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The Basics of Automated Lubrication

 by General Kinematics,

Complex machinery is made up of hundreds, or even thousands of moving parts. Cables, gears, pumps, bearings, pistons, fans, turbines, centrifuges–these vital components work tirelessly together. But movement creates friction, and friction generates heat. And with so many different parts pumping, rotating, oscillating, and grinding, it doesn’t take long for that heat to get out of control.

Lubricants, often in the form of grease or oil, reduce the friction inherent in complex machinery, allowing moving parts to slide past each other without producing excess heat. But while this is certainly no secret to machinists around the world, improper lubrication still accounts for 70% of equipment failures.

Why Manual Lubrication Isn’t Enough

Lack of lubrication causes its share of problems. But in many cases, it’s the manual lubrication process that’s the real enemy. Ineffective, unregulated processes may lead to insufficient lubrication applied to key pivot points. At other times, applying too much lube to your equipment can drive up supply costs, and spilled oil and grease is not only messy but also represents a safety hazard.

The simple truth is that manual lubrication just isn’t reliable or accurate enough. And when potentially millions of dollars worth of equipment are at stake, you need something more dependable. 

Consider automated lubrication systems.

What Is an Automated Lubrication System?

An automated lubrication system (ALS; also called a centralized lubrication system or auto greaser) is a mechanical tool that may be applied to existing machinery to automate the distribution of lubricant to multiple components. These systems are designed to deliver a controlled amount of lubricant, ensuring optimal lubrication, applied regularly. These systems may function even while the equipment is operating, reducing downtime and allowing for increased throughput.

Common Components of Automated Lubrication Systems

The basic function of an automated lubrication system is to deliver lubricant to specific points in a machine at specific times. To do this, it incorporates several standard components. 

Common automated lubrication system components may include:

  • Controllers: Programmable controllers allow users to set and run schedules, designating when and how often the system delivers lubricant to specific bearings. To perform their functions effectively, controllers are connected to sensors throughout the system.
  • Pumps: Pumps produce the pressure needed to deliver the oil or grease from the reservoir, through the tubing, and on to its selected destination. Pumps come in a range of classifications and compatibilities and are thus able to handle a variety of applications.
  • Tubing: Tubing provides a path through which lubricant travels to reach its destination.
  • Reservoirs: Lubricant is stored within a reservoir attached to the pump.
  • Metering Devices: Metering devices ensure that the pumps dispense the correct amount of lubricant to each relevant point. These devices must be capable of measuring lubricants with a high degree of accuracy.
  • Pressure Sensors: Pressure sensors monitor pressure within the system, alerting technicians to any anomalies.
  • Filters: Filters separate out impurities and particulate matter from the oil, grease, or air within the system.
  • Check Valves: Check valves allow lubricant to flow only in one direction within the system, preventing backflow. 

Benefits of Using an Automated Lubrication System

Automated lubrication systems greatly reduce the risk of human error common in manual lubrication. As such, organizations that incorporate ALS technology into their complex equipment stand to enjoy the following benefits:

  • Improved Lubrication: Lubricating machinery is an important task, but in the face of other equally important tasks, sometimes it gets forgotten or set aside for later. As a result, equipment may go for long periods of time without lubrication. At the same time, manual lubrication often errs on the side of caution–adding lubricant until it is literally oozing out. This feast-or-famine approach to lubrication can be risky, costly, and messy.

    Automated lubrication systems improve the lubrication process from start to finish, ensuring that the right amount of lubricant reaches the right components, at the right time. 
  • Reduced Costs: When the equipment doesn’t receive proper lubrication, it eventually breaks down. When that happens, you face increased repair and replacement costs. Similarly, insufficient lubrication leads to reduced performance and increased maintenance, forcing you to take your equipment offline more regularly to keep up with wear and tear.

    By automating the lubrication process, you protect not only your machinery but also your bottom line. Repairs and maintenance shutdowns become much less frequent, reducing costs for your organization.
  • Improved productivity: Repair, replacement, and maintenance aren’t the only costs to consider; equipment downtime also costs you money in lost productivity. When your machines are offline, they aren’t working to generate revenue. 

    Proper, regular lubrication Increases machine availability and reduces maintenance downtime. Additionally, ALS works while machinery is in operation, eliminating the need to shut down equipment for the sake of lubrication. This means that you will be able to depend on your equipment to continue operating more consistently, more efficiently, and for longer durations.
  • Increased Equipment Use Life: Machines wear out and components fail eventually –it’s just a part of the equipment life cycle. But with effective lubrication, your major components are protected. They stand up better to natural wear and tear and last much longer.

    Automated lubrication systems help keep your equipment running so that you get more out of your investments.
  • Reduced Safety Risk: Your machinery isn’t the only thing at risk when you depend on manual lubrication. Bearings and joints aren’t always easy to access; forcing technicians or other employees to crawl over, under, or into equipment puts them at risk of personal injury.

    By automating the entire lubrication process, you can run your operations efficiently and effectively, without having to place your people in harm’s way.

When it comes to operating complex machinery, friction is the enemy. Unfortunately, manual lubrication processes may create more problems than they solve, and are often unreliable and wasteful. Automated lubrication systems take the guesswork out of maintaining your vital moving components. 

General Kinematics offers automated lubrication systems for any vibratory application. Our lubrication technologies significantly reduce maintenance costs and increase equipment uptime, for a better, more efficient approach to machine lubrication. See what else General Kinematics has to offer, and how we can help you grow your business.

General Kinematics Corporation, incorporated in 1960, was established to market, design, and custom fabricate innovative vibratory equipment for the foundry, recycling, mining, and processing industries. Today the company continues as one of the world’s largest suppliers of vibratory processing equipment and has evolved into an industry-leading EPC firm. Headquartered in Crystal Lake, IL, General Kinematics has seven global locations providing engineering and support to a world-wide customer base. GK is a third generation, family-owned company and is ISO 9001 certified.