“The seven most expensive words in business are ‘we have always done it this way’,” says Jan Backer, SKF South Africa’s lubrication manager. “Lubrication management can make or break asset performance. Get your lubrication management right and you have a sound foundation for asset reliability.
There are many technologies • available in relation to lubricants and lubrication that ensure the right amount and type of lubrication is applied at the right time. In the food industry, however, the identification of potentially negative impacts on HACCP (hazard analysis and critical control points) has led to the emergence of a different approach to managing lubrication proactively.
Lubrication practices are not always effective and costs can be daunting. While good lubrication practices are widely accepted to be fundamental to plant reliability, the question is not about re-lubricating, but about the choices made to achieve the right outcome.
So how effective are current lubrication practices? If manually lubricating – do people know how much, with what and how often?
Some typical answers throughout the industry are: ‘I re-lubricate when I feel it is the right time’. How much? ‘It depends on the size of the man using the grease gun’. What with? ‘It depends on what grease cartridge is in the stores’. In other words, in the food and beverage industry, re-lubrication can be still an ad-hoc activity and not scientifically applied.
Why should one be concerned? The consequences of ineffective lubrication can be: excessive downtime; high spares consumption; food and operator safety risks; and ultimately, an expensive toll on the maintenance budget. In other words, lubrication actions can often cause as many problems as they solve:
- Costs: Frequent re-lubrication in- creases grease and labour costs and is associated with the need to purge grease from all bearing positions.
- Contamination risks: over-lubricating can often compromise Food safety.
- Operator safety: Re-lubricating of- ten needs to be done in hazardous working areas with difficult access. Additionally, leaking seals can cause slips and trips causing high costs of absenteeism due to injuries.
- Resources and skills: There is a skill- level challenge the industry. People that can re-lubricate machines correctly are in short supply and retaining the necessary knowledge and skill has become difficult.
The industry is sending warning signs
Ever tightening food industry safety regulations are demanding different ways of managing lubrication. Very often, lubrication management reviews are part of HACCP certification and are checked by third party regulators, which can be employed by the producer or imposed on them by their customers, often retailers. The new Food Safety Modernisation Act (2011) for example is designed to prevent contamination in the food chain, rather than define reactive procedures for dealing with problems once they arise.
Companies certainly would not wish to be one of those faced with a recall due to food safety issues.
As a result of safety or health-related recalls of food products:
- 55% of customers would switch brands, at least temporarily.
- 16% would never purchase the product again.
- 17% would avoid any product from
the recalled brand (Harris Poll, 2014) Furthermore, companies are pressured to set targets for the environment and sustainability, which can be impacted by the way lubrication and re-lubrication is executed. Zero landfill is one of the common KPIs to follow and the trend is to change from disposal-oriented to avoidance-focused environmental strategies. (The Zero Landfill Initiative)
For example, it is common practice to re-lubricate bearings after each wash down. During this process, excess grease is discharged past the bearing seals (purged). This can compromise food safety, people safety and of course asset reliability. During the next wash down cycle, the grease is washed away and into the plant’s wastewater.
Lubrication as a strategy instead of a management practice
It is now time for the food and beverage industry to reconsider the way lubrication is practiced on sites and to look into alternative technologies that can simultaneously provide food and operator safety, optimised costs and environmental benefits.
Among the dedicated technologies available to support the management of the lubrication of food and beverage processing machinery, re-lubrication-free bearings and advanced sealing systems have emerged as potential solutions that can mitigate against the risk of food and operator safety, while also avoiding excess lubricants being washed into the ￼￼wastewater stream or disposed of using grease cleaning wipes.
At the starting point, operators should proactively assess costs, risks, opportunities and benefits of managing lubrication as a broad strategy.
At SKF, we have found that a technical assessment of a production process provides the structure to readily identify potential issues, risks, opportunities and benefits in moving from current approaches. And the good news is that it does not require much time and from the assessment results, it is usually easy to plan short, medium and long-term activities.
Challenge the ‘always done it this way’ attitude
Identification of potential negative impacts on HACCP can lead to areas for improvement where SKF offers a range of technology and service offerings dedicated to helping to manage lubrication. These cover for example
- Re-lubrication free bearing technologies.
- High efficiency seals that keep lubricants in and contaminants out.
- Lubrication management: we can re- view and optimise lubrication strategy and lubrication routines in order to: apply correct amounts of lubricant at correct intervals, either manually or through automatic dispensing systems; use correct tools that allow correct methods to be followed; and set up an appropriate training programme for maintenance technicians and operators.
- SKF can also offer smart ways to detect poor lubrication condition by analysing vibration data through ‘vibration parameters’.
There are different ways to meet these challenges. “At SKF we can offer more than the traditional lubrication management approaches that look only at lubricants and the way to apply them. We can bring technologies that take away the need to re-lubricate, adding value from a food safety, cost, reliability or environmental perspective. What makes the difference is our deep knowledge of rotating equipment, industry experience and commitment to reduce costs of ownership,” Backer concludes.