Lubrication oils are the bloodlines of machines and equipment, and their timely analysis is essential to ensure their optimal performance and health.
Although the base oils in lubricants do not wear out or degrade easily, they lose their ability over time to provide lubricating functions such as reducing friction and dissipating heat. If such lubricants go unnoticed for any length of time, catastrophic failures in the plant and factory may result.
The following factors often cause the gradual degradation of a lubricant;
- Self-generated contamination of the components in the oil compartment
- Oxidation of the oil due to overheating and other reasons
- Viscosity changes caused by temperature changes, fuel dilution, or oxidation
- Water contamination of the oil, which occurs either directly or through condensation
Other conditions that also contribute to oil degradation but, to a lesser extent, include; low-quality fuel, equipment operation in low or over-cooled temperatures, and a faulty emission control system. All these conditions necessitate regular oil drains and are described below in detail.
Self-Generated Contamination Of Components
Self-generated contamination is created during the systems operation and includes particles of wear debris. Every machine, engine, pump vane, gear set, hydraulic pump, and other machine part gradually wears over time and gives rise to small broken particles that must be filtered out to prevent them from contaminating the oil.
Particles contaminate or degrade oil in the following ways;
Tiny, sub-micronic parts usually containing iron and copper, when detached from machine parts, become catalysts and slowly attack the oil. This attack gives rise to acid particles, which can quickly degrade the oil.
Tiny metal contaminants can also combine with carbon particles, resulting from the combustion process in engines, and circulate with them in the system as solid particles. These particles that act like fine-grinding compounds can slowly scratch the machine's parts and cause more wear and tear.
It is important to note that if these self-generated contaminants are allowed to increase in number, they will damage the entire machine beyond repair. Even oil drain at this point will not work.
Oxidation Degradation Of The Oil
Oxidation is a chemical deterioration of oil often catalyzed by water and acid molecules such as oxygen and copper. Oil oxidation turns good oil into a bad one by increasing its viscosity and turning it into sludge and varnish.
A lubricant with a very thick viscosity will reduce oil flow and heat dissipation, further accelerating the oxidation process. Sludge and varnish significantly damage components and parts of machines, causing severe corrosion and ultimately machine failure.
Here is what causes oil oxidation;
- Unfavorable conditions and bad environment around the oil, such as increased temperature, can accelerate oil oxidation
- Contaminants such as water, air, acids, process fluids and more, all lead to oil oxidation
- Worn metal parts from machines such as copper can substantially increase oil oxidation rates
We have described the detailed effects of oil oxidation on oil change intervals and the lubricant's performance in this blog.
Incorrect Or Poor Quality Fuel
The use of low-quality lubricant can cause severe corrosion problems in machines due to the formation of acids. To keep the machines working at their best, quality lubricants that have been tested and assessed for high-quality performance must be used.
It is important to note that going for cheaper, low-quality lubricants can cost you more down the lane. For example, using the wrong or poor quality lubricant can lead to decreased oil change intervals, machine failure, and costly plant downtime, which will far exceed your initial savings generated by using a low-cost lubricating oil.
Here is how you can select the right lubricant for your equipment.