Lubrication myths debunked Part I: The fundamentals

Over the years, our lubrication engineers have worked with industrial operators around the world to help them address their greatest lubrication challenges. During that time, we’ve encountered a range of lubrication myths and misconceptions that, if used to inform a lubrication program, could negatively impact equipment performance and cost your business money.

In this three-part series, we’ll cover some of the most common misconceptions that our team has come across in the field. This post covers a few myths related to lubrication fundamentals.

Myth: Investing in a best-in-class lubrication program will increase operating costs.

Truth: Making the switch to synthetic lubricants or investing in technical services does require some upfront cost, but by investing in the right lubrication technologies and services, operators can actually save money in both the short- and long-term.

Depending on the application, making a switch to a higher performing lubricant can increase equipment reliability and productivity, helping minimize unscheduled downtime. As mentioned earlier, services such as used oil analysis can also help operators better predict and remedy potential performance issues, further minimizing the risk of unscheduled downtime. In turn, these benefits help increase overall productivity and reduce costs associated with maintenance and/or lubricant purchase.

For example, when Ace Pack Company, a paper cup forming machine manufacturer, was using a conventional competitor’s synthetic gear oil, the company’s oil drain interval was limited to six months due to oil breakdown and the build-up of sludge in the gear drive sump.

After working with a Mobil Lubrication Engineer, Ace Pack Company switched to the Mobil SHC Cibus 220 food grade synthetic lubricant and began monitoring performance with the Mobil Serv Lubricant Analysis.

Since converting to Mobil SHC Cibus 220 food grade synthetic lubricant, the oil drain interval of the cup forming machine gear drives crankshaft and bearing was extended from six to 12 months, with an estimated lube oil saving value of $28,500 per year. What’s more, is that the paper cups productivity increased to 648,000 per year, with estimated annual productivity values of $21,600, and preventive maintenance was also reduced by 90 man-hours per year. Overall, the company experienced savings of over $50,000.

Myth: All oil is the same.

Truth: As members of the Mobil SHC Club, you all know this already, but all oil is not the same. In fact, the performance of a lubricant can vary dramatically depending on the formulation.

For example, consider synthetic lubricants. As we’ve written about extensively on the Mobil SHC Club, synthetic lubricants can provide performance benefits that outweigh those of mineral oils. Because they’re formulated with synthetic base stocks and advanced additive packages, the best synthetic lubricants can deliver enhanced equipment protection under strenuous operating conditions such as extreme high temperatures, heavy loads, and exposure to contaminants.

Sometimes, an application may not require the use of synthetic oil to deliver adequate protection, but operators should know that the quality of mineral oils also varies. Depending on the additives used in the formulation, mineral oils can be designed to deliver enhanced extreme pressure protection or to better guard against contamination, to name a few examples.

In short, operators should always assess operating conditions for their equipment and choose a lubricant designed to perform in that environment to best protect their equipment and enhance productivity.

Myth: “Old oil” is the primary cause of lubricant-related equipment breakdowns.

Truth: While oil degradation can lead to equipment breakdown, it is more of a symptom of a more troublesome issue that is the true root cause of equipment failure.

Generally, the two primary causes of lubricant-related equipment failures are:

  • Use of the wrong lubricant

  • High concentrations of contaminants (e.g., dirt and metal-wear particles)

As we explained when debunking the first myth, all oil is not the same. So, it’s critical to select a lubricant formulated specifically to perform in the given application. Using the wrong lubricant can accelerate lubricant degradation, ultimately leading to premature equipment failure. For example, using a standard mineral oil in an extreme high temperature environment will lead to accelerated oxidation.

The best way to mitigate contamination is through a proactive used oil analysis monitoring program. This can give you a real-time understanding of equipment performance, helping you detect gradual changes in contaminant levels before they reach a critical stage.

For more on the topic, reference our “Controlling Contamination” series.

Myth: An oil’s only job is to lubricate.

Truth: While a lubricant’s primary function is to reduce friction between two surfaces in mutual contact, advanced lubricants can also deliver a range of other benefits that in some cases help improve equipment performance or reliability.

For example, oils can help flush away dirt and wear particles to carry them to the machine’s filter, thus helping to protect against varnish and sludge formation. Certain lubricants can also help guard against contamination – oils can help seal bearings to prevent contaminants from entering the system.

Energy efficiency is perhaps the best example of where a lubricant does more than just “lubricate”. Certain advanced lubricants can actually reduce friction to the point where they’re helping improve mechanical efficiency, meaning the equipment suffers from less frictional energy loss during regular course of operation.

In our next “Lubrication myths debunked” post, we’ll take a look at some common grease misconceptions.