Picking the right lubricants to enhance mine site operations

The modern mining industry faces a unique set of lubricant challenges amid constant exposure to the elements, extreme temperatures, and heavy loads. Find out what you should consider when choosing lubricants and how the right lubes can help companies overcome the challenges of mine site operations.


High performance oils and greases play a crucial role in ensuring the consistent protection and performance of mining equipment, helping safeguard against unscheduled downtime, associated financial losses and safety risks. However, constant exposure to the elements, extreme temperatures and heavy loads present a unique set of lubricant challenges to mine site operators.

But selecting the best lubricants to deal with these difficulties is far from straightforward. It is essential to not only consider the quality and performance of a product, but also the requirements and challenges of their specific application.

So what needs to be considered?

  1. Synthetic vs Mineral Lubricants

A good first step is to understand the differences between synthetic and mineral lubricants. Synthetic and mineral lubricants are both made from fractions of crude oil – but synthetic products are further refined using chemical processes, which provides them with highly valuable characteristics. This means they can deliver a range of performance benefits, including:

  1. Longer oil life
  2. Wider operating temperature range
  3. Resistance to deposit formation
  4. Enhanced wear protection
  5. Greater resistance to oxidation (thickening)

Taken together, these features can help extend equipment life. It is therefore worthwhile considering a switch to synthetic lubricants, depending on the application.

  1. Viscosity Index

Another key consideration when selecting a lubricant is its viscosity. Choosing the wrong oil grade can increase equipment wear and energy consumption, while reducing lubricant life. Put simply, when temperatures rise, viscosity falls, and when temperatures drop, viscosity increases. The degree to which this happens to an oil is called its Viscosity Index (VI).

A low VI can result in an oil having insufficient resistance to temperature changes, which can have a detrimental effect on its performance and result in costly and avoidable wear. Synthetic lubricants with a high VI can help protect mining equipment across a wide range of operating conditions.

Most applications have specific viscosity requirements so mining operators should always check original equipment manufacturer recommendations. I’d also advise you to talk to your oil supplier’s field engineers in order to ensure the use of the best performance lubricants.

  1. Extreme temperature performance

Mining environments are often exposed to extreme temperatures. It is therefore important to select lubricants that can help protect against cold start issues. And once again, viscosity is important.

Mineral oils are especially prone to increases in viscosity when temperatures fall. When this happens, it compromises a lubricant’s ability to perform, which can lead to start-up wear and costly maintenance issues.

Synthetic lubricants, however, can be formulated to resist a change of viscosity in extreme temperature conditions – both low and high. Your lubricant supplier will be able to recommend oils suitable for low temperature applications.

Benefits of choosing the right lubricants

It is worth remembering that high performance lubricants can be engineered to help optimise the performance and productivity of mining equipment.

For example, specialist hydraulic oils can improve the cycle efficiency of shovels, excavators and haulage equipment while helping cut energy consumption and maintenance issues. Tests have shown that a switch to ExxonMobil’s Mobil DTETm 10 Excel hydraulic oil can provide up to 6% efficiency gain in hydraulic pump performance[1].

Lubricants can also help ensure the efficient running of compressors, open gears and mobile mining equipment, even in harsh environments. This can contribute significant savings to a mine site operation.

Furthermore, the use of a high performance lubricant can additionally enhance equipment reliability and increase re-greasing and oil drain intervals. This cuts the need for hands-on maintenance, which decreases the potential risks for employees by limiting human-machine interaction. It also helps reduce the possibility of lubricant-related spills and leaks.

Implement regular used oil analysis

Once a lubricant has been selected, regular used oil analysis, such as the Mobil Serv℠ Lubricant Analysis (MSLA), can help reduce unscheduled equipment downtime. The service enables operators to proactively identify potential equipment maintenance issues before they occur. This, in turn, can help to reduce unscheduled downtime, improve equipment life and extend oil drain intervals.

So what is used oil analysis? It’s best described as a blood test for machinery, providing insights into the condition and performance of the lubricants being used. This information can help users detect potential problems such as contamination, deposit build-up and wear, helping to improve equipment reliability.

What other challenges do you face in the mining industry? Would love to hear your comments, please share them below. Or hit “Like” on the toolbar to the right if you found this article useful!

[1]The energy efficiency of Mobil DTE 10 Excel relates solely to the fluid performance when compared to conventional Mobil-branded hydraulic fluids. The technology used allows up to 6% increase in hydraulic pump efficiency compared to Mobil DTE 20 series when tested in standard hydraulic applications under controlled conditions. The energy efficiency claim for this product is based on test results on the use of the fluid conducted in accordance with all applicable industry standards and protocols.

  • Excellent article. I would like to share an experience associated with improvement; in 1998, Minera La Ciénega, Durango Mexico. I worked as the Mechanical Maintenance Supervisor at a Concentrator Plant.      The improvement - While pumping pulp-solids from the Grinding stage to the Settling stage, with a non-stop 24h operation, early damage problems were detected in the pump housing bearings, in which Mobilux EP 2 was used, with re-greasing procedures being carried out each shift (8 hours), mainly in the area with an environment of solid-fine abrasive materials and with excess moisture; in fact, the pumps used water seals, which if not properly controlled, caused problems and seriously affected housing bearings. The Mobilux EP 2 grease was easily contaminated and washed by the contaminated water, resulting in an insufficient lubrication and forcing the contamination to penetrate the bearings more easily. The Mobil engineer recommended us to use a better performance, synthetic grease to achieve the necessary improvement, which was Mobilith SHC 220 grease; we used it in the Housing bearings of the pumps and achieved very good results. Therefore, we managed to extend the re-greasing period to 2 weeks and the early damage problems were reduced to 80%. We were unable to extend the re-greasing period further, not because of the performance of the grease, rather because of the contamination of fine solids that would inevitably reach the housing doors and tend to penetrate the bearings; re-lubrication or re-greasing was necessary to try to force out the contamination of solid-fine materials with the grease used. We used this recommendation across the entire pulp-solid pumping processes in flotation areas and discharges in leaching settling tanks with excellent results.

  • The suitable grease for the machinery used in mines, as mentioned earlier on, as well as the extreme temperatures, loads and having to check their benefits, as well as the lubricants. Regards.