Contamination Control is Critical | War on Wear

Contamination kills oil, machinery, and morale.

Wild Rock GolfIt’s a great day today, you think as you get out of bed at 8:00am on a Saturday. You’re happy because for the first time in about 8 months, you’re going golfing. Somehow you have this weird knot in your stomach because you know a pump at work has been making a high pitched noise lately and you know what can go wrong. It’s now 9:15 and you pack the car your buddy Mike calls and says he’s ready to go but you have to go and get him. You open the car door, then hit the garage opener and your phone goes off. It’s the office and so your mind goes into panic mode wondering if you should even answer the call…if you don’t answer the call…this call…it will be something bad…if you do answer it it’s probably going to be someone looking for a tool that magically only you know the location of. You answer it, it’s the Plant Manager. “John, I need you here quick!! The pump just quit and we cannot go down today!”


Has this already happened to you?

If not, consider yourself lucky.

The chances of a weekend ruining critical equipment failure is more likely than you can imagine. Know why? Less than 20% of all manufacturing facilities in the US and even less outside the US have implemented a real life lubrication management program that meets best practices.
This example, which is probably pretty normal, doesn’t have to happen. Contamination could be the culprit in as many as 80% of critical failures in any given scenario. Once contamination is in your oil, it must be filtered out, even new oil must be filtered. Contamination degrades viscosity, degrades surface area, and in the story above, degrades weekend fun.
Whenever performing an equipment audit, poor breathers such as J-Tubes are consistently installed in equipment. I have encountered these open breathers in all sorts of equipment from units operating in moist conditions such as steel mills, paper mills, even systems operating outdoors. Seems to me it makes more sense than ever to ensure the most critical of equipment is functioning correctly. Practices which will help to eliminate breakdowns as much as possible in order to continue making products or servicing clients. The lesson here is that it is less expensive to keep contamination out of machine systems than removing them after they get in and already cause damage, if not machine failure.

Contamination comes in three types:

  • Particulate Contamination
  • Water/Moisture Contamination
  • Heat Contamination

Built in particle contamination describes both the contaminants which are in new fluid and contaminants which are in new (or rebuilt) systems from either the manufacture or improper care for the storage of machine components. Typically lubricants are pre-contaminated due to storage and handling practices which allow infiltration of moisture and particulate. Improper storage and handling can occur at various places such as the transportation, blending facility, and distribution chain. From one end to another, the lubricant is pumped into tanks, barrels, trucks, through pipes, pumps, and back again. If any of these areas are not flushed and cleaned properly the fluid could be cross contaminated or worse, for instance, what if the transporting tanker was just carrying used gear oil out of one plant just before transporting your new hydraulic fluid to your plant? Elemental Analysis such as spectroscopy or FTIR (Fourier Transform Infra-Red), Viscosity, Particle Count and TAN can determine the quality of the “new” lubricant, and provide a baseline for what you need to do to condition it for use.

Built-in contamination in new machines and maintenance generated contamination can be in many forms. These issues have simple solutions. All new equipment before it is put in to service should be cleaned if possible then thoroughly flushed with a lighter oil in the same family as what it is going to be used. For maintenance generated contaminants, after a rebuild and before storage on the spares rack, the equipment should be flushed out much the same way and then all open ports and area should be sealed using clean material such as a compatible plastic film. The storage area itself can be the problem; most often these areas are dusty, dirty, maybe even humid and wet. If a clean room is not possible then sealing the equipment as much as possible and flushing the component before use would be recommended.

While in-service machines can bring contaminants into the system in various ways. The most common way that contaminants enter machine systems are through breathers which can be J-tubes, screens, or even just small holes. Gearboxes, pumps and reservoirs will ‘breathe’ some way or another when the air expands and contracts, as well as, when incoming fluid displaces air or air is drawn in when internal parts move around. Each time the unit breathes in; it brings with it everything in the environment. In order to eliminate contaminants entering the system, you must know the enemy. Understanding what might be in the ambient environment will tell you what can possibly get into your equipment. Spin on filters make great breathers because they are made to trap particles, the type and size can differ greatly. Steel mills, paper plants, oil production facilities have three different operating environments. You must know and understand what’s out there, in the air. Spin on filters are not the best option when eliminating water and as the pores get blocked by built up debris the machine can build up pressure and seals can fail. If water is your primary contaminant, then a desiccant breather may be used which has the same issue; possible pressure build up. Closing the system and adding expansion chambers is probably a better option in these cases, no-pressure build up and closed to ambient conditions kills two birds with one stone.

Watchdog Desiccant Breather on Gearbox

Watchdog Desiccant Breather on Gearbox

Gaining popularity for smaller to medium sized pumps and gearboxes is sealing the systems with the use of expansion chamber(s) and a closed system oiler. The expansion chamber is a bladder type pressure balancer that contracts and expands which allows the system to breathe, but entirely eliminates all contaminants from entering. Closed system oilers have a pressure balancing line allowing the fluid level to change by venting to the closed system, as opposed to, the atmosphere.

Another way contaminants can enter machine systems is through poor seals. Taking a critical asset down to replace a non-leaking seal is probably never going to happen. It would be nice if hydraulic and lubricant circulating system reservoirs were located in a clean controlled environment, reality is they are not. In most plants, opening the cover would probably expose the system to more contaminants than a faulty gasket could. Reservoir gaskets should be inspected during fluid changes and replaced as necessary. Hydraulic cylinder seals are another great way for contaminants to enter; the cylinder extends, gets covered with debris and when it retracts it brings the debris in with it. This type of debris can be limited with the use of protective boots designed for cleaning the ram.

