In the demanding conditions of the oil and gas industry, plant managers are realizing that lubrication best practices can help improve equipment reliability, optimize maintenance and reduce energy consumption and CO2 emissions. By combining top-notch lubrication techniques, high-quality lubricants and effective staff training, oil and gas refiners can improve productivity and their bottom line.

Using a superior lubricant will not prevent all lubrication problems, nor will upgrading to new and improved equipment. Plant managers of oil and gas refineries should consider these six tips for selecting the right lubricant team to accomplish maintenance and lubrication goals.

Select the Right People
When engineers at an oil drilling company started experiencing unacceptable failure rates in stainless steel threaded connections on its massive oil drilling equipment, the situation created some serious problems. The lubricant supplier and engineers of the drilling company worked together to develop a formulation that resulted in an immediate drop in thread-related failures of more than 50 percent.

This example illustrates that two groups of people are critical to the lubricant team: the employees implementing the plan and the lubricant supplier team that ensures proper training and brings outside expertise. Only by working closely together can these two groups achieve the best possible solution to a maintenance issue.

There are many lubricant logistics suppliers, but few lubrication experts. A good lubricant supplier provides the expertise, training and tools needed to properly maintain production equipment. It should offer a comprehensive product line that fills all lubrication needs. Plant managers should expect a comprehensive suite of services from their supplier to facilitate lubrication management. If the supplier does not offer products and services tailored to help achieve best-in-class lubrication and maintenance practices, find one that does.

Choose the Right Tools

The old standard most plants use for lubrication intervals is time-based. Today's plants use a mixture of new oils and greases, so depending on time alone is unreliable.

Ultrasonic technology provides pump and system maintenance professionals insight into the condition of the lubricant in an operating unit of machinery. Technicians can better place the correct lubricant in the correct amount at the correct place at the correct time. The technique involves the monitoring of sound produced above the frequency range of the human ear (about 20kHz).

As lubrication quality diminishes during machinery operation, friction creates stress wave energy at a frequency around 30 kHz, creating a kind of ultrasonic beacon. Devices can measure and record ultrasonic signals as well as "shift," or heterodyne, the ultrasonic signal into the audible or sonic range. This allows technicians to hear the otherwise inaudible, telltale signal of inadequate lubrication.

By taking periodic ultrasonic measurements and trending those values, maintenance practitioners gain insight into the actual condition of the lubricating system in the machine during operation. Biweekly or monthly ultrasonic readings are typically taken and trended.

A thorough oil analysis program can track critical wear-related characteristics of oil in service by comparing the results with previous reports and noting the trends. This helps identify contamination, lubricant degradation, abnormal machine wear and problems with sampling. It can also incorporate activities such as vibration analysis, infrared thermography and ultrasonic monitoring to transform a lubrication program from time-based to condition-based, eliminating unnecessary changes.  

Find the Right Place

Site-specific applications impose their own requirements. In particular, specialty silicone lubricants provide reliable performance across a broad range of temperatures and in harsh, corrosive environments where they may come into contact with fuels and oils.

Oil and gas refiners may find it valuable to seek lubricants that have high concentrations of solid lubricant powders, which fill metal voids to reduce friction and wear. Even under crushing pressures and searing temperatures, they maintain lubricity and reliably enable easy, non-destructive dismantling of screw connections and bolted metal joints.

Solid lubricants in the form of dry lubricating films are another solution for the oil and gas industry. Once applied, a dry lubricating film provides additional corrosion resistance and high load-carrying capacity. These coatings are ideal for long-lasting, reliable lubrication on inaccessible parts or dusty environments.

Knowledgeable lubricant suppliers understand such applications and know the right lubricants to use at the right place and time. Their expertise helps maintenance professionals avoid mistakes in lubricant selection and application that can shorten equipment life and unexpectedly halt production.

Follow the Right Practices

Plants need to determine how much lubricant is needed and ensure that lubrication best practices are properly implemented. Dedicated lubrication management software is a powerful tool to schedule, supervise and record a consolidated lubrication program. It complements oil analysis by collecting trend data and developing responsive lubrication schedules. A typical large plant requires the plant lubrication team to track a complex schedule of lubricants and applications. Tracking usage can be an important indicator for developing problems or misunderstanding of lubrication procedures.

Work with the Right Supplier

Suppliers best equipped to meet requirements for diverse lubricating solutions are those offering a complete line of industrial lubricants, not just a "wide range" of products. The full-line supplier must also be able to draw on functional additive technologies including anti-oxidant, anti-wear and extreme temperature additives.

A full-line supplier will offer a product line including specialty greases, compounds, pastes, anti-friction coatings and dispersions. These lubricants should improve reliability in a range of conditions:

Under high pressure or in extreme temperatures
Where vibrations and shock loads exist
In sliding surfaces operating under heavy loading
During the start-up and shutdown phases of plant, equipment and machine operations.

Be on the Right Track

Many lubrication suppliers offer tools to help customers understand savings potential. Energy saving calculators help plant managers understand potential energy and emissions savings through proper lubrication techniques. Users can adjust different entry options, power values and costs to simulate plant operation conditions.

Identifying processes and equipment that can be more efficient can play a role in a successful refinery lubrication system. High-quality lubrication suppliers work with their clients to analyze troublesome pieces of equipment and look for improvement areas that can lead to savings. With an effective lubrication system, plant managers can achieve longer machinery life and reduce downtime between planned maintenance to improve production performance and bottom-line profitability.

September 2009, Pumps & Systems

Phil Grellier is the global strategic marketing manager, MRO for Molykote® brand lubricants from Dow Corning, Dow Corning Ltd, Cardiff Road, Barry, Vale of Glamorgan, CF63 2YL, UK, +44 1789 450428,