Automatic Lubrication Systems

automatic lubrication system

What Is an Automatic Lubrication System? An automatic lubrication system, also commonly referred to as a centralized lubrication system, is designed to deliver optimal amounts of lubricant to critical points in an individual machine or entire facility. The system can be as simple as a single pump and applicator or as advanced as a multi-applicator system that delivers varying levels of lubricant to plant-wide lube points.

Unlike manual lubrication, auto lube systems use a computer to monitor and control the entire process. Applicators can provide continuous lubricant to bearings or time the application to recommended service schedules.

Many auto lubrication systems include monitoring devices. These smart sensors monitor the amount of lubrication on the machine and the amount being applied. Your centralized system records all this data for big data possibilities for this crucial maintenance process.

Oil is a common lubricant, but your centralized system can also provide grease or an air/oil mixture to keep parts moving. Consider the reduced operational costs, safety improvements and preventative maintenance possibility of using a centralized system.

Why Choose a Centralized Lubrication System?

Automating the process reduces lubricant use, employee time and safety risks. A professionally installed automatic lubrication system applies the precise amount of lube at the precise area of friction or heat to keep your operations moving forward.

The result of an automated system is up to 50% reduction in lubricant use. Manual application of grease, cutting oil or other products comes with the risk of human error or imprecise application tools. Even skilled maintenance professionals typically add more than necessary in order to ensure full lubricant coverage.

Other risks of manual application are delayed or improper application. Even a short period of use with insufficient lubrication can negatively affect your machine reliability and longevity. Extend the lifetime of your equipment and avoid costly repair services with accurate lube application.

The application process also takes time. When a worker needs to manually apply lubricant to a machine, it takes time that the worker could be spending addressing other maintenance issues or operating the equipment.

Some friction points are accessed in dangerous areas of the equipment, so manual application requires machines to be shut off. This downtime can be particularly costly for high-performance machines.

An automatic system is easy to monitor and doesn’t require expertise. Training employees to monitor this system can be easier and safer than training them to apply lubricant to all the friction and heat points throughout your plant or industrial vehicles.

What Are the Components of an Auto Lube System?

Quality centralized lubrication systems come in many different shapes and sizes. There are, however, a few common components that are included in most auto lube systems:

  • Metering device
  • Controller
  • Pump
  • Tubing and fittings
  • Check valves, filters and sensors

Metering devices ensure lubrication spreads evenly through every line in the system. Without a metering device, the path of least resistance would receive most or all the lube pumped through the system. These devices direct the flow for optimal application at every lube point.

A controller is the brain of the system. It stores data, creates a schedule and signals the components to operate. The pump and metering devices rely on the controller for programmable precision. Any sensors need to be connected to the controller and it needs the recommended voltage available to power your system.

A pump provides the muscle behind your centralized lubrication system. It’s crucial that your pump is properly sized to receive the optimal flow rate and pressure for the entire system. A single lube point on a construction vehicle isn’t going to need the same pump size as a facility-wide system.

Connect the entire system and prevent an oil leak with tubing and fittings. These components need to be sized correctly to allow optimal flow. Excessive pressure can create a leak, so they also need to be durable enough to withstand operating pressures.

Automatic lubrication systems can be modified with check valves, oil filters, stroke sensors and pressure sensors. All of these modifications are designed to improve the efficiency of your system and reduce downtime in your facility.

Common Applications for Automatic Lubricators

Any point that requires grease or oil may be suitable for an automatic lubrication system. Automatic lubricators are particularly popular in these industries:

  • Automation
  • Machine tools
  • Food and beverage
  • Energy
  • Construction
  • Mining

These are only the most common industries. Any industry that has equipment with high-heat or high-friction points may benefit from a centralized lube system. Discuss your lubrication needs with a qualified team to learn more about a personalized setup.

The main considerations are available power and space. As long as there is enough room to fit a pump and power a controller, your equipment or machinery may be able to accommodate an automatic system.

What Are the Types of Centralized Lubrication Systems?

While there are virtually unlimited customization options available to create a personalized system, there are two main types to consider:

  • Positive displacement
  • Flow proportioning

These two automatic lubrication system types provide unique methods of injection. Choose positive displacement for metered lube application. Metering pistons alter the flow of this type of system for accurate use.

In a flow proportioning setup, the orifice size is adjusted to alter lubricant flow. By restricting the flow a flow proportioning system prevents all the lubrication from being delivered to a single point.

You need to determine the type of lubricant and the distance of tubing in the system before selecting a system type. Long distances of tubing not only require higher pressure levels and lower viscosity levels but also more vent time after injection.

Once you determine which of these basic categories, it’s time to choose a specific system. Here are some common options that can be further personalized for your industrial setup

  • Centralized grease lubrication system
  • Total loss lubrication
  • Oil recirculation lubrication
  • Minimum quantity lubrication
  • Air/oil lubrication

The type and amount of lubricant are the most important factors in this decision. Some systems, like a total loss, are useful if you must avoid any amount of contamination in the product. Other systems, like an oil recirculation or air/oil setup, are designed to offer the lowest levels of lubricant waste.

What Are the Typical Parts Which Fail and Preventative Maintenance Tasks?

Every complex system comes with multiple parts that can fail. Careful monitoring and maintenance can prevent these typical parts from failing:

  • Pump
  • Controller
  • Valves
  • Tubing
  • Fittings
  • Metering devices
  • Pressure regulators

Monitor your automatic lubrication system for signs of wear or system failure. While a centralized system reduces your machine maintenance tasks, this system comes with its own maintenance tasks to ensure proper use.

Start by performing a visual inspection of your centralized system. Review the recommended cleaning schedule to avoid dirty air, lubricant or filters. Here are some common issues that can prevent your lube system from operating efficiently:

  • Power failure
  • Improperly adjusted injectors
  • Contamination in the lubricant, air or filter
  • Broken or clogged tubing
  • Pump failure
  • Empty lubricant reservoir

Your controller should monitor many of these issues for you and give you a clear warning when it’s time for a maintenance task. Don’t wait for a warning from your controller, however, and create a detailed maintenance schedule that covers these areas for smooth operations. Keep your machinery moving forward and your operational costs low with an industry-leading automatic lubrication system.