Surveys show that more than half of unplanned equipment shutdowns in mining can be traced to incorrect selection or management of lubricants. (Photo: Shell Lubricants)

Choosing the correct lubricant is just the first step — it then must be applied when and where needed, in the right amount and without environmental harm. New lube products and systems can eliminate guesswork from the process.

by russell a. carter, contributing editor

In the long history of mining, there was a time when grease was simply grease and its less-viscous sibling was just oil. Both were injected, poured, brushed or spread as needed into machines or on to surfaces for protection against friction, heat and rust, and were left to do their jobs until the next scheduled service — or something broke.

Today, their roles remain largely the same, but changes in the mechanical environment, economic factors and even social trends have generated an expanding universe of formulations, delivery systems, and preservation techniques aimed at ensuring that grease and oil products function as expected with minimal unwelcome outcomes and less direct or indirect environmental impact.

The acquisition and repair costs of crucial mine equipment, coupled with the value of lost production, have elevated supplier and customer focus on lubrication performance to a level commensurate with other key operational measurements, which means grease and oil systems are getting the same sort of smart sensor capabilities, real-time monitoring and data analysis currently available for everything from drill components to diesel engines.

Consequently, lubrication technology is an active area for product development and improvement. Here are just a few recent examples:

Hitachi incorporated features in its latest EX-7 series hydraulic excavators ranging from a greaseless center joint that self-lubricates with the machine’s hydraulic oil for reduced daily maintenance, to a new auto-lubrication system with a large-capacity grease tank, new grease pump, in-line grease filter with breather, and grease level indicator in the cab.

FLSmidth’s innovative MAAG Gear LGDX side drive unit for ball mills — a three-stage spur gear with torque split — features a compact footprint for installation flexibility and a unique lubrication system the company claims extends the service life of the unit by approximately 40% when taken in combination with the ability to flip the gear box and operate it in reverse.

Today, their roles remain largely the same, but changes in the mechanical environment, economic factors and even social trends have generated an expanding universe of formulations, delivery systems, and preservation techniques aimed at ensuring that grease and oil products function as expected with minimal unwelcome outcomes and less direct or indirect environmental impact.

Petroleum-product suppliers such as Phillips 66 continue to develop new grease and oil formulations for better performance, such as its Multiplex 600 grease, which contains heavy base oils, a special polymer and a lithium complex soap thickener, fortified with extreme-pressure and anti-wear additives plus rust and oxidation inhibitors. According to the company, it has excellent thermal stability at high temperatures, high load-carrying capacity and protects metal parts against rust and corrosion. Its tackiness properties and heavy base oil provide high adhesion to bearing surfaces, maintaining an effective seal to help minimize bearing contamination, improve retention, reduce leakage and provide excellent resistance to water washout.

As is the case with most major lubrication product suppliers, Phillips 66 also has a wide range of diesel engine oil products. The lineup includes eight brands starting with T5X Plus, a heavy-duty monograde oil, and extending upward to Guardol XT Full Synthetic oil, developed for diesels operating under extreme temperature conditions. With this many choices available from just one supplier, it’s critical to select the right product for the application, in which an industrial lubricants engineer underlined the need for end users to employ one or more oil condition-monitoring tools to get optimum performance from their lube choices.

Sensors Get Simpler, Smarter

A new generation of sensors could help make this task easier. TE Connectivity’s FPS2800 oil property sensor, for example, can measure multiple physical properties allowing simultaneous sensing of the quality, condition and contamination of oil. The stainless-steel sensor offers multi-parametric sensing that measures viscosity, density, dielectric constant and temperature for enhanced fluid analysis from a single sensor, along with simple integration.

Relying on tuning fork technology, the sensor monitors the direct and dynamic relationship between multiple physical properties to determine the quality, condition and contaminant loading of engine oil, hydraulic and gear oils and other lubricant fluids. An interesting feature of the sensor is its ability to detect — through viscosity, density, dielectric and resistivity measurements — so-called wrong filling, where an engine has been filled with an incorrect grade of oil, leading to possible internal damage.

Another way to prevent wrong filling is through basic lubrication product management. Whitmore Manufacturing’s lubrication management line, OilSafe, offers fluid storage products designed to filter and protect operational fluids from contamination before and during application and through color coding to identify each type of fluid and its associated containers.

In addition to the OilSafe line, Whitmore, a subsidiary of CSW Industrials, markets a broad selection of performance lubricants and reliability products. It recently announced it and Shell Oil’s U.S. subsidiary established a joint venture called Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions to offer expertise, advanced equipment and services, and an integrated product portfolio for North American mining and rail customers (see page 21).

The JV began operations immediately following its early April announcement, and is headquartered in Texas, with production assets co-located at Whitmore’s Rockwall facility. As part of the JV relationship, Whitmore’s Rockwall facility will also become a key producer of Shell greases sold to non-JV sectors in North America.

SKF’s TLGU 10 allows maintenance technicians to listen to the sound of grease filling a fitting and alerts them to stop filling when the correct amount has been injected.

