Pump Lubrication Basics: Part 2 – Preventing Contamination

Avoiding contamination is essential to prevent premature bearing failure, but many lubrication programmes often underestimate its importance. By taking action to ensure contaminants don’t come into contact with a machine and its bearings, you extend the lifespan of bearings and ensure a pump’s longevity.

Here’s three ways to prevent contamination:

1. Keep lube clean

Practice good housekeeping to ensure dirt does not accumulate on surfaces and contaminate the lubrication. This applies to the storage of lubricant, transfer equipment and the machinery itself.

According to maintenance expert, Timothy Harris of Reliable Process Solutions, the thickness of the oil or lubricant on the bearings of a loaded pump can range between 0 to 30 microns. This can vary depending on the pump’s design and the application.

To put this in perspective, a dust particle is about 40 microns – so particles bigger than dust can cause damage to the bearings of the pump! These bigger particles act like boulders. They are pulverised by the bearing balls and race surfaces. This causes micro damage that becomes more and more detrimental the longer the pump operates – and can cause small bits of the bearings, balls and rollers to come off.

So, it’s crucial to ensure that no dust or dirt gets into the lube and that the lubricant is filtered and stored properly (more on storage in Part 3 of Pump Lubrication Basics). Maintenance personnel who use open funnels and filthy containers when handling lube actively contribute to bearing failure.

Rather, keep particles out of the pump housing by using quality seals, by filtering the lubricant before placing housing and by using filtered breathers. You should also be testing new lubricants to verify their cleanliness and additive formulations to ensure they were delivered without contaminants and meet the specifications. You can also prevent contamination by making sure all grease guns and nipples are cleaned with lint-free rags before and after use. By keeping lubricants free of foreign materials, you can add many years to the life of your bearings.

2. Prevent moisture from getting into the lube

Moisture in the lubricant can compromise your bearings. Statistics show that moisture levels of up to 1% can reduce bearing life by 50%. The easiest way to ensure moisture doesn’t get into the lubricant is to ensure that lubricant is stored properly (coming in Part 3 of Pump Lubrication Basics), both before and after purchase. However, ambient conditions such as wash-down procedures or humid conditions can also lead to moisture contamination. Even start and shut down procedures can draw moisture into the lubrication chamber. So, use high-quality seals designed for this type of environment to keep moisture out. Pumps can be fitted with labyrinth seals that reduce the amount of moisture and particles that can enter the component’s bearing area, while dessicant breathers should be used on any critical applications.

3. Develop processes and procedures

Performing oil/filter changes too frequently can expose your lubricant to contaminants. Performing them too infrequently risks exhausting filtration media and, in turn, the degradation of lubricating fluids. Regular maintenance checks allow operators and maintenance personnel to become more familiar with a machine.

A good contamination avoidance programme can be integrated seamlessly with your preventative/predictive maintenance programme, requires very little capital, and encourages the cooperation of operators and maintenance personnel to ensure the long lifespan of the bearings and pump.

Taking small steps to avoid contamination will result in long-term savings that can be used to improve your lubrication programme and develop better preventative/predictive maintenance processes that increase operational efficiency.

Want to know more about preventing lubricant contamination and the how to maintain your equipment? Call our toll-free number on 1-800-367-4180. We have experts on hand to help you. And to answer questions about things you’ve previously tried gone wrong.