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Jim Fitch wrote a pretty comprehensive article recently, going into the finer minutia of what to do when you can't get the lubricants that you normally use. I wanted to take some time and give you a pretty good strategy to help mitigate some of the woes of having to swap suppliers to get the lubricants that your machines need for proper operation.
First off, don't be brand loyal. The lubricant manufacturers aren't paying your bills. They aren't loyal to you - they sell to your competitors. Unfortunately, you just aren't that special to them, so you don't owe them anything.
Formulations might be "unique" from brand to brand, but that doesn't mean that your current lubricant is the only one that can get the job done (and done well). Start looking at the technical specifications for these lubricants and the specific needs of the equipment versus looking for a specific brand of lubricant.
One of the first things you are going to want to do is label your oils. Not the way that most folks do it, with the brand name and whatever iteration of oil/grease it is, but with the technical specifications for the given lubricant.
Believe it or not, there are technical specifications for pretty much any lubricant out there, and even an ISO standard that defines the specifications based on usage. ISO 6743 (as well as ISO 11158:2009) has the areas broken down into 15 different buckets and then another 250+ specifications as to what type of base oil it is, types of additives, thickeners (for greases), etc. And since this is an ISO standard, it is recognized internationally; that means if I know the specifications for my lubricants, I can ensure they are meeting these standards regardless of who I am getting them from. The general populace may not know about this standard, and lubricant suppliers may feign ignorance, but rest assured, 99% of lubricant suppliers will know about this standard and which of their oils meet which specifications.
Image courtesy of aminternationaltnllc.com
This standard can be a fantastic tool. You can contact your supplier and ask them about the lubricants you are currently using and where they fall within this ISO standard. Once you have this information for your current lubricants, you can start looking into other lubricants for when you are in a pinch or to see if there is a better deal out there somewhere.
For example, let's look at hydraulic fluids, which are absolutely everywhere. What we typically run into is an ISO 68 AW hydraulic fluid. Let's say that this is a hydraulic system for a 70-foot truck dumper in South Alabama.
The OEM gives specifications for the oil and lists the major brands and options. Well, it is safe to assume that the named lubricant meets the required specifications from the OEM. So why can't we look at those specs and reference this against all other oils out there that meet these specifications? This is exactly what we should be doing.
An OEM recommends specific lubricants not because they are fans of a specific lubricant manufacturer but because that lubricant has specific additives and performance characteristics that are best suited for their equipment. Now keep in mind that their specifications may or may not match your use of their equipment exactly (as far as the viscosity portion goes), but the performance of the overall formulation is what they are looking at. So why not use this formulation performance as our standard identifier for the lubricant?
Let's say that the OEM for a given truck dumper recommends Mobil DTE 10 Excel 46 for their system. It just so happens that Mobil has given us the specifications in their technical data sheet. Under these ISO standards, the Mobil product meets the requirements for both HM and HV classifications. So if I find myself in a pinch and can't get my hands on the Mobil product, I can look to other lubricants that meet the same standards. Like I said, these are globally recognized standards, and your suppliers know about these standards. Sometimes it is as easy as looking at the TDS, but other times you might have to reach out to your suppliers to get these identifiers.