Lubrication dispensing systems with safety in mind

Efficiency and cost savings are two of the key benefits to having a centralised lubrication system, but there is also a third and important reason – safety.

JSG Industrial Systems (JSG) is a company that has many strings to its bow, including its centralised lubrication systems technology supplied by SKF Lincoln for the food and beverage industry among many other sectors.

As in many industrial factories, food and beverage processing and manufacturing plants have a lot of critical machinery that need to be kept running, sometimes 24-hours a day. In order to keep the machinery in peak condition there are many facets that need to be taken into consideration, and good lubrication is critically important.

“A central lubrication system is key if you have equipment that is large and the lubrication points are spread out, and difficult to access,” said Marcantonio. “If the lubrication points are difficult or unsafe to access when the machine is running, it is easier to service these points via a lubrication distribution system serviced by a centralised pump. The system is then programmed to run at pre-determined intervals usually prescribed by the OEM.

“Every lubrication point needs a certain amount of grease each day and the most efficient way to deliver this is in small increments over regular intervals in order to keep the bearings running at optimum levels of performance.”

According to Marcantonio, one of the biggest advantages with such a system is that each lubrication point is provided with an exact quantity of lubricant at regular frequency, keeping the bearings lubricated optimally. To get the best results, it is ideal to apply the grease while the machine is running as this ensures uniform coverage.

He also pointed out the aforementioned safety issues when lubricating machinery manually because sometimes the lubrication points are deep inside a machine and therefore maintenance staff find access an issue when equipment is running.

“From a hygiene point of view, if you can only access that machine once a week when it’s not running, the tendency is to go in there and overlubricate the bearings,” he said. “They apply as much grease as they can, which is detrimental to the bearings. If you apply too much grease into a bearing, it won’t run efficiently and you are potentially shortening the life of the bearing. Even worse, what you typically find is that you will get a lot of spillage and contamination because of over lubrication. Bearings will leak grease over the floor and equipment and potentially contaminate the goods that are being manufactured. In a food environment, that can be disastrous.

“You can also cause a bearing to fail if over lubricated, particularly on high-speed machines where the rolling elements have to work against excess grease which causes heat and increased bearing load.”

SKF Lincoln’s centralised lubrication systems come in at a reasonable cost, and are easy to use. A moderately complex system can start between $5,000 to $10,000 and will cover 50 to 100 lubrication points. Marcantonio said if a company is lubricating those points manually then they will employ someone to do the work by hand which could take them up to half a day.

“You’re saving on labour and you are also extending equipment reliability,” he said.

There are two main systems SKF Lincoln produces that are ideal for the food and beverage industry. The first is the Quick Lube Progressive System for grease.

“It tends to be the most prominent system used in the food and beverage industry because the volume of grease you need to reach each bearing isn’t huge, unlike heavier applications such as mining conveyors. You are generally not delivering grease further than 20 to 30 metres and as such the system tends to be more compact. So, this technology is more suited to smaller, more compact machines.”

Then there is the Chain Lubrication System, which is basically an oil lubrication system, similar in principle to the Quick Lube Progressive System and applies finite quantities of oil onto the pins of chain. This is different to some manual systems, or more agricultural systems, which are semi-automatic – oil is applied to the whole chain, which may lead to spillage and oil wastage, and can cause contamination issues in the surrounding environment.

“Lincoln SKF systems will accurately control the quantity of oil to the part that needs to be lubricated – the pins on the chain. This minimises contamination and spillage and optimises lubrication, extending the life of the chain,” he said. “Some of the chains that are used in ovens and other applications cost 10s of 1000s of dollars – they are specialised and quite highly engineered. A simple $5000 lubrication system can greatly increase the service life of these chains when set up properly, reducing unplanned down time.”

The SKF Lincoln systems are easy to install by qualified tradespeople and once installed are simple to operate.

“You just set the run and pause time for the system to suit the amount of oil you want to apply over the time period and the system does the rest,” said Marcantonio.

“In recent times we have seen more companies move to using food grade lubricants in order to minimise risks associated with contamination of product by lubricants. The industry is very sensitive to contamination of product and equipment reliability.”

