Lubricants, also known as lubes, are substances used to reduce friction (increase lubricity) and heat generated between two surfaces. They can also facilitate the transportation of particles, and heating and cooling forces. In addition, they can be used as a conductive agent to increase the flow of a current.
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The History of Lubricants
- Early History of Lubricants
- Humans have been using lubricants in some form or another for thousands of years, starting with the ancient Egyptians. They, for example, slide blocks to be used for pyramids on oiled lumber. They also seem to have lubricated the axles of their chariots with calcium soaps. (Based on evidence found on chariots from around 1400 BC). Later, the Romans used lubricants from substances such as rapeseed oil, olive oil and animal fats.
- During the Industrial Revolution, manufacturers found they needed lubrication to reduce friction between the different pieces of their metal machinery. While they initially used natural oils, they started using organic petroleum-based lubricants towards the early 1900s. This started in the 1880s, when, while trying to distill kerosene, Matthew Ewing accidentally discovered petroleum-based lubricant oil. He realized its usefulness based on residue left behind from his experiment. In 1866, along with Hiram Bond Everest, he founded Vacuum Oil in Rochester, New York. This company had great success selling the lubricant to users and manufacturers of steam engines and internal combustion engines. Engineers at Vacuum Oil also came up with a way to vacuum distill petroleum so that it was much cleaner and more safe and efficient for use. Meanwhile, in England, companies like Crown Oil, founded in 1928, were leading the way.
- Lubricants WWII and Beyond
- Around World War II, as military vehicles required the use of more and more petroleum-based lubricant and petroleum-based rubber products, engineers began looking for alternatives. This way, they would not face an oil shortage crisis. In addition, manufacturers needed more durable lube that could withstand extreme temperatures. Through their search, engineers came up with all kinds of synthetic lubricants. Synthetic lubricants are not made of petroleum or a mineral oil base, but are instead chemical alterations of bases such as silicone or esters. They have planned and predictable properties. They are, for example, fire resistant and cool quickly, which are both important characteristics.
- Today, lubricants produced by chemical synthesis are extremely popular and are often used in the aerospace, automotive, marine and musical instrument industries. Although they are more established than synthetic lubricants, petroleum-based lubricants are losing popularity because synthetics are now less expensive and have a broader range of uses. Organic lubricants are still widely used in the automotive industry as both lubricating motor oil that protects moving parts in an engine, and as gasoline, which is formulated to produce heat needed to power a car's engine.
Advantages of Lubricants
Lubricants provide an efficiency and smoothness of movement that would otherwise not exist between such hard surfaces as metal. They also serve to protect machines themselves as well as the workers who come in contact with it.
Design of Lubricants
When designing or selecting a lubricant for you, lubricant suppliers think about factors such as: application minimum and maximum temperatures, total load weight, application environment (corrosiveness, moisture, dryness, etc.), desired surface tension (or lack thereof), expected system pressure, etc.
Based on factors such as these, lubricant suppliers can decide what properties your lubricant needs and what type of lubrication, whether it has a base oil or not, etc. Some lubricants have special characteristics and applications. For example, some enhance thermal conduction or reduce electrical receptivity. Meanwhile, food processing factories and manufacturers require a specific grade of lubricant to oil machinery that is non-toxic and will not contaminate the food if contact between the lubricant and food substance occurs.
Each kind of industrial lubricant has different levels of oxidation and degradation and is compatible with only certain machines, temperatures and environments. High temperature lubricants, for example, are able to withstand a wide variety of different environments. Lubricants may be liquid like lubricating oil, semi-solid like lubricating grease, or they may be dry lubricants, which are made from silicone.
Types of Lubricants
There are a wide variety of different types of lubricants available, each with a different consistency and use. Examples include those listed below.
- Automotive Lubricants
- Oil and industrial grease-based, but also can have synthetic properties. They are chemically similar to heating oil. They are used in a car's transmission, engine, and on seals, gears and chassis points. When they work with gears, they are known as gear oils.
