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Clean lubrication dramatically improves operating lifespan of machinery

As excessive levels of fluid contamination in machinery results in unnecessarily high operational costs and unscheduled downtime periods in the South African industrial sector, wear control specialist Filter Focus offers comprehensive advice to combat this trend.

Although more sophisticated fluid designs, higher pressures, tighter clearances and electro hydraulics have made modern day machinery far more productive and user friendly, they have also increased the need for cleaner fluid systems throughout the lifecycle of the product.

A Filter Focus Wear Control specialist  points out that contaminants and particles as small as 2 to 5 micron can result in premature wear and efficiency loss. "Contamination directly impacts on the lifespan of an oil, as well as that of the component in which it is operating. The goal is to implement contamination control systems and practices that maximise machine and lubricant life, while minimising capital and operating expenses to provide the greatest overall value."

According to the specialist, all oil is contaminated to some extent when purchased. "The storage and handling practices will then determine the actual cleanliness of the oil, before it is placed into operation. Particulate contamination measuring in the millions will be present in new oil even before starting and, during operation, each contaminant has the ability to create up to four metal wear particles, thereby creating a cycle that continues to grow exponentially. Standard OE filters are generally only capable of addressing solid contamination above 10 micron, thereby being largely inefficient.”

He does, however, note that continuous offline filtration will successfully remove the majority of these contaminants. "The successful removal of all solids, semi-solids, free water, dissolved water, depleted additives, varnish and sludge will result in reduced operating temperatures and less propensity to foam, oxidise or chemically alter. Preventing contamination from entering oils will drastically increase the operating life of lubricants too, as oil integrity is kept within specification for longer periods, leading to improved efficiency and machine availability."

How to quantify oil cleanliness

The ISO 4406 standard establishes the relationship between particle counts and cleanliness. This internationally recognised model uses a code system to quantify contaminant levels by particle size in micrometers (µm). Using ISO 4406, a machine owner or operator can set simple limits for excessive contamination levels, based on quantifiable cleanliness measurements. This standard allows for the quantification of current particulate cleanliness levels, and setting targets for cleanup.

The importance of keeping oil clean on a consistent basis

The simple fact is that contaminated oil destroys machines, and the specialist stresses that clean oil is one of the most important factors in extending the service life of the lubricated components of all machinery. "In hydraulic systems, clean fluid is essential for successful long-term operation. Although machines equipped with rolling element bearings are sensitive to particulate contamination, machines using fluid-film bearings are not immune to such damage. Even modest improvements in lubricant cleanliness can result in a significantly extended machine lifecycle."

The specialist highlights the fact that each machine class should be evaluated for cleanliness levels that are appropriate to its application. "Turbine electro-hydraulic control (EHC) systems and many aero derivative gas turbines are examples of industrial machines that require extremely clean oil for optimal performance and long life. Filter systems rated to remove particles as small as 3 µm to 5 µm are commonly used in such applications."

Although the precise improvements in machine life; as a result of cleaner oil are specific to each individual machine and application, the specialist states that studies on improving lubricant cleanliness in numerous industries have all shown dramatic extensions in expected machinery lifecycles. "In one example, a reduction of particles larger than 10 µm from 1000/ml to 100/ml resulted in a five-fold increase in machine life. An additional benefit of cleaner oil is that it is much easier to detect subtle changes in the amount of wear debris than in dirty oil."

What's more, the specialist reveals that studies undertaken by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) have shown engine wear reductions of 50 percent when filtering crankcase oil to 30 µm, and up to 70 percent when filtering to 15 µm - when compared to industry standard filtering to 40 µm.

Bearing this in mind, the specialist indicates that filtration, storage and handling procedures are the key areas of focus in oil clean up. "It is important to measure and evaluate current cleanliness levels to establish baselines for comparison. From there, it is advisable to examine and evaluate current storage and handling practices, before setting cleanliness targets that are based on goals for longer machine life and reduced maintenance and downtime costs," he concludes.

Filter Focus are successfully established as global leaders in reliability engineering and wear Control; offering industry substantial and quantifiable performance improvements to plant and equipment. By combining expertise in the fields of filtration, lubrication and tribology; Filter Focus yields considerable financial benefit to its customers, while diligently conserving the environment.

 

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