From bushings and bearings to gears: all rotating and sliding parts in machines, such as offshore cranes and winches, need to be lubricated. And heavier loads and harsher environments increase the importance of proper lubrication. Using the optimal amount of lubricant is vital to avoiding premature wear or waste.
For many applications, manual lubrication is still the norm. However, this is often time-consuming and impractical as the machine has to be stopped before lubricant can be applied and a person may have to climb onto the machine. To minimize downtime and ensure proper lubrication, ALSs are becoming more prevalent in the maritime industry.
Types of ALS and how they work
An ALS consists of a reservoir containing the lubricant and an electric, pneumatic, or hydraulic pump to deliver it to the desired location. Depending on the design of the machine, lubricant can be dispensed to as many as 200 points.
Built-in controls, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), are used to tell the system when and where to apply lubricant. Using a series of metering valves, the system applies the lubricant to the desired location at the exact time and in the exact quantity needed, while the machine is still running.
The two main types of lubrication systems used for heavy-duty applications are single line parallel and progressive. The former uses a single hose line to connect the reservoir and pump to a bank of injectors lined up in parallel with one another. The injectors function independently and can be adjusted individually to meter the exact amount of lubricant required. If one bearing fails or gets blocked, other bearings in the machine will still be lubricated.
Progressive systems, on the other hand, feature a series of valve blocks to meter the lubricant. The main difference is that the whole system stops if just one bearing gets blocked. This type of system is typically used for medium-sized machines and can provide an effective fault indicator when a blockage occurs.
The rise of automation
One of the biggest driving forces behind the move to ALSs is safety. With automatic lubrication, people no longer have to risk injury by climbing onto a machine to lubricate hard-to-reach points. But performance and uptime are also important, and this is one of the reasons that large machines, such as deck cranes and winches, have the highest adoption rates.
Some lubrication systems even come equipped with telematics devices that provide information on performance and maintenance. The data logger can verify whether the machine was properly lubricated, helping narrow down the cause of any issues. Thanks to the continuous lubrication provided by an ALS, shipowners not only protect the safety of their crew, but also ensure optimal bearing performance and minimal downtime.
Prolonging bearing performance
Two of the most common performance issues with bearings are inadequate lubrication and contamination. Having a thin, even layer of lubricant at all times is the best way to prolong the bearing’s life. Indeed, studies show that continuous lubrication with short intervals helps maintain and increase bearing performance.
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