From Reducing Human-Machine Interaction Through

Safety is a critical priority for virtually every industrial operator, and many operators are always working towards improving their safety record. One of the key opportunities to improve safety is by reducing how often maintenance personnel need to interact with equipment (also referred to as “human-machine interaction” [HMI]).

Recently, Toby Hlade, one of our leading Mobil technical experts, contributed an article to on how lubrication can help reduce HMI, particularly through the use of higher performance greases.

To read Toby’s article, you can visit the digital version of the publication here:

We’ve also pasted the full text below. Let us know if you have any questions for Toby!


Reducing Human-Machine Interaction Through Lubrication

When thinking about how to improve plant safety, making enhancements to your maintenance program is not necessarily the first thing that comes to mind. However, in the industrial workplace, the greatest safety risks usually occur during servicing and maintenance, which means employees are at risk when interacting with equipment.

A strong safety program minimizes human-machine interaction (HMI), which starts with a best-in-class maintenance program. And the foundation of any best-in-class maintenance program is lubrication.

Although lubrication represents a small fraction of total maintenance expenses, proper lubrication can keep equipment running for longer overhaul intervals, reduce equipment downtime and improve overall efficiency, ultimately reducing HMI. When it comes to your maintenance program, here are two key tips to consider.

Use high performance greases

Greases lubricate key components throughout your operation, including bearings, joints and other critical application areas. Thus, using high performance greases, including synthetics, offer significant advantages compared to using conventional mineral-based products:

  • Better performance in extreme conditions: Synthetic greases will resist oxidation and maintain optimum viscosity in high temperatures, helping to extend regreasing intervals and therefore reduce HMI. They also improve pumpability in low temperatures and can eliminate the need to change NLGI grades between seasonal applications.

  • Reduced re-application: Compared to simple lithium grease, lithium complex and calcium sulfonate greases have a greater resistance to water washout, reducing the need for frequent relubrication and thus lowering HMI. Additives can further enhance stay-in-place performance and reduce relubrication requirements.

  • Longer equipment life: Through a balanced formula of base oil, thickener and additives, high performance greases are able to protect equipment from damage by wear or corrosion – leading to longer equipment life and reduced HMI.

Consider a real-world example from a South Carolina tissue mill. After experiencing six gear reducer failures annually within its packaging conveyors, causing personnel to frequently interact with equipment, the mill agreed to switch to a higher performance synthetic grease. As a result, the mill eliminated all gear reducer failures, reducing maintenance needs and improving safety conditions for its personnel.

By effectively adapting to operating conditions and reducing the amount of product necessary, high performance grease can greatly improve a plant’s overall efficiency while reducing the need for operators to interact with equipment.

Proactively monitor equipment health

To fully understand how a machine and its grease are performing, owners and operators should also implement a number of tools and methods, including:

  • Vibration analysis: This test monitors equipment condition by “listening” to the vibrations produced by active components. If there is damage, patterns on the device will appear abnormal, allowing specialists to diagnose problems related to unbalance, misalignment and/or bearing damage. Lubrication faults can also be detected and often corrected before real damage occurs.

  • Ultrasonic analysis: Ultrasonic technology is a form of vibration analysis that is especially useful for determining correct fill level and regrease frequency in antifriction bearings. Skilled operators with an ultrasonic microphone can hear when the bearing is “happy” or needs more grease. Specialized grease guns with built-in ultrasonic microphones are available for this. When used effectively, they can reduce HMI by extending relubrication intervals and maximizing equipment life.

  • Root cause failure analysis: Finally, it’s important to assess and assign root cause to any failures that occur. This provides the opportunity for continuous improvement through lubricant selection, relubrication practice or equipment design modifications. Detailed bearing/failed component evaluation and spent grease analysis can be useful tools in determining root cause.

In order to execute these programs, owners and operators should collaborate with their lubricant suppliers and take full advantage of their expertise.

Along with strong partnerships with suppliers, a reexamined and revamped lubrication strategy will help owners and operators achieve critical business goals – including enhanced plant productivity and a safer work environment for its staff.