Conveyors: Top of the List

Lubrication-related mechanical problems can be frustrating for mine maintenance departments and costly for mine management. Across a large-scale mining operation, lube requirements can vary widely in frequency of application, product composition, injection pressure and other factors from machine to machine, not to mention distance to job site, relative risk to crews and potential for financial loss.

It’s hard to pick one type of equipment that’s more susceptible to lubrication failures than another, but some recent studies point to conveyor systems as a leading contender. A customer poll taken at Swedish bearing manufacturer SKF’s 2018 Life Cycle Management Conference, for example, revealed that participants thought conveyors were by far (44%) the most problematic asset type in terms of reliability, followed distantly by mobile equipment (17%).

In addition, an audit including visual inspection of 11 conveyors at a major iron ore mine in Australia, including 39 pulleys with 78 bearing housings in total, indicated that contamination and improper lubrication are the main issues in pulley bearing failures. Here’s the breakdown of problems:

Contaminated lubrication grease point;

Highly contaminated surroundings;

Lubrication point in wrong location mounted on housing;

Lubrication point hard to access;

Little or no evidence of lubricant at grease exit point of sealing arrangement;

Too many lubrication points mounted on bearing housing;

Grease leakage from end cover of housing;

Inappropriate sealing arrangement; and

Lubrication lines too long.

Conveyor breakdowns aren’t only a mechanical challenge, they’re a safety issue as well. SKF cited data from the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) showing that 43% of injuries and 24% of fatal accidents in mining occur during conveyor maintenance or inspection. The conveyor-related fatal accidents typically include replacing idlers, clearing blockages and cleaning up with a shovel or hose.

To reduce the risk of conveyor mechanical failures and worker injuries, SKF recommends a three-point approach that starts with upgrading the conveyor pulley bearings to match or exceed the service life of the conveyor lagging. This will increase pulley reliability, reduce grease consumption by as much as 90% and improve worker safety, according to the company. SKF also recommends either periodic or continuous vibration and temperature monitoring of the conveyor pulley bearings and drives as part of a comprehensive predictive maintenance program. And their final suggestion is to install single point or multipoint automated lubricators or systems to better control grease consumption and reduce the exposure of workers to the rotating machinery and hazardous areas.

The company recently introduced the BPH30, a new hydraulic barrel pump aimed at large single-line, progressive or dual-line automatic lubrication systems. Target applications include excavators, loaders, haul trucks and other heavy machinery. It can be configured to specific needs, according to the company, which added that it is built from heavy-duty materials and has a compact design that allows it to be mounted in tight spaces. Built-in sensors monitor oil pressure, temperature and piston movement. Flow rate and reverse pressure can be adjusted according to the needs of the application.

“This pump is designed to work reliably under demanding conditions,” said Daniel Seitz, product manager at SKF. “The pump head is fully encased, which reduces the risk of damage during operations.”

The BPH30 has an operating temperature range from -40°C to +80°C and accepts greases up to NLGI 2. The pump has a single outlet, which can be positioned on the left, right or front of the device. A special three-seal design helps to prevent leakage of both hydraulic oil and lubrication grease. A leakage indicator provides visual confirmation that the sealing system is working.

For equipment that must be lubricated manually, achieving the correct grease “fill” often relies on a technician’s experience, machine manufacturer’s recommendations or theoretical calculations. SKF introduced a unique ultrasonic device earlier this year, which monitors the sound of grease filling a bearing and can, according to the company, make re-lubrication more accurate and effective.

The TLGU 10 device is an all-in-one kit containing an ultrasound sensor that can withstand harsh conditions. Once connected to a grease gun, the TLGU 10 allows a technician to listen to the sound of lubricant filling the bearing, via headphones. When the correct amount of grease has been dispensed, the sound changes abruptly and a color display confirms that filling is complete.

Shell US, Whitmore JV Focus on Mining and Rail

Coal Age asked Shell and Whitmore executives about the strategy behind the venture.

Coal Age: Will any new lubrication-related services, products or technologies be made available to mining customers as a result of the JV?

Jim McCormick, vice president, direct sales, Shell Lubricants US:  Shell and Whitmore customers are at the heart of the rationale for creating this JV, which will combine the strengths of Shell and Whitmore to offer multi-sector expertise; advanced equipment technologies and services; and an integrated product portfolio that meet the unique needs of companies engaged in Class I, II, and III rail (excluding transit), and mining (excluding quarries).

Customers of Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions will have access to the combined product offerings, services and distribution capabilities of Shell and Whitmore, providing an enhanced holistic offering to support their rail and/or mining operations. We will further enhance the line with new products, services and solutions as the portfolio comes together.

Coal Age: Are there specific mining lube-market trends or issues that the JV is designed to address or benefit from?

Douglas Reid, vice president, marketing and product management, Whitmore: The mining and rail sectors present unique challenges compared to other B2B sectors: large, complex, technologically advanced and high-value equipment is placed in uniquely demanding physical environments and requires specialized support. Shell and Whitmore offer complementary products, services, and experience to these sectors, and by combining their respective strengths, Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions will be in a stronger position to support customers within these sectors. The JV will also be uniquely positioned to develop innovations that meet our customers’ specific needs, where we will leverage our close connections with equipment manufacturers.

