Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication

Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication
He inz P. Bloch Tags: be aring lubrication

Machinery Lubrication (2/2013)

The overwhelming majority of process pumps in industry comply with the standards of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) or the American Petroleum Industry (API). However, neither of these two standard categories mandates any one particular type of lubrication. Grease lubrication, as well as lubrication by liquid oil or atomized oil (oil mist), or even pressurized pure oil are used in various process pumps. Generally, grease is chosen for ease of lube containment, but it is limited to relatively small ANSI pumps. The larger pumps and virtually all API-style pumps are oil-lubricated, but lube type selection and the designs that apply lube to bearings can vary. Lubricant types are categorized as either mineral oils or synthetic oils, and they certainly differ in cost. Also, lubricants need to remain relatively clean in service, and lube change intervals must be optimized. In short, important choices and decisions will need to be made. Therefore, guidance from reliability improvement and cost points of view will be necessary.

Oil Rings Interact with Lubricant Viscosities
Viscosity is by far the most important property of lubricants applied to process pump bearings. In general, thicker viscosity oil films will protect rolling-element bearings better than oils with thinner viscosity. For process pumps with rolling-element bearings, ISO Grade 68 (VG 68) lube oils will allow higher operating loads than VG 32. The problem is that oil rings or slinger rings that are optimally designed to apply VG 32 will not work equally well with the more viscous VG 68. Oil rings typically operate best in an as-designed speed range with closely maintained depth of immersion, ring concentricity, shaft system horizontality and surface roughness of contacting parts. For long life and low frictional losses, different bearings are sometimes best lubricated with different viscosity lubricants. But what if these bearings share the same bearing housing? Reliability-focused pump users will need an optimization strategy, and lube-related knowledge will help. Fortunately, ISO Grade 32 synthetic lubricants exhibit oil film thickness and strength properties close to those of VG 68 mineral oils. Therefore, suitably formulated VG 32 synthetic oils are preferred by reliability professionals for many process pump services. An excellent point in favor of synthetic VG 32 can also be made for many pump drivers, such as the steam turbine bearing housings shown in Figure 2. The sleeve bearing at the drive end of this small turbine was optimally lubricated with a VG 32 lubricant, whereas the rolling-element bearing at the governor end (the thrust-loaded bearing) would survive longer if VG 68 oil could be applied. Because of their superior properties, VG 32 synthetic lubricants incorporate the viscosity needed for reasonable oil ring performance as well as oil film thickness and tenacity characteristics desired for bearing life extension. Here are a few general guidelines worth considering:
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solid particles and water intrusion must be avoided.com/Articles/Print/29280 2/9 . ISO VG 32 synthetics are quite acceptable from film strength and film thickness points of view. With a clean. Although synthetic lubricants cost more than mineral oils at the point of initial purchase. upgrading to the best-available bearing protector seals and implementing plant-wide oil-mist lubrication are two principal strategies adopted by world-class plants. on oil rings for lube application. Appropriately formulated with the right base stock and with proprietary additives. Customdesigned oil rings may be required to work with the thicker oils at certain high shaft peripheral velocities. advanced bearing protector seals and www. Incorporating the advanced bearing housing protector seals shown in Figures 3 and 4 and guarding against contaminant entry at breather vents could make 36month change intervals possible. you would typically extend oil change intervals to at least 24 months. rigorous and all-encompassing cost justifications will often show relatively short payback periods. Oil rings can have a tendency to simply switching to ISO Grade 68 mineral malfunction if they contact stationary oils will be risky for bearings that depend housing parts. Therefore.machinerylubrication. For bearings to survive. risk-free use in pumps equipped with rolling-element bearings in typical ambient conditions. For this reason. These superior ISO VG 32 synthetics excel by simultaneously satisfying the requirements of sleeve and rolling-element bearings. so there can be significant differences in the performance of two lubricants of the same viscosity and base stocks. ISO Grade 32 mineral oils are often considered too “thin” for pump bearings. But Figure 1. Similarly. Combining extended bearing life and extended drain intervals results in better payback. Protect the Lubricant for Longer Bearing Life Air and the lubricant take up whatever housing space is not actually used by the bearings. This is made possible by keeping contaminants away from the lubricant. In combination. The notion that one oil type or viscosity suits all applications is rarely correct. proper bearing housing protection seals are essential for keeping the oil clean. In turn. Superior synthetics achieve high film strength through proprietary additives. They rarely qualify for long-term. no fixed or particular oil ring geometry is ideally suited for all oil types and viscosities.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication Using a mineral oil would generally require oil to be changed every six to 12 months. Reliability-focused users are mindful of the fact that non-optimized bearing housing protector designs can hurt oil cleanliness by shedding slivers of sealing components. premium-grade synthetic lubricant. the performance of some ISO VG 32 synthetics duplicates that of ISO VG 68 mineral oils. Keeping the oil clean is the first order of business if extended oil replacement intervals are the goal. Only one might be suitable for the highest reliability services. In fact. achieving extended oil replacement intervals often makes it economical to use superior-quality synthetic lubricants.