- Biodegradable Lubricants
- Derived from plant or animal based sources and are used often in conjunction with agricultural implementations. They are non-toxic and gaining popularity where non-hazardous lubricants are desired and necessary. They are widely used in the food, agricultural and automobile industries.
- Compounded Lubricants
- Consist of mineral oil with vegetable, animal or chemical lubricating oils added to enhance certain physical or chemical properties of the finished blend.
- Compressor Lubricants
- Used in a compressor, a device which converts mechanical force and motion into pneumatic fluid power.
- Conductive Lubricants
- Lubricate and improve electrical and thermal connections between sliding surfaces, while providing protection from moisture and corrosion.
- Dry Lubricants
- Consist of no liquid. They are instead made up of synthetic silicone, which is resistant to oxidation and thermal degradation, or a related synthetic compound. They have a wide temperature range and may act as both a lubricant and a sealant. They are used in areas where oil or grease is not recommended. For instance, they are used when dripping or spilling would be detrimental to the equipment or environment.
- Engine Lubricants
- Made for the automotive industry. They are commonly referred to as either engine oils or motor oils. They can be either organic, meaning petroleum-based, or synthetic, meaning based on chemical compounds.
- Food Grade Lubricants
- Formulated, extreme-pressure synthetic lubricants developed for use in industrial machinery where incidental food contact from lubricants may occur. Food grade lubricants are usually also biodegradable and they are always strictly regulated by the FDA. They are carefully produced to be scentless, odorless, colorless, tasteless and chemically digestible, since there is a possibility it could come in contact with food substances. A common example of a food grade lubricant is petroleum jelly.
- Grease Lubricants
- Or lubricant greases, are lubricants composed of oil or oils thickened with a soap or another thickener until a semisolid or solid consistency is formed.
- High Temperature Lubricants
- Operate at temperatures that exceed the capabilities of general purpose lubricants, which can decompose or oxidize at high temperatures.
- Hydraulic Oils
- Facilitate power transfer in hydraulic machinery (ex. power steering systems, hydraulic braking systems, transmission systems, etc.). They are generally either mineral based or water based and may feature additives.
- Industrial Lubricants
- Encompass a large variety of specialty lubricants that serve in the industrial context.
- Lubricating Grease
- A non-liquid, semi-solid lubricant, made up of a combination of oil and soap. Unlike oil, it doesn't drip. Grease is used in high pressure and high friction applications, and is often spot-applied to machinery by a grease gun.
- Lubricating Oil
- Oil used to lubricate parts and prevent friction. This liquid lubricant reduces friction, protects against corrosion, reduces electric currents and cools machinery temperatures. It is often used in the automobile industry and is applied to bearings, dies, chains, cables, spindles, pumps, rails and gears to make them run smoother and more reliably.
- Marine Lubricants
- Oil formations that are used in various types of machinery located on large ships.
- Petroleum-Based Lubricants
- Most commonly found in automobile applications, although not as often now that synthetic lubricants have been developed specifically for the automotive industry.
- Silicone Lubricants
- Have the ability to be either dry or liquid lubricants, depending on the material composition.
- Stamping Lubricants
- Lubricants which are used during the metal stamping fabrication process. These can range from synthetic to straight oil with the latter needing much more aggressive clean-up.
- Synthetic Lubricants
- Lubricants produced by chemical synthesis rather than by extraction or refinement of petroleum in order to produce a compound with planned and predictable properties.
- Water-Based Lubricants
- Are water soluble. Water-based lubricants have a lower viscosity than oil-based lubricants, meaning that they flow more easily. Manufacturers often add water to cutting fluids.
Industries Using Lubricants
Lubricants are an essential part of the proper function and maintenance of machines and components with two or more moving parts that rub together. Some of the industries in which lubricants are used include: automotive, aerospace, marine, metal fabrication and food and beverage.
In the automotive industry, lubricants are used in the vehicle manufacturing process and in daily vehicle function. Car transmissions, engines, chassis, gears and seals use lubricants, all of which contribute to a vehicle's optimal performance and ensure its reliability. Oil and grease reduce friction between parts, easing wear and increasing the car's life span. In aerospace, industrial lubrication oil can be used as jet fuel.
