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How to Improve Lubrication Efficiency

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If you're not using a progressive lubrication system your machinery could be suffering from severe wear without you even realising.

A progressive lubrication system uses a shuttle to lubricate bearings in sequence. Whether the system services 2 or 200 lubrication points, it will cycle through the outlets on each divider valve, feeding the bearings in a cyclic pattern.

If one of the lines in a progressive system is blocked, that entire section of the system will shut down and go into pause mode. This will then alert you that bearings are not being lubricated, allowing you to rectify the problem.

In a non-progressive system when one line is blocked the others keep supplying lubricant. Meaning no alert, and no warning that part of your machinery is operating dry.

10 Easy Ways to Improve Lubrication Efficiency

Are you wasting money on ineffective lubrication? If you're locked in a cycle of replacing machinery components before their life expectancy is up then you're needlessly wasting money.

Correct lubrication is the key to efficiently-run plant machinery. But all too frequently this crucial practice is simply treated as an unwelcome nuisance.  A side-effect of this is that every lubrication point is treated the same way. Most commonly, bearings are pumped full, until maintenance staff can see the grease coming through the bearing.

There is no instance when this could be considered good practice. If you can see lubricant coming through the bearing, it has been over-lubricated. 'No big deal' you shrug, 'it'll lubricate for longer'.  Over-lubrication causes churning of the grease, which leads to hardening. Not only is the grease no longer doing its job, but it's blocking the path for any new grease. This runaway effect leads to premature bearing failure.

Each piece of machinery - and each bearing within that machine - should be treated with its own tailored lubrication schedule. If you're going to manually lubricate machines then make sure your technicians know exactly the number of strokes that each bearing needs, and on what days of the week.

Treat each lubrication point as an individual and you will see extended service life, reduced wear, and greatly increased uptime.

1: Treat Each Piece Of Machinery On an Individual Basis

Does your plant still approach industrial lubrication on a time-based schedule? Shame on you! Time scheduled lubrication is equally as bad for your expensive machinery as pumping grease into your bearings without thinking about volume requirements.

If your maintenance staff either set side a day of the week, or just lubricate when they get time, then you are invariably lubricating when it suits your staff, and not when the machinery needs it.

Sure, man hours are expensive. But not as expensive as repairs, components, or the insanely high cost of loss in production when critical machinery fails.

2: Axe That Time-Schedule Approach To Lubrication

3: Switch To Automatic Lubrication

If points 1 and 2 sound like a headache, it's because they are! Manual lubrication has the advantage that the cost of lubrication equipment is low. But properly executed manual lubrication comes with huge labour costs. Improperly executed manual lubrication will leave you with astronomical repair costs, replacement part costs, and huge losses in production.

Manual greasing can work well, but it needs a very detailed schedule, which must be followed rigorously. If you don't have the time or expertise to build a proper schedule, then you should switch to automatic lubrication. It takes knowledge, planning, and commitment to do it well.

4: Cleaning & Replacing Your Lines

If you use lubricant lines or hoses it's important to keep them free of blockages and contaminants.

A small reduction in bore size of a lubricant line can have a significant effect on the amount of grease which actually reaches your bearing. If the volume of grease reaching the bearing is less than the manufacturer's recommendations, then the bearing will suffer increased wear and premature failure.

Grease can harden, oil can pick up contaminants, and even a small amount of foreign material can act like a dam, building up blockages in lines.

How often you should clean out your lines depends on viscosity of grease, how twisted and abused the hoses get, contaminant presence, and other application variables. Always select the correct cleaning method or solvent for the hose type, and if in doubt about the interior quality of the hose be safe and replace with a new one.

5: Appoint A lubrication Manager

Many businesses approach lubrication on an irregular and inconsistent basis. We've already discussed greasing frequency issues, but another major problem is the lack of co-ordination in a company's lubrication schedule. If there is no central organisation then some lube points are greased too often, whilst others are missed totally when operatives believe someone else has done the job.

Employing a well trained lubrication manager will solve frequency & volume problems, but they can additionally solve many lubrication related issues that maintenance crews have never even thought of. Storage problems, oil analysis, cleaning, contaminant & water ingress, and lubricant compatability issues are all within the remit of a qualified lubricant technician.

Whether you use manual or automatic lubrication techniques having a designated manager to coordinate the lubrication procedures will quickly pay for itself with gains in efficiency, machinery life, and uptime.

6: Employ A Lube Management System

If you're going to ignore the previous piece of sage advice, then a decent back-up option is to employ a lube management system. This will act as a register of every lube point in the plant, and will even alert you when a specific lubrication point needs attention.

Ideally, you should be using a lube management system as a tool for the lubrication manager. His job will be much easier, and the system will eradicate any chance of human error. It still needs someone to take control of it though, and this is why it makes sense to use the two to support each other.