Common sense and statistical evidence point to greatly reduced downtime risk and demonstrable maintenance cost avoidance credits. They also may employ inadequate bearing housing seals because their only concern is the initial purchase price. As soon as the internally split carbon rings start to wear. This cross-section view shows a small steam turbine driver for process pumps. or contaminants find their way into bearing housings. and only solidly engineered bearing protector seals are effective in blocking leakage steam intrusion. Wear-prone seals include lip seals and also certain rotating labyrinth seals. Small steam turbines often suffer from steam leakage at both drive and governor-end sealing glands.” Once lip seals have worn and no longer seal tightly. When lip seals are too tight.and large-diameter dynamic O-ring. Traditional labyrinth seals have proven ineffective in many such cases.machinerylubrication. which disallows lip seals and calls for either rotating labyrinth-style or contacting face bearing housing protector seals. high-pressure and highvelocity leakage steam finds its way into the bearing housings. oil is lost through leakage. Each bearing housing is located adjacent to one of these two glands. Worthington-Turbodyne) The bearing housing protector seal in Figure 3 was designed for steam turbines. which contain carbon rings. Yet lip seals typically last only about 2.000 operating hours (three months). While even small machine manufacturers recognize the need to limit both contaminant ingress and oil leakage. Figure 2. This bearing protector seal is highly stable and not likely www. Because synthetic lubricants are more expensive than mineral oils. or O-ring grooves that are wide enough to prevent such contact but that enable copious amounts of contaminants to enter the bearing housing.com/Articles/Print/29280 3/9 . Seals to avoid are those that allow a rotating O-ring to contact the sharp edges of an O-ring groove. This fact is recognized by the API-610 standard for process pumps. they cause shaft wear and in some cases lubricant discoloration known as “black oil. inexpensive lip seals are found in some pumps and drivers to keep initial cost low. (Ref.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication synthetic lubricants create an environment conducive to long bearing life. It incorporates a small. some users cling to mineral oils for their process pumps.

