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Engineering Connection: Lubrication's dirty secrets revealed

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Synthetic oils reduce friction, primarily because all of their molecules are of similar size and shape, while traditional oils have molecules of varying shapes and additives such as paraffin wax. The test results from synthetics are impressive.

But, synthetics have a dirty secret--as do all oils. And in more ways than one. First of all, synthetics will destroy certain types of seals--seals that are in common use. These seals, made of buna rubber or silicone compounds, do not last long in the presence of synthetic lubricants.

So, what are you going to do? You want the increased performance of synthetics, and all the attendant cost-savings. But, you can't afford the downtime, labor, and materials to replace every seal in your plant. Whether you are a print shop or a press room, that kind of downtime can put you out of business for good. Hmm.

Let's take another look at the situation. What do you do to as part of your preventive maintenance to reduce oil operating temperature? You change the oil. But, oil doesn't wear out. It just gets contaminated with carbon, metallic particles, and other abrasives--along with corrosive agents, water, and various minor substances. Not only must the oil lubricate metal-to-metal, but it must also lubricate between the metal and those abrasive particles. Worse yet, those abrasives gum together, and stick to surfaces. So, even after you change the oil, you still have destructive crud in the system. And it finds its way back into that fresh, clean oil.  Hmm, again.

What happens if you disassemble the machine, clean all the parts, and then run it? It runs cooler, and uses less energy. The oil is cooler, too. Until you start to build up crud. And then you're back to the same old situation. Hmm.

Do you see a pattern, here? That's right, dirt is the enemy. So, how do you get rid of it? Changing and filtering your oil helps immensely, but such measures won't remove built-up abrasive crud. That's the bad news. The good news is you can use a a metal cleaning additive that will clean, and keep clean, all of the internal working parts of your machinery or equipment.

And it works effectively with natural, petroleum derived lubricants. So, while you may not be able to replace that natural oil with synthetic, you can make it perform much, much better. Traditional oils, in combination with the right metal cleaning additive, can provide huge cost-savings and long service life. Clean metal surfaces, free of third party abrasive residues, allow the oil to do its job.

That's the dirty secret of lubrication. Now, don't take this article as a slam against synthetic lubricants. Quite the contrary. You should use them whenever you can, but the sad truth is you can't safely use them in many industrial and commercial applications. In fact, in some industries, you simply cannot use them because seals that will tolerate them will not work in the processes that industry requires.

One thing many lubrication vendors are doing is hawking synthetics as the cure-all, and they are wrong for doing so. In fact, you undercut the viability of synthetics when your oil and the guts of your machines are dirty. So, the first step is to clean that oil, using an additive designed to do the job.

The fine folks at  have developed such an additive and believe it is the only one formulated for industrial and commercial application. How do you know this additive will do any good? Try some in one machine, and see how it works. If you like the results, use it on your other machines.

Oh, one other thing some vendors forget to mention. No oil or additive can make up for improper machine alignment or balancing. If you are having excess vibration or excess heating, make sure your machine is mechanically set up right. Make sure it has the proper voltage on all three phases, with less than 2% phase imbalance.

And make sure you are not mixing incompatible greases (a common error). Mindconnection has a grease application chart to help you determine this. The fine folks at have the additive you need.


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