Keeping contamination out of your machines is the goal for your lubrication contamination control program. Particulate, water, and heat combine to accelerate the degradation of the lubricant. Removing these factors, as much as we practically can, will extend the life of the lubricant, and increase the reliability many fold. Once we understand our enemies, we can win the war!

Trico Products Can Help

In a world where you cannot control the environment, you can still keep your lubricant clean. Using desiccants, filtering new stock, and closing your systems will do just that. Contact a Trico distributor for more information and to order trico products.


Gearbox Lubrication | Part 6 | The War on Wear

Final part in a 6 part series on lubrication of gearbox applications

Lubrication Excellence by Trico

Your Path to Lubrication Excellence

Temperature, pressure, contaminants, aeration, water, metal particles, and agitation all help to accelerate the oxidation process (destruction) of the lubricant. Combine that with the destructive nature of solid particles trapped between rolling elements, raceways and gear teeth, and emulsions created (lack of lubricating properties) by ingested water will ultimately result in the sacrifice of equipment performance and reliability. Mitigation of these conditions is not only possible, but leads to more upside in the bottom lines of nearly every organization that has implemented a gearbox lubrication management program.

Proper gearbox lubrication means:

  • Maintaining headspace quality
  • Operating within the designed operating conditions
  • Use of dedicated and/or portable filtration for contamination control
  • A competent oil analysis program for maintaining the specific physical, chemical and cleanliness standards throughout the life of the lubricant.

Gearbox lubrication is only the beginning. Every aspect of the process from bringing lubricants into storage to adding them to the equipment and beyond can benefit from best practice utilization. Smart maintainers have explained this to us in great detail and we’ve been able to take nearly 100 years of industrial experience and boil that down to exactly what works in every situation. When you put your trust and confidence in Trico, you’ve made a choice to the up-side that will make your industry competitors think you’re moving to the next level.

In reality you have.

The crystal clear bottom line will be increased company profits by maintaining the functionality of the equipment for production.

Contact a business development member of the Trico team today to start to learn more about lubrication management practices that can elevate your maintenance operation to a new level.

Gearbox Lubrication Filtration | Part 5 | The Wear on Wear

Gearbox Applications | Part 5 - Filtration | The War on Wear

Gearbox Lubrication Filtration

High-Viscosity Filter Cart SystemOnce contaminants are in the fluid, settling, gearbox lubrication filtration/separation and fluid replacement may reduce contamination. For settling to occur, a contaminant must have a density greater than the fluid transporting it. The lower the density of a contaminant particle, the more buoyant it will be in a fluid. Many gearbox manufacturers have designed the gearbox housing to allow the contaminants to settle out in areas that will not allow them to be redistributed into the system. Removal of these contaminants requires thorough flushing of the housing during the replacement of the lubricant. The best way to flush is to use compatible low-viscosity base oil, or a low-viscosity variation of the service oil that can be applied in a method that ensures that all the dead zones are cleaned and any debris is dislodged.

Maintaining the lubricant throughout its in-service life requires some form of filtration for the removal of accumulated contaminants. A properly designed high viscosity filtration system must be utilized that will supply the correct flow rate to perform the function of removing the targeted contaminants in a reasonable time frame. Re-circulating, kidney loop or auxiliary filtration, consists of a pump, filter, motor, cooler (if required) and appropriate hardware connections. Fluid is continuously pumped out of the reservoir, through the filtration system, through an incorporated temperature regulating system (if required), and back to the reservoir ensuring fluid conditioning regardless of the operating condition of the main system. These systems can be either portable or permanently retrofitted to the gearbox/reducer housing. The choice comes down to the need for reliability, safety and severity/penalty of failure.

Smaller, portable filter carts, and hand-held pump/motor/filter units are ideal for pre-filtering, flushing or transferring fluids into reservoirs. These off-line portable carts can be adapted to service many different gearbox/reducer housing in the same family of lubricants by adapting quick-connect self sealing fittings on the drain and fill ports. Care must be taken in selecting the right pump flow rate, filters, and conductor sizes to operate at higher viscosity gear oils. A properly designed filtration system will minimize operating costs by reducing lubricant and equipment damaging contaminants while assisting in extending lubricant life and ultimately the mean time between failures.

High-Viscosity Filter Cart SystemTo measure and trend the contaminants and the effectiveness of the gearbox lubrication filtration system, an oil analysis program should be incorporated into the planned maintenance program. To initiate this program, strategically located test ports should be installed to provide trouble-free, repetitive and representative sampling of the lubricant contaminants along with consideration of monitoring the health of the equipment. This sampling method should allow the equipment to be tested under its typical operating condition while being non-obtrusive and maintaining a safe sampling method for the technician.

The Takeaway

Keeping your gearbox lubricant clean and free of wear debris will help lengthen the cycle of changes. Filtering and oil analysis when used as part of a normal lubrication management program, will not only keep your lubricant clean, but tell the tale of wear within the equipment. Smart maintainers have already incorporated these strategies, but if you have not, it is never too late. If you are not sure where to start with this, contact us and Trico will put you on the right track.