Approaches to machine maintenance are constantly evolving, and with good reason. According to a benchmarking survey from DuPont, the most significant controllable expenditure for most plants is maintenance, with the cost often exceeding annual net profit.1 And when companies spend most of their maintenance efforts on expensive breakdown repairs, it’s easy to see why these costs are so high.
While predictive and preventative maintenance strategies can help lower maintenance costs, industry leaders are moving beyond these approaches in favor of proactive maintenance. With a proactive approach to maintenance, it is possible to significantly extend the life of machine assets and lubricants, reducing total cost of ownership and improving sustainability of operations.
The problem with preventative and predictive maintenance
Because preventative maintenance methods focus on scheduled maintenance intervals, they ignore the true conditions of a machine. Predictive maintenance goes a step further by detecting and responding to early signs of failure within a machine. But even this approach waits for damage to occur before taking action. Proactive maintenance, on the other hand, concentrates maintenance efforts on addressing the root causes of failure before damage occurs, taking proactive steps to avoid these problems altogether.
This does not mean that preventative and predictive approaches to machine maintenance are useless, but they amount to accepting and accommodating failure. Rather than treating failure as an unfortunate but inevitable aspect of machine ownership, proactive maintenance seeks to remove major causes of failure from the equation.
Dangers of contamination
Contaminated lubricants are the root cause of a variety of machine failures. From a lawnmower to a piece of industrial equipment that costs millions, the life of any machine depends on clean lubricants. Contaminants like moisture, dirt, soot and even metal particles torn from the machine’s internal parts all damage machines in different ways and lead to different types of failure.
Solid contaminants essentially chew up a machine from the inside out, but as a source of machine failure, they are frequently overlooked. In fact, the smallest particles are the ones that do the most damage. These particles cannot be seen by the naked eye and are sometimes referred to as “ghost rider” particles because cannot be addressed by conventional filters or even detected by most common oil analysis tests. The impact of these particles is often slow and difficult to perceive until damage has already been done. For this reason, preventative and predictive strategies tend to allow a significant amount of damage before corrective action is taken.
Proactive lubrication starts with contamination control
Since preventative and predictive strategies are lacking when it comes to proper contamination control, it is the perfect area to begin shifting to a proactive maintenance strategy.
This means setting high standards for cleanliness that align with reliability objectives. The aim of the program will be achieving and sustaining these targets. Next, it is critical to analyze your machines to determine where and how the oil is becoming contaminated.
Common sources of contamination
- Look at your oil supplier first. Is “new” oil arriving clean and dry, or is it being contaminated during shipment? Conducting oil analysis immediately when lubricants arrive can give you answers.
- How are your lubricants stored? Are they kept clean, cool and dry, or are they sitting out in the sun and rain?
- How are lubricants transferred to machines from storage? Are dirty containers or funnels being used?
- Examine seals on your machines. Wear or oil compatibility problems could be causing seals to fail. Labyrinth seals could be added to provide extra protection.
- Are your machines outfitted with desiccant breathers to keep particles and moisture from being “inhaled” into oil reservoirs?
Once these entry points are identified, they should be eliminated, typically by adding improved breathers, seals or other contamination exclusion tools. Contaminant exclusion is a very cost-effective way to attack the problem. It is much easier to keep a gram of contaminants out of your lubricants than it is to remove that same gram of contaminants once it has entered your oil.
Still, contaminant exclusion is not everything. Contamination removal is just as essential for proactive maintenance. Because there is no way to keep lubricants 100% protected from contamination, you should invest in quality removal tools like filters or possibly separation technology to remove particles that conventional filters cannot address.
Finally, you will need a robust oil analysis program that is designed to monitor progress and keep oil cleanliness targets front and center.
Achieving cleaner oil
Moving to a truly proactive lubrication program with a focus on highly clean lubricants can be a complex process involving changes to lubricant delivery, storage, filtration and other concerns.
You need the knowledge, tools and support to get the job done. If those resources are not available internally, it may be time to look to a service partner who can help you define and reach cleanliness targets with a proactive approach.
No matter what method you choose to achieve cleaner oil, the benefits to machine life can be tremendous. The key is finding ways to be proactive about keeping contaminants out of oil and efficiently removing the inevitable gradual contamination of in-service lubricants. When we keep lubricants clean, they keep machines protected and running reliably for longer. The life of a hydraulic machine could be extended by a factor of ten if oil is kept highly clean. In some cases, the service life of lubricants themselves can be extended indefinitely as well.
Focus your efforts on your most critical machines first to see the benefits of proactive maintenance and contamination control. It will be easier to make a business case for wider efforts if they can help you avoid expensive unplanned downtime on your most visible machine assets.
1. Blann, Dale R. "Proactive maintenance as a strategic business advantage." Plant Services Magazine, Publication Putman (1997): 1-18.