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Walking the tightrope

Lubrication increases safety

A freight forwarder had to transport a diesel engine from Trieste, Italy, to Tripoli, Lebanon. Everything went as planned until the ship reached the destination port. Then, just as the cargo was being unloaded, the engine fell eleven meters into the deep.

The crane’s rope had torn due to corrosion and wear. The owner had to pay out damages amounting to over 1.3 million dollars. “This example shows just how important it is to regularly maintain ropes,” says Markus Boose, who is responsible for marine lubrication systems at SKF. It only takes one weak spot for a rope to snap.

The right lubrication can significantly extend the lifespan of wire ropes.
Markus Boose, SKF Marine GmbH

A wire rope consists of individual cables that are twisted together to form a cord and then wound around a core. This can be made of one of several materials, such as steel or nylon. On ships and in ports, wire ropes are exposed to harsh conditions—most notably rough seas and sharp fluctuations in temperature. The global standard ISO 4309 provides operators with instructions on the correct way to carry out maintenance work. It also recommends regularly lubricating wire ropes according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. This protects the rope, which is subjected to high amounts of stress, and keeps the material smooth. “It also minimizes abrasion on the wire rope,” says Boose. Wire ropes that are used at sea have a relatively short lifespan if they are not lubricated regularly.


Even today, wire ropes are often lubricated by hand. This can take considerable time, and it is not uncommon for the working conditions to be dangerous. Furthermore, parts of the rope may be over or under lubricated, resulting in unnecessary costs. Many ship owners and shipping companies do not have the level of safety that is essential in this sensitive environment.

A substantial increase in lifespan


Automatic lubrication systems and maintenance products can help. They are designed to provide effective lubrication for various applications, including oil and gas rigs, wharf and ship cranes, deck winches, ship hoists, remotely operated vehicles, and winding machines in mines. “This product can significantly extend the lifespan of wire ropes, with low downtime and more economic use of lubricants,” says Boose. Maintenance itself is accelerated almost thirtyfold. Around one and a half meters of rope per minute can be lubricated by hand. In contrast, automatic systems can lubricate 30 to 35 meters per minute. Precise application of lubricants reduces consumption by up to 25 percent, depending on the supplier. This is both cost-efficient and environmentally-friendly. “One or two systems per ship are enough to ensure effective maintenance in the long term,” explains Boose. And this is how to avoid accidents such as the one at the port in Tripoli.

SKF Wire Rope Lubricator

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