Replace Problematic Centralized Grease Systems with Solid Lube

Proper lubrication plays a crucial role in ensuring smooth operation and combating premature bearing failures. If you can design a system that applies the correct amount of lubricant at regular intervals, maintenance tasks will be minimized. Lubrication-related issues account for about 80% of premature bearing failures. Because of this, minimizing the maintenance responsibility of end-users will be optimal.

There are remote lubrication systems focused on making greasing a bearing easier, faster, and more efficient. A centralized system for large applications offers the benefit of being able to lubricate away from the application. This makes the lubrication process less time consuming and less costly. With centralized lubrication systems, the lubrication process can usually occur without stopping the machinery which can cause production delays.

Centralized grease systems seem advantageous to OEMs and end users alike, but they create their own set of complications which may not be ideal for the unique demands of the application. We’ll cover these complications, why they may not be ideal for your operation’s long-term health, and why solid lubrication might be a better choice.

Grease Lines and Cleanliness

Cleanliness is one advantage of centralized grease systems. Manually greasing each bearing can lead to over-lubrication, potential contamination, and often require equipment stoppages. Centralized grease systems attempt to address this issue by allowing maintenance workers to administer grease away from the mounted bearings. 

However, each fitting and connection is an additional weak point in the lubrication system. Highly contaminated or heavily trafficked environments can damage these lines and fittings. This may lead to stoppages for repairs. Additionally, all bearings attached to the system may fail due to under-lubrication if leaks go unnoticed.

To prevent failures, operators need to determine the health of bearings quickly. Are they leaking? Have the seals been compromised by over-greasing? Long grease lines may lead to fewer visual inspections of the bearings.

A photo of mounted bearing units that get their lubrication from a centralized system. The bearing seals are blown out by excessive amounts of grease. The Grease is attracting contamination and the working environment is sullied.

Grease Lines and the Unknowns

Precise control over the amount of grease being delivered to bearings is another challenge. Additional components like meters or sensors are often required to ensure accuracy. Varying lengths of grease lines can result in uneven distribution of grease among multiple bearings within the same application.

Centralized grease systems can make distribution of lubrication across multiple bearings difficult. There are several reasons for this:

Varying lengths of lines

The path of the grease in a central lubrication system will directly impact its ability to effectively lubricate bearings. In cases where remote grease lines vary in length, the lubrication will follow the path of least resistance. This means the grease will not always be distributed evenly.

Bearings attached to shorter lines will typically receive more grease than those attached to longer lines, even though the variance may be small. This translates to over and under-greasing of bearings within the same application.

Using meters or sensors to individually grease bearings, such as single-point lubrication systems (SPLs), may be more effective. However, this requires additional components and increases foot-traffic around equipment, which increases costs and reduces ease of use.

Longer lines and older grease

When greasing a bearing, you’re working with small amounts applied at set intervals. This increases the potential of compromising the quality of grease farther along the line. This becomes especially applicable when remote grease lines stretch over longer distances.

So, what do we mean by “compromised quality”? In the context of extended grease lines, the grease that ultimately reaches the bearing may not be the most recently applied. Instead, it could be from the last application, the one before that, or even one from multiple applications prior. This situation means that the crucial component safeguarding the bearing could be compromised by age or exposure.

An illustration of a grease line. The line is divided into four sections to show that the most recent relubrication interval sits in the line while older grease is pushed into the bearing.

The cost of lubrication systems

The cost of lubrication systems vary widely and can be significant. Considering expenses for additional components and replacements, grease for bearings is an ongoing expense. Stainless steel lines can be exceptionally costly. Balancing these expenses with potential benefits becomes challenging.

Solid Lubrication As A Solution

Considering these issues, exploring an alternative like solid lubrication becomes valuable. Solid lubrication is an oil-saturated polymer that, unlike grease, provides a bearing with all the necessary lubricant throughout its lifetime. This approach reduces the risk of damage or leaks by eliminating the need for relubrication.

Micro-pores in the polymer release oil as the bearing operates and reabsorb oil when not in use. You can rely on solid lubricants to provide oil at the right time and in the right quantities without interruption. Grease compatibility, missed maintenance, or broken lines are no longer an issue because the lubrication is designed to last for the entire service life of the bearing. 

Solid lubrication, when compared to traditional grease, goes further to protect the bearing from contamination in dirty or harsh environments. The polymer fills the internal space of the bearing and acts as an additional seal.  

A 3d render of a mounted bearing. the bearings shields and seals are floating away from the unit itself in an exploded view. The view allows the lubilife polymer to be seen inside the bearing.

With solid lubrication, the risk of failure from lubrication-related issues is virtually eliminated. There is no guessing at lubrication levels or worries about inaccessibility. Bearings perform efficiently, with consistent lubrication. Solid lubricants go further to reduce problematic variables than any other bearing lubrication type.

Solid lubrication stands out as a compelling choice due to its inherent advantages. Even so, engineers must evaluate whether solid lubrication will meet the specific requirements of their application.

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