Lube management systems are inexpensive, easy to use, and take all of the effort out of co-ordinating your businesses machine lubrication. Input the data, and your management system will take care of the rest. Hell, we'll even give you one free if you buy enough lubers and ask very nicely!

7: Deal With Contamination Issues

Yet many companies don't have a structured plan to reduce contaminant ingress. You may think this would only be a problem for companies operating in dusty and dirty environments - mining, aggregates, metro etc. You'd be wrong! It takes only a microscopic particle inside a bearing to cause significant wear. In fact a particle just 2 microns wide can cause significant bearing wear - that's 1/30th the width of a human hair!

In the real world you'll never keep the atmosphere completely clear of dust, so it's important to take precautions to protect expensive machinery. The first thing you should address is your lubricant storage procedures. Where possible, a dedicated lubricant storage room can greatly reduce contamination. The room should remain sealed other than when someone enters or exits, and grease and oil drums should never be left open.

8: Don't drown in water related issues

Water: Giver of life, killer of bearings! You should immediately identify where all the potential water-related risks are in your plant.

9: Assess Your Lubricant Selection

A remarkably high number of plants bring in a couple of lubricants for use across the entire operation. It's a catastrophic mistake to use a lubricant not tailored to the application.

Never make the assumption that a general purpose . Always ensure that the type of grease being used is the optimal choice as per the machinery manufacturers instructions. Using the wrong lubricant is slowly pouring in a poison that will kill off expensive machinery and send it to an early grave in the scrap yard.

Using the right grade of grease will improve machinery efficiency, cut energy bills, and reduce wear. Never choose a grease just because you've got it in stock.

10: Switch to a Progressive Lubrication System

Here we offer 10 easy ways to improve the efficiency of your lubrication practices, slash your repair costs, and significantly reduce that costly downtime.

As in point 1, you should lubricate bearings and machinery when they need it, not when it's convenient. Have a plan for each lube point, and you'll benefit from massive increases in bearing life, as well as minimised loss in productivity.

Quality control of all newly received lubricants should include inspecting for container damage, and when using oils an oil analysis is crucial to monitor the quality of the lube.

If contaminants are a major issue and you still use manual lubrication you should make the swap to an automatic system immediately. By applying a positive pressure at the bearing an automatic lubricator will completely eradicate contaminant ingress - and with it 20% of failures!

One easy method to avoiding water ingress is to install electro-chemical single point lubricators. They deliver a continuous flow of grease into the bearing, creating a permanent positive pressure in the bearing and preventing water ingress. This tip also works to prevent contaminant ingress.

lubricator in PPI steam

An incredibly simple - and cost effective - solution is to switch to automatic lubrication. Single point lubricators screw into a grease nipple thread in seconds, and can provide properly metered lubrication for 2 years. Yes the install cost is higher than manual lubrication, but automatic lubricators can cut man hours from hundreds of hours to just a few hours every year. In most cases the install will more than pay for itself within about 6 months.

automatic oiler lubricating chains

Oil refinery image showing complex plant machinery, improving lubrication techniques can save significant time aand money in machinery maintenance
A manual grease gun is used for manual lubrication, a practice difficult to do correctly. Switching from manual to automatic lubrication can save money and downtime
A Titan Oiler automatic lubricator installed on chains to improve machinery efficiency and reduce chain wear.
Image showing barrells of lubricant properly stored in a lubricant room, this helps to reduce lubricant contamination.
Automatic lubricator in high temperature steam produced by presses. The correct choice of lubrication technique is essentiial in extreme conditions to protect expensive machinery

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You are not alone! As much as 40% of an average company's maintenance budget is spent on replacement components. When you consider that up to 60% of bearing failures are lubricant-related, it's surprising that only around 2% of the maintenance budget is dedicated to lubrication!

These figures illustrate that with such a small slice of the budget, the lubrication methods of any company must be efficient, well managed, and as cost-effective as possible.

More complex automatic lubrication systems can be installed for larger operations. These can service many points, over wide distances. They are more complicated to install, and require more technical knowledge than smaller systems, so if in doubt stick to several smaller systems that you and your staff are comfortable in installing and managing.

Contaminant ingress is responsible for as much as 20% of bearing failure. Think about that in real money terms - 20% of all bearing replacements, 20% of bearing-related downtime.

It's hard to identify where water issues are arising, hard to see the effects until it causes expensive damage, and sometimes disguises itself invisibly in the air so it can weasel into your bearings and break your machinery.

Liquid water, steam, condensation, whatever form it takes it's a disaster. Water causes washout, affects grease consistency, and of course can result in terrible corrosion. It'll ruin your grease, your bearings, and your sanity if you can't control it.