The other thing that is intrinsic in the food and beverage industry are frequent washdowns of plant and machinery. Most companies will use water or steam to clean equipment down on a regular basis and this practice can potentially wash out the lubricant from the bearings.

“The benefit of a centralised lubrication system is that when the equipment is put back into service the system immediately begins to apply more lubricant into the bearings replacing any grease that was removed during the wash down procedure. Potentially this lubricant is only replaced on a weekly basis if done manually,” said Marcantonio. “You could be running the bearings dry for days. The only way you will know if a bearing is running low on lubrication is via the use of condition monitoring technologies such as vibration or temperature sensing. If the plant is not using these technologies then there is no way of knowing when that bearing is low on lubricant. That is why a centralised lubricant can be so important.”

JSG Industrial Systems provides access to products and solutions from SKF Lincoln Lubrication within the Asia Pacific region.

The benefits of a centralised lubrication system

Lubrication is key to plant and machinery running smoothly. Automated lubrication systems have been around for some time, but like any technology, a little tweaking here and there can make a huge difference in making sure machinery is not only being looked after, but the right volume of grease or oil is being supplied to lubrication points at the right time.

JSG Industrial Systems, which is a John Sample Group business, has introduced SKF’s EDL (Electric Driven Lubricator), which, as the name suggests, is an electronically driven and easy-to-use pressure-booster pump capable of generating high outlet pressures from low inlet pressures.

JSG Industrial Systems’ technical manager for lubrication, Rainer Bels, explained that the EDL is not only ideal for the food and beverage industry, but can save on labour costs, too. Plus there are other advantages.

“These EDLs can either bring together all individual machines in a factory into one lubrication system that is controlled from a single location, or they can work independently of each other, but still pump lubricant from a central container,” said Bels.

“Having individual lubrication systems with individual containers on machines means that people still have to go around and keep them topped up with lubricant, which can bring about contamination issues. This also means there is more chance of getting foreign material in among the recesses they are filling, which in turn affects the reliability of the machine. They are all factors that are needed to be taken into consideration with a lubrication plan.”

The EDL doesn’t have its own reservoir. It needs a lubricant source that is supplied to it under pressure, which means it needs an external pump to supply the lubricant source. It is more suited for systems where there are a lot of zones – whether they be separate machines, or a very large machine that has different sections within that machine, with groupings of lubricant points, according to Bels.

“It is electronic and has a motor in it,” he said. “It doesn’t need to be near the material that is being processed.

“The pump is with the rest of the electronic controls. The lubricant division system can be mounted in the cabinet with the pump, or installed throughout a machine if necessary. Those distribution blocks come in stainless steel and can be washed down.”

The main feature of the device is that it is compact and simple to use. It can be either controlled from a central place in the factory, or each part can be controlled individually depending on the application.

How available are the parts when things go wrong, or if more units are needed as the plant expands?

“Being a SKF lubrication distributor, JSG has large regional warehouses that have been supplying products and spare parts to many industries – including food and beverage – for many years,” said Bels.

Bels said the key information to note is that JSG has a wide network of distribution partners in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Indonesia who focus on the supply and installation, as well as after-sales service support of SKF lubrication systems.

And how does a maintenance worker know when the oil or grease needs refilling?

“These systems have all sorts of interlocks in them,” said Bels. “It depends on the sophistication of what the end-user wants to go to when needing to refill the oil or grease container.

“There will always be a pressure alarm that tells you that it needs refilling. There will be a level indicator with options to have a few days or a month’s warning – you just have to set the indicator at the right level and the alarm will be sounded so the maintenance worker can order another drum of lubricant. It’s as simple as that.”

It is common for food and beverage plant and machinery to have automatic lubrication systems in place.

Most breweries have existing systems. In fact, the vast majority of food and beverage companies, have them, according to Bels. As well as being suitable for new factories, they can also be integrated into premises that are being refurbished.

“Many aging lubrication systems are in need of refurbishment or upgrading,” said Bels. “That is where the EDL might be needed. The industry understands the importance of having an efficient lubrication system to extend the life of machinery in the long term. The EDL devices are more about delivering efficient lubrication in one centralised system by supplying multiple lubrication systems from a centralised reservoir.

“This increases the cleanliness of the lubricant and helps with the correct functionality of the lubrication system.”