Greasing those skids

Greasing those skids

“Acidic substances that can strip flesh from bone” is the kind of image the phrase “hazardous chemicals” can evoke – but compounds don’t need to have quite such extreme effects to fall under this classification. JACO DE KLERK takes a look at what is arguably one of the most abundant of these chemicals, why it’s needed, and how it can be made less threatening.

Fossil fuels are regarded as hazardous chemicals because of their combustibility and the fact that they emit CO2 after their detour through an engine – but lubricants can have a far more damaging effect on the environment.

With one litre of used oil able to contaminate a million litres of water, it’s clear that lubricants can have a devastating impact on natural resources such as water. And the dangers come into stark clarity when we consider that lubricants are used in nearly every engine and all heavy machinery on the planet.

Willy Bernaards, grease sales manager, Europe and Africa, for Shell Lubrications, points out that the global grease market was more than one miilion metric tonnes in 2010. That’s a lot of grease that has probably already been replaced, which begs the question – what happened to it?

One of the world’s largest grease manufacturers, Shell has a 13 percent share of the lubrication market by volume and is one of the leading suppliers of lubricants to the mining industry. It is thus comforting to know that the company adheres to the environmentally acceptable collection, storage and recycling of used lubricating oil through its partnership with the Recycling Oil Saves the Environment (ROSE) Foundation.

However, grease and oil aren’t manufactured just to be disposed of, but to ensure the smooth running of things – and Shell Lubrications lived up to its name by conducting some case studies to ensure the smooth running of South African mines.

Willie Coetzee, grease business development manager for Shell South Africa, explains that one of the case studies investigated the bulk grease filling of excavators and draglines used in several opencast mines in the country. The company discovered that by improving the grease top-up process, labour time could be reduced, grease tanks could be filled to capacity, and excavator downtime could be completely eliminated. Coetzee points out that Shell achieved this, and more, by using bulk grease trucks to fill the machines with grease the way one would fill a truck with diesel in a pay-what-is-pumped arrangement.

The process is capable of pumping 60 kg of grease per minute, reducing the filling time for excavators and draglines; shortening the downtime of equipment; eliminating the residue cost associated with grease that remains in bulk tanks; reducing the amount of grease stock-holding for the mines; and ensuring that the machinery receives uncontaminated grease each time.

Using the grease truck led to one mine saving R5,1 million in 2009, R5,9 million in 2010 and R4,7 million in 2011 on volumes and contamination management.

Shell has also successfully optimised the operations of a local platinum plant’s mills by implementing one of its speciality greases called Malleus GL 3500, together with standards developed by the American Gear Manufacturers’ Association and its own best practices.

Coetzee reports that these changes led to each mill saving R200 000 per annum on volumes alone, and an additional
R900 000 per year on preventative interventions identified by Shell’s LubeExpert team. Wear was also reduced by 20 percent per annum and a saving of 78 percent achieved on total downtime for the same period. Overall grease volumes were lowered by 12 percent, which amounts to some R156 000 annually.

It’s clear that grease and the disposal thereof needn’t be a slippery slope towards financial ruin or environmental calamities that damage our natural resources. Through the right partnerships and informed decision-making, grease can ensure that the machines driving our economy continue to run smoothly without harming the environment.

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