Engineers with harness on stairs

The correlation between lubrication and safety is closer than you think

11/28/2017

News and updates

By Brad Prickett

When it comes to the safety of your wind turbine operation, lubrication can have a bigger impact than you might think.

That’s because the greatest safety risks to an operation typically occur during equipment servicing and maintenance.

Take, for example, a routine oil change. What is a fairly straightforward process for ground-based equipment becomes much more complex for wind turbine equipment, as maintenance teams must ascend the tower, sometimes to elevations as high as 400 feet, before carefully inspecting the equipment to determine if any additional servicing is needed before refilling components with the new oil.

This is no easy task, which is why one of the most effective opportunities to enhance the safety of a wind turbine operation is by reducing human-machine interaction (HMI), or the frequency with which maintenance personnel interact with wind turbine equipment.

Reducing HMIs requires having a robust lubrication program that prevents unnecessary downtime and extends the service intervals of wind turbine equipment.

With that in mind, here are a few key guidelines to optimizing your lubrication program and enhancing the safety of your operation.

Use high-performance, synthetic lubricants

The success of any wind turbine operation depends on using the right lubricants.

Wind turbine components operate under severe conditions – including heavy loads, and vibration and varying speeds. To ensure the best possible equipment protection, high performance, synthetic lubricants can be specifically formulated to perform in these conditions.

By ensuring your equipment performs better over the long haul, synthetic lubricants can also enhance the safety of your operation by extending service intervals and reducing HMIs. In fact, using synthetic wind turbine gearbox lubricants can extend service intervals from 24 months to a period of five to seven years.

To get a better sense of the value of synthetic lubricants, let’s take a closer look at a few of the most important lubricant properties.

  • Viscosity – This is the most important characteristic of an oil, particularly for wind turbine lubricants. A lubricant’s viscosity indicates its resistance to flow – or the thickness of the film layer it produces to prevent contact between surface metals.
  • Viscosity index – A lubricant’s viscosity index measures the change in that lubricant’s viscosity due to alterations in temperature. Synthetic lubricants possess better viscosity indexes than their mineral-based counterparts, meaning their viscosity remains more stable and continues to function properly when exposed to extreme ranges of hot and cold temperatures.
  • Oxidation stability – Measures a lubricant’s ability to withstand oxidation. Oxidation typically creates sludge and results in component wear and corrosion, and the rate of oxidation is dependent on both the rise in temperature and the amount of contaminants in a system. Synthetic oils include additives that can reduce deposit formation caused by oxidation, which extends oil life and slows down component degradation.

Clearly, synthetic oils offer many benefits compared to mineral-based oils, which is why many wind turbine operators already use synthetic oils.

However, making the switch to synthetics is only half the battle. The quality of synthetic oil varies greatly and it’s important to take a close look at a lubricant’s formulation – especially some of the characteristics highlighted above – to understand if that formulation is ideal for your needs.

Look for synthetic lubricants engineered with a balanced formulation that includes a mix of high quality base oils with a robust additive package that keeps critical wind turbine equipment running in extreme conditions that are common for wind turbine applications. 

If you select the right lubricants, you can help enhance the reliability of your equipment, which can extend service intervals and minimize HMIs. And, by sparing your maintenance personnel from additional trips up tower, you can help enhance the safety of your operation.

Proactively monitor the health of your equipment

Using the right lubricants is fundamental to preserving equipment reliability, but alone, it’s not enough.

To ensure optimal service interval frequencies, and to help minimize HMIs over the lifetime of the equipment, you need to proactively monitor the health of that equipment to understand how it is performing.

There is no better way to monitor the health of your equipment than through used oil analysis. This service helps you better understand how your equipment is performing and identify potential pain points. Armed with that information, you can then tailor your maintenance program to get more out of your equipment and prevent unplanned downtime.

Advanced oil analysis platforms can provide even more helpful insights. They can help identify high-level trends not typically seen when viewing individual sample reports, including, and they can also provide documentation to validate used oil analysis results.

It’s important to train your maintenance personnel so they are well equipped to execute these services properly, and often, your lubricant supplier can help provide training support.

Taking a proactive approach to enhancing your lubrication program and determining useful equipment insights are great ways to enhance the safety of your operation, as they can help further minimize HMIs and ensure your equipment continues to perform reliably.

Take advantage of your lubricant supplier’s expertise

If you’re not already working closely with your lubricant supplier to optimize your equipment maintenance approach, you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity.

Your lubricant supplier can help you make the right decisions to ensure your program works for you, as it can leverage decades of experience working with equipment builders and developing new technologies to help you identify the best solutions to fit the needs of your specific equipment.

For example, these partners can help you analyze equipment operating conditions, specifications, and OEM recommendations to best identify the right product mix for your equipment, namely with greases and oils you should use.

You can also work with a supplier’s team of highly train field engineers to help you identify and execute technical services – such as used oil analysis or gear oil flushing services – and optimize the performance of your equipment. And, as mentioned earlier, suppliers can also provide training to help ensure your staff is knowledgeable and informed on the latest lubrication best practices.

Further, improper storage and handling of lubricants is another important consideration, as it can significantly reduce a lubricant’s effectiveness and even turn safe lubricants into potentially hazardous waste.

Many lubricant suppliers can conduct lubricant storage and handling studies across your plant, providing comprehensive review and analysis.

These are just a few examples of the ways in which working with your lubricant supplier can provide you with critical insights to help improve the performance of your equipment, which can go a long way toward reducing HMIs, and the overall safety, of your operation.

In sum, while optimizing your lubrication program is typically used to drive productivity, it can also meaningfully enhance the safety of your operation. To learn more, get in touch with your lubricant supplier and see how they may be able to help you take your quality of safety to the next level.  

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