Coal Age: For mining operations seeking a more integrated approach for lube procurement and management, can the JV’s resources and services offer new opportunities for customers to achieve that goal?

Heather Rogers, general manager, Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions:  Both Shell and Whitmore have created hubs in areas where mining is concentrated to make supplying and servicing these customers convenient. Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions will combine these complementary hubs into a first-of-its-kind network. The JV’s integrated portfolio will also include an array of products for mining applications: high-performance greases, open gear lubricants, and oils as well as services such as equipment audits and application support. Together, this offering will enable mining customers to streamline their supply chain and simplify their operations, in addition to reducing their total cost of equipment ownership.

Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions will also offer a range of reliability products such as desiccant breathers and lubrication management systems and accessories that support best practices in asset reliability. Whitmore’s OilSafe, Air Sentry, and other products will be sold and distributed by the JV. With the combination of Shell’s and Whitmore’s expertise and product portfolio, Shell & Whitmore Reliability Solutions is uniquely positioned to help lower mining customers’ total cost of ownership, improve the efficiency of their operations, and help them find ways to decarbonize their businesses.

The right combination of premium fuel and lubricant products can produce tangible benefits, according to Shell, including quick cleanup of fouled fuel injectors as shown in the comparative photos above. (Photo: Shell Lubricants)

Making Consumables Work for Your Bottom Line

Maximizing equipment utilization in the mining environment is difficult at the best of times, but with rising cost pressures and tighter margins in the current environment, there is even greater focus by mine managers to unlock efficiencies wherever possible. Increasing output by using fewer resources may seem like a conflicting equation, but valuable bottom line gains can be achieved by going back to basics and focusing on controllable factors such as consumables. The fuel and lubricants selected can have a big impact on equipment and in turn business performance, making it crucial to maximize the value that consumables provide to a company.

To gauge this value, two companies put consumables to the test under real-world conditions. Shell collaborated with Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (DLG) to measure the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) savings and efficiency gains that can be achieved when using premium fuel and lubricants together. Situated in Gross-Umstadt, Germany, DLG has a comprehensive machinery testing program.

Over the course of four months and more than 600 hours, a DLG team tested Shell FuelSave Diesel and Shell Diesel Extra in combined use with Shell Rimula R6 LME Plus 5W-30, against regular diesel and standard lubricants. The premium consumables were first put through DLG’s PowerMix test procedure using test frames and parameters designed by an independent expert commission, a format regularly used by leading global manufacturers to assess the quality of their machines. Additionally, Shell and DLG designed a new Power Take Off (PTO) testing program, which combines a series of assessments to verify the quality of premium fuels versus standard ones. The result, according to Shell, was a real-world measurement of how the tested fuels can impact the overall performance of the engine.

While there is a growing awareness across the mining sector of the benefits that either a premium fuel or a premium lubricant can have on equipment performance, the DLG test demonstrated the additional efficiencies that can be unlocked by combining the two. “Our test results have shown that Shell premium fuels and lubricants perform better than the standard products,” said Stefano Mastrogiovanni, managing director, DLG Test Service.

The testing showed that when used together, Shell’s premium diesel and premium Shell lubricants can deliver up to 472 more operating hours as a combined efficiency benefit1, a figure that could have significant cost-saving potential when viewed in light of the 24/7 schedules, which are not uncommon for mining projects. The results also highlight the increased productivity that Shell FuelSave Diesel and Shell Diesel Extra can offer, with DLG measuring up to 2.7% fuel economy2 and 5.6% more load-pulling power when compared with regular diesel3.

The ability to maintain engine efficiency while operating with heavy loads or on uneven terrain is crucial at most mining operations, particularly those that are consistently running at a high capacity. A key success factor here is the health of injection systems, particularly injector cleanliness. Shell and DLG found that Shell FuelSave Diesel and Shell Diesel Extra were able to achieve up to 100% injector deposit clean-up in less than three working days, which can significantly reduce downtime and maintenance costs.

The DLG testing indicates that the right consumable selection can unlock tangible efficiencies for equipment and operations, enabling higher output with fewer resources when this is arguably needed most. It also shows that even greater improvements may be available when premium fuel and lubricants are used in tandem.

1 For the same amount of fuel compared to regular diesel without fuel economy formula and to standard lubricant. Baseline of 1 million liters (L) and 50 L/hr fuel consumption per equipment. Based on demonstration tests with off-highway heavy-duty Tier 4 engines in collaboration with DLG Germany.

2 Shell FuelSave Diesel is designed to help provide up to 3% fuel economy, compared to regular diesel without fuel economy formula. Actual savings may vary according to vehicle, driving conditions and driving style. Internal Shell tests and with customers have shown a range of fuel savings depending on age of vehicle and type of operations.

3 Compared to regular diesel without fuel economy formula. Based on demonstration tests with off-highway heavy-duty Tier 4 engines in collaboration with DLG Germany. Achieved within 50 hours of engine operations and four tankfuls.