Manual lubrication is often inaccurate, time-consuming and a source of confusion. Especially in the chemical industry, where a lot of lubrication points are difficult to access or located in hazardous or remote locations, it also poses potential health and safety risks. The following article covers the many advantages automated lubrication provides for the chemical industry.
The manufacture of most goods today involves the use of various chemicals. This gives an indication of how huge and manifold the chemical industry really is. However, the challenges faced in these complex plants are also enormous and range from equipment availability and reliability, energy efficiency and sustainability to, last but not least, the safety of personnel.
What is still often underestimated is the influence lubrication can have on each of these factors. Custom-fit lubrication ensures a smooth, energy-efficient operation of production and reduces negative effects on the environment. The secret of optimum lubrication lies with using the right amount of the right lubricant at the right spot.
This is not easy to achieve through manual lubrication in a chemical plant, where sometimes several thousand lubrication points have to be maintained. In addition, it is not uncommon to see more than 100 different lubricants used at a single chemical production facility, with many of the lubrication points located in hazardous, remote or hard-to-access locations. At some point, human error during the lubrication routine seems almost inevitable.
The following article covers the many advantages automated lubrication provides for the chemical industry.
Since manual lubrication is a risky, labour-intensive, time-consuming and low-precision process, the obvious solution is automated lubrication. However, in order for automatic lubricators to become a real benefit for the maintenance team, they have to be specifically adjusted to the parameters of the application, as well as equipped with the appropriate lubricant. Correctly applied, automated lubrication not only provides a safer environment for workers and safer operations in the chemical plant, it also eliminates the need for plant shutdowns during maintenance.
Lubrication in the chemical sector is not always a simple and obvious task. A chemical production plant can harbour many hazardous areas, and lubrication points are often inaccessable during production times. At the same time, accurate lubrication is of the highest importance, since malfunction or mechanical failure could, in the worst case, be the cause of severe accidents and even fatalities, for example in the event of an explosion caused by incorrectly lubricated valves or actuators.
Areas in which the air is contaminated with particles (dust), areas where there is a risk of explosion as well as areas where toxic or aggressive vapours may occur, pose a constant safety or health risk for maintenance personnel. It is often mandatory to wear additional safety equipment. The use of automatic lubricators has the advantage of significantly reducing the need for handling equipment and moving in areas posing a risk to the health and safety of the workers. This necessarily translates into a lower risk of injury and less exposure to potentially toxic substances.
The automation of lubrication also reduces the need to wear a Hazmat-type suit and respirators in areas with a risk of contact with hazardous substances, as well as the need for work at height with platforms and a safety harness.
In hazardous areas, a completely sealed automatic lubricator specifically designed for these challenges has to be used, such as the Klübermatic Flex, which has several approvals relevant for the chemical sector, e.g. CE, Protection Class IP 68, FM, ATEX and IECEx standards.
Since the use of conventional lubricants in the vicinity of a cryogenic environment can have serious consequences such as fire or even explosion, the automatic lubricator can be supplied with a special grease, which has been specially designed for the lubrication of mechanical components such as bearings or valves dedicated to oxygen service and other extreme conditions. These greases are BAM-approved.
Reliability and good maintenance practices are essential for the smooth running of operations in the chemical industry. Mechanical failure can result in a major production shutdown and significant loss of revenues.
While lack of lubricant causes premature wear of the component, overlubrication can be the cause of overheating and vibration. Maintenance mechanics have to be aware of the effect an incorrecty applied lubricant or overlubrication can have in these extremely sensitive environments.
Switching to automatic lubrication can help to eliminate the failures related to excessive or insufficient lubrication, and the mix-up of incompatible greases. In addition, automated lubrication considerably increases equipment reliability by offering the best grease refresh rate and the best lubrication regime. A small amount of lubricant in regular and close intervals is the winning combination to avoid overgreasing, overheating, vibration, ingress of contaminants and wear from lack of lubricant.
Overgreasing typically causes stress, overheating, and rapid lubricant degradation, but it's not just the enemy of reliability. Overgreasing also has a direct impact on the environment, as well as on energy efficiency.
On the environmental side, overgreasing causes the grease to end up in the environment and requires the use of an enormous amount of water, rags, degreasers or toxic solvents for cleaning. In sensitive applications, it is advisable to use the Klüberbio range of biodegradable lubricants, wich are offered in combination with Klübermatic units for lubrication points posing a risk to the environment.
Regarding energy efficiency, both a lack of lubricant and an excess of grease have the effect of increasing friction and internal resistance of the mechanical components. This causes the operating temperature to rise, and it negatively affects the efficiency of the equipment. By combining a Klübermatic automatic lubricator with an ultra-homogenised grease, for example from the Klüberquiet BQ range, it is possible to achieve an optimum level of efficiency on the rotating equipment.
Another positive side effect of automated lubrication is the reduction of consumption of fossil fuels in conventional vehicles used by the maintenance team in order to cover the large areas of the chemical production sites, and of power to recharge electric vehicles.
Regardless of the areas and environmental requirements, a range of automatic lubricators from Klüber Lubrication is available for a variety of applications in the chemical industry. Different technologies and different formats offer a multitude of assembly solutions, adapted to the specific requirements.
Klübermatic lubrication units in combination with precisely fit specialty lubricants enable maximised reliability of the mechanical components as well as a consolidated lubricant inventory. An investment that will pay off!
*BAM: definition of approval
We look forward to receive your message!