AESSEAL Inc.machinerylubrication. One of the main problems was the short outboard length . In this design.com/Articles/Print/29280 4/9 . These systems www. one of the rotating (“dynamic”) O-rings is flung outward and away from the larger O-ring. there should no longer be any reason for water intrusion into the bearing housings of process pumps and small steam turbine drivers at reliability-focused facilities. But the manufacturer’s engineers were able to modify the advanced design to fit into the existing groove of the original equipment manufacturer’s labyrinth seals. With no detailed drawings of the bearing housings available. Delivery was made within one week of taking measurements of the steam turbine and bearing housings. This cross-sectioned half-view illustrates an advanced bearing housing protector seal for small steam turbines. Figure 3. Because contact pressure equals force divided by area. contact with the sharp edges of an O-ring groove risks O-ring damage.less than 0.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication to wobble on the shaft. In 2009. the outer O-ring contracts and touches the larger cross-section O-ring. when a Dutch refinery asked for the installation of the bearing protector seal shown in Figure 3 for one of its steam turbines. With sufficient shaft rotational speed. With these advantages in mind. Installation of three bearing protector seals on the first machine had to take place during a scheduled plant shutdown. incorporating Aflas Orings as the standard elastomer. a good design aims for low pressure. the type described here offers important advantages. and a micro-gap opens up. the outer of the two dynamic O-rings will move back to its standstill position. providing extra axial clearance to accommodate thermal expansion and utilizing high-temperature graphite gaskets. The point is that highly cost-effective equipment upgrades are possible at hundreds of refineries.) Upgrade to a Better Bearing Environment Fortunately. the exact installation geometry could only be finalized after dismantling the small turbine seen in Figure 2. concerns as to the time it might take to upgrade to advanced bearing protector seals have been alleviated. The larger crosssection O-ring is then free to move axially. Of course. the larger cross-section O-ring touches a relatively large contoured area. When running a pump. you might ultimately achieve an operating temperature that allows a certain thick oil to flow nicely.25 inch was available due to the presence of steam deflectors and oil flingers. and slivers of O-ring material can end up contaminating the lube oil. Modern products fit in the space previously taken up by lip seals. it is also field-repairable. these and similar issues are avoided with pure oil-mist systems. Compared with standard products typically used in pumps. At standstill. However. such as being suitable for high temperatures. superior bearing protector products for use in steam turbines must be purposefully developed. but what if the initial operating temperature at startup is quite low and the oil will not flow freely? That’s what often happens when someone buys a standard “multipurpose oil” where a superior synthetic would be a far better choice. no modifications were allowed on the existing equipment. and the turbine has been running flawlessly for years. (Ref. In outdated configurations. When the turbine is stopped.

(Ref. A conventional lip seal (top) versus a modern rotating labyrinth bearing housing protector seal (bottom).) www.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication eliminate much of the human element and are less maintenance-intensive than traditional pumps and drivers lubricated with vulnerable oil rings and constant-level lubricators.machinerylubrication.com/Articles/Print/29280 5/9 . AESSEAL Inc. Figure 4.

These oils are more easily and reliably applied as an oil mist.machinerylubrication.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication Oil Mist Represents Best Available Technology As stated previously. Neither oil rings nor constant-level lubricators are used in pumps and drivers connected to plantwide oil-mist systems. www. thick oils can be quite difficult to apply with the oil rings that are typically supplied with API process pumps.com/Articles/Print/29280 6/9 .

Branch lines often feed hundreds of rolling elements in pumps and drivers connected to the header. At standstill. Villavicencio) Oil mist is an atomized amount of oil carried or suspended in a volume of pressurized dry air. pump and driver bearings are preserved by the surrounding oil mist. which exists in the bearing housing space at a pressure just barely higher than ambient. These oil-spray systems are not to be confused with the more economical oil-mist systems. This combining begins whenever the equipment shafts rotate.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication Figure 5. or while on standby. oil type and lube viscosity tend to affect percentage reductions in bearing friction.actually a ratio of one volume of oil suspended or carried in 200. E. The oil mist . which is when small globules get to contact each other and start coating the bearing elements.moves in a piping system. dry air . The point of origin is usually a simple mixing valve (the oil-mist generator) connected to a header pipe. both oil-mist and oilspray applications can take credit for lower www.com/Articles/Print/29280 7/9 . (Ref.machinerylubrication. There are also plant-wide oil-distribution systems whereby liquid oil (not an oil/air mixture) is pressurized and injected through spray nozzles into the pump bearings. This chart shows how changes in lube application. However. These pump and driver bearings are lubricated from the time when atomized oil globules join to become larger oil droplets.000 volumes of clean.

