With companies giving way to specialists in their lubrication management, we can only hope that plants may not encounter as many downtimes in the years to come.
Lubricants enhance the performance of equipment in cement plants by giving them longer life and improved efficiency. They can be classified: solid, liquid, semi-liquid, and gaseous. Lubricants are widely used in numerous end-use industries. Leading companies are seeking advantages like energy efficiency and cost saving by using lubricants at various stages of production activity to withstand growing competitive pressures.
Special needs of cement lubricants include sustaining high level of heat and dust. Lubricants are used for various applications in cement industry, including in heavy duty equipment, drilling equipment in quarries; in gear boxes, belts, grinding roller bearings in crushers and conveyors; in girth gear/ open gear, bearings/ kilns and cooling unit in mills and kilns; and in general equipment like industrial gears, fans, air compressors etc.
Lubricating oils, in general, are being utilised across various industrial applications as well in areas such as air compressors, auxiliary equipment, bearings, gas engines, hydraulics, heat transfer systems, paper machines, turbines, metalworking, and natural gas compressors. The demand for industrial lubricants is on the rise and is believed to grow even further. In India, the current share of industrial lubricants is about 38-40 per cent of the total lubricants market.
The sector is majorly confined by extremely large multinationals or small and niche manufacturers. Several companies are altering their business lines with respect to base oil supply chain, manufacturing process, and consolidations.
Stating that industry must appreciate "Oil in Machine is like Blood in Human Body", KB Mathur, founder of Global Technical Services, a consulting firm and service provider, says, the practice of use of contaminated lubricants and lack of focus on the use of lubrication in the industry were the biggest concerns in India.
"Oil companies invest large amounts of money and efforts on research and development activity in developing and producing high performance lubricants, and all such efforts and expenditure will be wasted and the industrial consumers shall also incur heavy losses, if such lubricants are allowed to get contaminated before fed to machines," Mathur adds.
In order to obtain the highest lubricant performance, the most tough and challenging conditions in a cement plants we see are: high temperatures, high speeds and heavy loads. "These three conditions will easily diminish the lubricant's function. For example, at cement plants, the most common environment to which the equipment is exposed to is high temperature, heavy load, and abundant dust," says Tony Liu, Asia Manager, Brugarolas S.A. So, the main goal for the maintenance engineer is to find the way to confront these adverse factors and keep production smooth, offering the highest efficiency possible to the machinery.
Lack of focus
"Industry professionals generally focus their attention on areas of their core competence and achieving their day to day objectives. In doing so, other vital supporting functions like "scientific lubrication" of plant and machinery do not get the desired attention, since functional managers engage themselves only on day to day activities," Mathur points out.
Therefore, storage, handling, dispensing lubricants assume a very important step towards feeding contamination-free lubricating oil or greases to the machine. This is vital for reducing the maintenance costs - which at times goes unnoticed, because of basic thrust being on production only.
Lubricants and lubrication is generally taken for granted and little do operating and maintenance people realize that lubrication planning starts right from the arrival of lubricants in the main stores. "This lack of concern for quality of lubricants definitely leads to increased maintenance costs, costs due to machinery breakdown and loss of production and many hidden costs including cost of manpower involved, Mathur says. As we know, nowadays, cement plants try to push as much as possible for ensuring their efficiency, but, at the same time have the need to reduce costs though energy savings. That is what lubricants which reduce or eliminate friction in the moving parts of the plant and machinery, promise.
There are many instances when the industry turns a blind eye to lubricants. Over the years, the production levels of plants have gone up from 3000 tons per day (T/D) to a boosted 12000 T/D, and from using ball mill technology to roller press machines. Immediate the question that arises is, "If the equipment has upgraded, shouldn't the lubricants improve too? Yes, obviously. Each machine has different needs, each need has different solution," says Liu.
It is disappointing to observe that lack of awareness of the fact that various high performance lubricants, manufactured under stringent quality control to meet required quality standards, can give expected results only when they are used in the machinery in the same uncontaminated condition, under which they are manufactured, tested, packed and transported to the user industry.
As long as we can maintain lubricant clean and on-spec in a machine, the lubricant is fit for further usage. Therefore, lubricant has to be kept free of contamination. Water, dirt, suspended impurities and air mixed in lube oil are the worst enemy of lubricant in service. "If these contaminants are not removed timely from lube oil, they can even result in stoppage of the machine resulting in loss of production and leading to unwarranted expenditure to the industry," warns Mathur.
Mathur cited the "Jost report" funded by the British Government in 1966 to study the effects of tribology (a Science of friction which particularly collaborates with lubrication of the machines) on the country"s Gross National Product (GNP), which found that by not following professional practices in lubrication usage in the industry could lead to a huge loss to the country.
Total lube management
Keeping lack of awareness and focus on lubrication management in the industry in view, Mathur suggests adoption of Total Lubrication Management (TLM), a positive and definite step towards achieving improved maintenance, and a tool for cost reduction in manufacturing.
Against the traditional practice of companies buying lubricants and using them in their equipment, some of the Indian cement companies have adopted a new practice - Contract Management - under which the lubricant needs of the company are managed by experienced contractors through their manpower and products, or TLM service.
"A well prepared technical service team along with the maintenance department of the plant, and taking into account the OEM's recommendation will have to cooperate together in order to achieve installing a correct lubrication plan that will ensure safe and good performance of the equipment," says Brugarolas, which itself is a original manufacturer of a range of lubricants and offers these services.
With the government embarking on a plan to give boost to infrastructure in the coming years, particularly affecting the sectors like construction, cement and mining sectors, the growth in demand for lubricants is expected to rebound, according to industry experts.
- B.S. SRINIVASALU REDDY