How to Assess and Correct Your Lubrication Situation

Construction machines are designed and built to operate daily in some of the toughest jobs on the planet. Business-savvy contractors know that in order to maximize machine life, productivity and profitability, they need to give their equipment every advantage they can.

Obviously, a robust and consistently executed maintenance program is the first line of defense for keeping your machinery in peak condition. But, at the heart of that defense there is a powerful, but often neglected maintenance procedure that can, over time exponentially increase machine productivity and extend working life. A good lubrication regiment.

But all greases and oils are not alike, cautions Chris Foti, Technical Director at JAX Industrial. Foti notes that many lubes and oils are designed for specifically powertrain or hydraulic components. “There are many different types of oils and greases and thousands of formulations built for specific applications and working environments” Foti says. “And understanding which types should be used with which components, or in particular circumstances is key for putting an effective lubrication policy in place for your fleet.

Lubricating fluids are made up of base stock and additives, while greases are formulated from base stock, thickeners, and additives, Foti says. The selection of base stocks plays a major role in determining the general efficacy of a product. Additives, such as oxidation and corrosion inhibitors, anti-wear agents, emulsifiers, demulsifiers, and detergents determine how well a lubricant performs for a particular purpose or environment. Gaining a basic understanding of those factors will go a long way toward helping you select the right lubes for your machinery fleet. That’s because a quality lubricant will be the correct combination of base oil and additives formulated for a specific application that will reduce downtime, extend maintenance intervals, and extend the life of the equipment. 

Lubrication Specification Considerations

Many factors go into selecting the proper lubricant for particular applications, Foti says. Key considerations such as temperature, environment, speed, loads, and maintenance intervals will help direct you toward the right lubricant required for the application at hand. But, he cautions, the proper lubricant is only part of the equation. “Factors such as ease of application, staff training, and each operation’s lubrication policies are important to consider when choosing a specific lubricant and lubricant supplier,” he notes. “At JAX, we always recommend consulting with a lubrication professional when selecting the right lubricant solution for your operation.”

To do this, Foti recommends starting with the machine manufacturers’ recommendations. “Manufacturers make lubrication recommendations based on their equipment. Remember that there are lubricants that can extend lubrication life cycles, extend bearing, chain, cable, or gear life, or help maintain equipment for longer timeframes than the original manufacturer recommendation.”

On the other hand, Foti cautions, manufacturers aren’t always aware of the latest lubrication technology and most recommendations are based upon a generic set of operating conditions and factors. “Your lubrication program should be based upon your unique operating conditions,” Foti advises. “Starting with the OEM recommendations and working with a lubrication professional to adjust to your specific operating environment is the best way to get the most out of your lubricants. Additionally, used oil analysis programs can be beneficial to applications that are part of a system. For instance, used oil analysis programs are commonly used in hydraulic systems, compressed air systems, and engines to track trends and identify and isolate potential issues within these complex systems. It is important to choose a used oil analysis program that not only identifies a potential issue, but also provides the expertise to recommend corrective actions based upon your application history.”

Once you’ve settled on the correct lubricants for your machinery and applications, you can then focus on putting a comprehensive maintenance plan in place to make sure you’re getting the most out of them. “All mechanical equipment with moving parts on a jobsite that need regular lubrication or inspection should be included in that comprehensive lubrication program,” Foti says. “These can include bearings, chains, gears, compressors, hydraulics, and engine oils. Scheduled maintenance should be based on a mixture of factors and will vary based upon the type of equipment, type of lubricant being used, and operating environment – and could well include daily lubrication procedures carried before a machine hits the jobsite.”

Protecting Your Investment

Once you’ve done all the legwork and put your lubrication plan in place, you need to make sure that you work with your supplier to have a reliable, and adequate stock of oils and greases on hand at all times. You also need to take steps to ensure that your oil and grease stocks are properly stored so that they won’t be contaminated or unusable when you need them.

The good news is that greases and oils alike have relatively long shelf lives. Foti says that how long a lubricant can be stored depends upon the type of lubricant and the storage environment. For instance, synthetic oils and aerosols be safely stored for up to five years, greases up to three years, and biodegradable oils, up to two years – provided they are sealed in a clean, dry, and moderate temperature environment. It is always a best practice to consult the lubricant manufacturer regarding a specific blend when storing for long periods of time.

“It is always optimal to store lubricants in a clean, dry location indoors,” Foti says. “But, of course, that isn’t always possible. In less-than-ideal storage situations, your goal should be to provide a storage environment that moderates temperatures and minimizes the potential for contamination.”

Regardless of the storage situation, Foti says that all grease and oil containers should be clearly marked with both the contents and the equipment application to avoid the misapplication of lubricants. “To help cut down on errors like these, JAX strongly recommends employing a lubrication program that has dedicated, color-coded transfer equipment and procedures.”

Getting a good lubrication plan in place takes a bit of research and some legwork. But, once established, it can add years to the life of your construction machinery and bolster your bottom-line, to boot.

The Growth of Green Lubricants

Once considered a highly specialized alternative to conventional greases and oils, environmentally friendly lubrication options are becoming an increasingly common requirement for contractors working in sensitive areas or clients who are willing to pay a premium for green machinery on jobsites.

“Without a doubt, ‘environmentally friendly’ is a growing category within the lubricant industry today,” says Foti. “As increasing regulatory, consumer preference, and societal pressures are driving industries such as commercial marine operations, forestry, mining, agriculture, and heavy construction to switch from conventional lubricants, the industry has responded with a whole host of products that help protect both the environment and your construction machinery investment.”

This is relatively new terrain for the lubricant industry. As such, Foti notes that the term “environmentally friendly lubricant” continues to evolve with emerging technology that increases performance while minimizing environmental impact. “In 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defined Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs),” Foti says. “These new guidelines set the definitions for the toxicity, bioaccumulation, and biodegradability of green lubricants and created a distinction between inherently biodegradable and readily biodegradable formulations.”

For contractors, the baseline distinction is that while formulations offering inherent biodegradability can be considered environmentally friendly, Foti adds, those meeting the U.S. EPA standard of readily biodegradable – degrading 60 percent or more within 28 days – offer the least impact to the environment.

There are still many questions concerning the use of environmentally friendly lubes today. For example, is it to meet a regulation/requirement? Is it to mitigate a risk? What are the performance requirements? No matter your reason, to assure conformity with contractors and meet customer expectations, Foti says it is important to consult with your lubrication professional to help you chose the best lubricant to meet your performance and environmental goals while assuring adequate protection for your machinery assets on the jobsite.  

This material appears in the December 2021 issues of the ACP Magazines:

California Builder & EngineerConstructionConstruction DigestConstruction NewsConstructioneerDixie ContractorMichigan Contractor & BuilderMidwest ContractorNew England ConstructionPacific Builder & EngineerRocky Mountain ConstructionTexas ContractorWestern Builder