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We feel the impact of decreased efficiency in many ways. In our personal lives, it is paying more at the gas pump or seeing a rise in our monthly electric bill. For industrial facilities, this impact is magnified across the total amount of equipment running in the plant. Simple mistakes can result in massive amounts of excess energy consumption and increased wear of mechanical parts. By just modifying a few items and ensuring you are doing the correct things from the beginning, you can be well on your way to recouping some of these costs. These six items can help you save on your energy costs:
Selecting the wrong viscosity, either too high or too low, can lead to issues and enhance energy costs. Too high, and you will be churning through excess fluid friction; too low, and mechanical friction between machine parts increases. Ideally, we will be at the optimal zone where we have completely separated the operating surfaces but not added a significant strain on the driving part. This is the most common mismatch between a lubricant and a machine: the selection of the wrong viscosity.
The majority of equipment in industrial facilities are wet sumps and splash-lubricated. Grease-filled components fall into this category as well. When excess lubricant is applied, it creates more material for the machine to move through, which in turn decreases efficiency. This is like walking along the beach in water that is ankle-deep compared to waist-deep; don’t waste energy churning through lubricant that isn’t needed. Ensure all machines have a way to inspect the proper lubricant level and only regrease components with the appropriate amount rather than purging them.
The type of base oil used in the finished lubricant can affect long-term energy savings. Most of the savings are related to how well the molecules of lubricants can slide past each other. With lower refined lubricants, there can be millions of combinations of molecular shapes and sizes, which impacts their ability to move relative to each other. In a highly refined mineral or synthetic oil, on the other hand, the molecules repeat and move more easily past one another. While these savings may be slight, they will add up over time, especially when multiplied across many machines.
Additives can help protect surfaces and extend the useful life of a lubricant. When selected properly, they can help minimize friction during start-up, which will save energy on equipment that may start and stop frequently. Lubricants formulated with friction modifiers allow for a slight chemical film to be established at cooler temperatures than traditional wear-control additives; this allows for easier starts and stops, less friction, less wear, and ultimately, savings associated with their use. The use of viscosity index improver additives is also common practice. These additives allow for a temporary “thinning” of the fluid in areas of high flow, so they are more easily pumped than a fluid without them present.
Often considered a lower maintenance function, the tasks surrounding adding lubricants seldom gets scrutinized or reviewed for improvements. Most don’t know the proper way to use a grease gun or add oil without putting the machine in jeopardy or making it work harder than it needs to. Lubricants should be added slowly to greased machines when they are running. Slowly pump the grease to minimize churning. Add oils in a manner that won’t create significant turbulence in the system that can impact pump efficiency or kick up debris that leads to the wearing of machine parts.
Similar to the previous point, a review of lubrication intervals should be performed to ensure that the application of lubricants is done when needed and not resulting in greatly overextended intervals or the disposal of healthy lubricants. By doing condition-based lubrication, you can ensure that the lubricant is staying in a healthy condition and there is not an unnecessary break in production based upon some calendar date interval that may not be applicable to the system at hand.