Pit and Quarry Direct
How to Control Lubricant Contamination in Mining Equipment
As the cost of contamination rises, companies must take additional measures to ensure cleanliness


During the past decade, mining equipment has become larger, more powerful and more fuel efficient. These innovations, however, come at the price of higher operating and maintenance costs. Tighter tolerances in component designs means that as the equipment becomes more complex, the potential for damage from contaminated lubricants increases.

The biggest challenges in controlling contamination are changing human behavior and eliminating human error. Carelessness and neglect are the most frequent causes of contamination. While lubricants may be changed according to the maintenance schedule, the process must be done with the proper care, using uncontaminated equipment and following the proper procedures.

The biggest challenges in controlling contamination are changing human behavior and eliminating human error.

“We need to think about contamination like we think of safety,” says Augusto Fernandes, a Shell product application specialist. “All employees need to understand contamination. All levels need to be engaged.”

Companies should create training programs to educate employees about contamination and have committees that study contamination issues, evaluate new technology for fighting it and develop targets to help the company meet its goals.

Training should include specific programs for operation, lubrication, maintenance and engineering, and each department should appoint contamination control ambassadors to focus on fluid cleanliness and ensure proper procedures are followed. Companies also should recognize when cleanliness targets are achieved, and ensure that programs to prevent contamination evolve as new equipment standards and legislation are adopted.

“We need to think about contamination like we think of safety... All levels need to be engaged.”

For example, more countries are creating incentives — either with tax credits or legislative mandates — for the increased use of biofuels. However, biofuels are more susceptible to contamination, especially from water, which only increases the need for tighter controls.

Identifying contamination sources

To control contamination effectively, companies must first understand its origin. Contamination can come from many sources, including:

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  1. Original equipment manufacturers: Debris from the manufacturing process that has not been properly cleaned can remain in the system as can residual chemicals, solvents, metal working fluids or rust-proofing materials, all of which can inhibit performance.
  1. Topping off: Simply adding lubricants can contaminate a reservoir if the pump, hose and nozzle aren’t clean. If a “transfer container” is used that is not properly covered or stored to prevent dirt and dust contamination can cause contamination. Every piece of transfer equipment must be maintained with properly fitting caps, lids, seals and covers.
  1. Lubricant tanks: Many lubricant storage tanks have “goose-neck” piping that allows the tank to breathe, but they may not prevent contamination as effectively as desiccant-filtration breather systems. Desiccant breathers remove large particulates as well as water vapor from the air entering the tank, which goes a long way in preventing contamination. Fill caps and reservoir lids that are left open can expose tanks to dirt and moisture. Storage tanks should be viewed as an extension of the production equipment itself — whatever contaminant is in a storage tank can eventually reach the equipment.
  1. Lubricant distributors and supply: Lubricant contamination can occur at every stage of delivery, storage, handling and filling into the equipment, requiring consistent contamination control procedures at every step.
  1. Maintenance: Storage areas for tools and parts should be kept clear of potential contaminants. For example, if parts are stored in an open-air shop, particles in the air may settle on parts or tools that will be used to maintain the equipment.

Maintaining the integrity of the system means ensuring the filtration occurs at every transfer point — from delivery vehicles to the operating equipment — and that desiccant breathers are used on all delivery trucks, as well as storage vessels and the equipment.

When handling oil, hydraulic fluid and lubricants, mining companies should use quick-fill couplings as much as possible, and keep them capped when not in use. Equipment should be filled to the appropriate levels with minimal use of funnels, and all fluids should be stored in clean environments.

As mining technology advances, the cost of contamination rises in tandem. More complex and efficient equipment also means a greater sensitivity to contaminants. By investing in training and focusing on cleanliness at every step in the process, companies can reduce contamination-related costs, along with the loss of reliability and higher operating costs that can come with them.

Augusto Fernandes, Product Application Specialist for Mining Americas, works closely with Shell’s field based technical team and mining customers throughout the Americas in delivering programs aimed at improving productivity and reducing maintenance costs by implementing improved lubrication practices. Augusto has worked in industrial lubricants since 1995 in both commercial and technical roles.

Visit lube-education.com/mining for the latest industry insights from Shell. Please direct all inquiries about Shell Lubricants to Cassie Hackstedt at Cassie.Hackstedt@shell.com.

Pit & Quarry Direct provides professionals in the aggregate mining industry with insights on timely innovations in equipment and technology. This newsletter was produced by North Coast Media’s content marketing staff in collaboration with Shell Lubricants.

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