the importance of the lube system, and that they devote a sufficient amount of time to it in the design phase. Educate these young engineers through involvement with lubrication supplier’s engineers, seminars, literature, professional societies, and trade shows.

—J. C.

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