taking proper care of it and changing it before bearings are harmed. critically important pumps. changing to a superior synthetic is highly recommended.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication Figure 6. Suitable high-filmstrength oils will fill these micro-cracks. compatibility must be verified. at least one company combines synthetic base oils including polyalphaolefin (PAO) and dibasic ester base stocks with advanced additive chemistry to realize greater film strength. Micro-cracks in bearing surfaces can cause increased noise and vibration. oil type and lube viscosity affect bearing temperature. If access to the sump drain is safe when the pump is in service. The risk of lube oils darkening during the run-in period of such pumps is reduced through the use of high-film-strength synthetic lubes. Improvements in lubricant quality can only be achieved by utilizing oils with superior lubricating properties. To be fair. oil performance can vary greatly based on the amount and composition of additives in the oil. This chart illustrates how changes in lube application. www. Their higher cost is easily justified by four to six times conventional oil replacement (draining) intervals and by keeping the oil free from contamination. this risk could also be reduced by insisting on impeccable installation techniques and the selection of bearings with cages made of advanced high-performance polymers. it may skid.(Ref. Numerous incidents have been documented where advanced lubrication technology has significantly improved pump reliability. For process pump bearing lubrication. non-spared refinery pumps. the present oil can be drained while such pumps are on-line and running. The API-610 stipulation of using thrust bearings with particular load angles and brass cages represents a compromise. pumps in high-temperature service and pumps that have failed more often than others in the plant’s pump population should be lubricated with high-filmstrength synthetic oils. Villavicencio) frictional losses (see Figures 5 and 6) and should be taken into account when doing costjustification analyses.com/Articles/Print/29280 8/9 . Oil contamination is effectively avoided by installing advanced bearing protector seals. advanced lube technology with its often more favorable (lower) coefficient of friction results in reduced bearing operating temperatures.machinerylubrication. Many superior synthetics are compatible with the oil presently used in a particular pump. Still. E. Therefore. These would be premium synthetics. Whatever the differential cost of a quart of high-film-strength synthetic. which is especially attractive for plants that place the desire to standardize ahead of failure-avoidance concerns. If the net axial thrust action on one of the two back-to-back oriented bearings causes it to become unloaded. In the majority of cases. This then lowers noise intensity and reduces vibration severity. Synthetic Lubricants Using High-Film-Strength Good lubrication practices include choosing the right oil. Yet even among prominent synthetic lubricants. On pumps where a problem is in progress. High-film-strength lubricants also lessen the probability of lube oil darkening during the running-in period of bearings with brass or bronze cages. There have been reported instances of high frictional contact during the initial run-in period of the copper-containing material recommended by API-610. it is insignificant compared to the value of an avoided failure incident on critical.

Typical payback periods when using oil mist on problem pumps have generally been less than one year. In those instances. No liquid oil sumps are maintained in the bearing housings. operations. There are also temperature advantages associated with different oils and different lube application methods (see Figure 6). fabrication-specific and application-related parameters. adherence to sound specifications is not difficult once a proper mindset is cultivated. you can avoid process pump failures. Remember. Of course.com/Articles/Print/29280 9/9 . www. The results were plotted. Five different modifications were closely examined in a cooperative effort involving a multi-national lube oil producer and a prominent bearing manufacturer. Decades of experience on thousands of pumps and electric motors attest to the viability and cost effectiveness of modern plant-wide oil-mist systems. ISO VG 68 and VG 100 mineral or synthetic oils are used.1/16/14 Tips for Better Process Pump Lubrication Of course. maintenance and project engineering must cooperate. hence the term “dry sump” is often used to describe modern oil-mist lubrication. material composition. and percentage reductions in bearing friction displayed on the vertical scale in Figure 5. Bearing friction can be reduced by switching to different oils. nothing will be gained by changing over to better oils. .machinerylubrication. by consistently staying within acceptable ranges of dimensional. Lubricants for Oil-Mist Systems Pure oil-mist lubrication eliminates the need for oil rings or flinger discs. Still. although properly formulated ISO VG 32 synthetics (but not mineral oils) will serve the majority of pump bearings and also virtually all types of rolling-element bearings in electric motors. going with a different lube application method or switching both lube application method and oil type. there are certain pump bearing or lube degradation problems that have nothing to do with the lubricant type. The difficulty is in cultivating the mindset.