Meanwhile, the marine industry often uses oil lubricants in crosshead and trunk piston engines that are used to propel large ships. The metal fabrication industries use lubricants extensively in the creation of metal products and parts. Those lubricants used in the food and beverage industry are used to decrease friction in: grinders, mixers and sealing and packaging machinery.
Applying and Maintaining Lubricants
Lubricant is easy to apply. Generally, you apply it with a tube or a brush. There are a few important things to know about applying and maintaining lubricant, though. First, you need to know how much to apply at once. Second, you need to know how often to reapply it, so that it does not become worn beyond usefulness or safety. To learn how much and how often you should apply lubricant, check with your manufacturer.
Regardless of your reapplication schedule, you should always be on the lookout for problems like deterioration, leaking or contamination. To make sure your lubricant lasts as long as it should, never exceed the minimum or maximum temperature conditions, load bearing conditions, friction conditions, etc., for which it was designed.
Standards and Specifications for Lubricants
A number of organizations offer guidelines and certifications related to lubricant performance and safety. These organizations include: the American Petroleum Institute (API), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), the Independent Lubricant Manufacturing Association (ILMA) and the National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI). Some industries base their requirements on the guidelines of these industries. If your lubricant may come to be consumed by humans, it must, of course, be food grade. Likewise, lubrication used on military vehicles must meet military specifications. To find out what standards you should look for with your lubricants, talk to your industry leaders.
Finding the Right Lubricant Manufacturer
If you are in the industrial lubricants market, you need to make sure you get your lubricants from a reputable lubricant supplier you can trust. That way, you can feel confident that your system will run smoothly, efficiently and safely. To help you find the right one for you, we’ve provided a list of high quality manufacturers, complete with profiles. You can find the list by scrolling towards the top of this page.
Common lubricant accessories include: pumps, level switches, rupture indicators, broken line indicators, vent valves, zone valves, pressure sensors, relief valves and relief indicators.
- Abrasive Wear
- Also referred to as "cutting wear." This occurs when hard surface asperities or hard particles have embedded themselves into a soft surface.
- The force or forces causing two materials, such as a lubricating grease and a metal, to stick together.
- A refined mineral oil, free of additives, used as a component in a lubricant blend.
- The separation of oil from a grease structure. A certain amount of bleeding is considered desirable in greases, since this tends to provide continuous oil lubrication to bearings.
- A liquid in which another immiscible liquid is suspended. Water and oil can be emulsified under certain conditions of oil type and severe agitation. Emulsifying agents are sometimes added to oils for production of cutting fluids, which are to be mixed with water.
- In lubricating grease, the form in which soap thickeners occur, the soaps crystallizing in threads, which are of the order of 20 or more times as long as they are thick.
- A resistance to motion between two surfaces in contact.
- The fluid entering a component.
- A positive displacement (oil or grease) lubricant measuring valve that dispenses lubricant when main line pressure rises and resets when its compressed return spring forces the measuring piston back to its rest position.
- Any substance used to separate two surfaces in motion and reduce the friction or wear of the surfaces.
- Liquids capable of forming a liquid solution or uniform mixture between themselves, e.g. gasoline and oil are miscible.
- NLGI Grade Number
- Numbers assigned by the NLGI to classify greases according to their hardness as measured by a cone penetration test.
- An electrical or electronic device that compares (monitors) a lubrication systems operation to a user selected time frame, or delivery rate.
- A general term for a water-insoluble thick liquid that possesses lubricating properties.
- Term applicable to crude oil and the hydrocarbon products and materials that are derived from it.
- The ability of a lubricating grease to flow under pressure through the line, nozzle and fitting of a grease dispensing system at varying temperatures.
- Loss of liquid lubricant from a lubricating grease due to shrinkage or rearrangement of the structure.
- The measurement of a fluid's resistance to flow. It is defined as the shear stress on a fluid element divided by the rate of shear; "high viscosity" applies to a fluid which does not flow easily, "low viscosity" to a fluid, such as water, which flows easily.