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Proper lubrication facilitates uninterrupted machine operation and is one of the most important aspects of machine health and efficiency. The most common industrial lubricants primarily consist of a base oil and are either mineral-based, synthetic, or vegetable-based. Additives are also added to the base oil to optimize the properties of the lubricant. Another form of lubricant, grease, is made by combining a base oil with a thickening agent.
It serves many purposes, but the ultimate goal of a lubricant is to reduce unwanted friction (the resistance encountered when solid surfaces slide against each other). This friction reduction is accomplished by separating two solid surfaces with a thin layer of lubricant.
Friction, unabated, can cause many problems for machinery. Every metal surface within a machine, no matter how finely finished, will have some degree of roughness, with high points called asperities. As the surfaces move past each other, these asperities come into contact and catch on one another.
As the asperities catch and move, they rip each other apart, causing abrasions and adhesion, and in some scenarios, they can even weld and seize together. The pieces of metal torn from the component surfaces become free-moving particulates and are introduced to the machine’s lubrication system, causing further problems. Additionally, friction produces heat which, if unchecked, can quickly degrade the lubricant and cause catastrophic machine failure.
Beyond friction reduction, lubricants can also provide:
As stated above, there are three types of base oils used in a lubricant: mineral, vegetable, and synthetic. Vegetable oils, because of their lower oxidative stability and limited flow properties at cold temperatures, are seldom used for industrial purposes; instead, mineral and synthetic base oils are often used in industrial applications.