Extending Equipment Life Through Smart Lubrication Decisions

By: Gordon Addison, Lubricants Field Technical Advisor, Imperial Oil

Lubrication And Equipment Reliability

Keeping vital production equipment online is every oil and gas producer’s top priority, but achieving this goal will only get harder in the years to come.

In ExxonMobil’s “Outlook for Energy: Journey to 2040” report, energy demand is projected to grow by about 25% over the next 23 years. And, in 2040, we project that oil and gas will still account for 57% of the total energy mix.

To meet that energy demand, producers are turning to oil and gas reserves in more remote locations, where wells are deeper and operating conditions are more extreme. This means production equipment will be pushed harder than ever while facing more extreme temperatures, heavier loads and exposure to damaging contaminants.

Fortunately, even small changes to an oil and gas operation, such as smart lubrication decisions, can have a big impact on equipment performance and longevity.

Lubricants are the lifeblood of any industrial machine and are fundamental to enhancing equipment performance, efficiency and uptime. However, lubricant performance can vary widely, and understanding what characteristics to look for in a lubricant and how to best measure lubricant performance in real-time is critical to success.

Here are a few key considerations to help operators make smart lubrication decisions as they work to enhance equipment reliability and life as well as maximize operational productivity.

The quality of lubricants is key to equipment performance

With lubricants, like with most other products, you get what you pay for. Only the best products formulated specifically to perform for the demanding conditions of a given application can deliver the protection that oil and gas operators need.

Compared to conventional, mineral-based lubricants, synthetic lubricants utilize advanced additive technologies to help protect against conventional wear modes. This leads to better equipment protection, equipment durability and, ultimately, enhanced reliability.

These lubricants are worth the initial upfront investment, as they often offer significant long-term benefits that deliver cost savings over the course of the equipment life.

Consider the following real-world example.

In 2015, a large oil and gas producer was running a White Superior 12GTL natural gas engine on a conventional, mineral based oil. The company wanted to reduce oil consumption and extend oil drain intervals from 4,000 hours to 16,000 hours to help increase productivity and reduce overall operations and maintenance costs.

Technical advisors suggested converting the engine to a synthetic lubricant. With that simple switch, the unit reached more than 20,000 hours on the same amount of oil before a coolant leak required an oil change. This reduced oil usage by more than 1,000 gallons per year and the oil demonstrated outstanding oxidation performance over that period — meaning better equipment protection over the long haul.

These equipment benefits are significant, but why exactly are advanced lubricants typically better than most conventional lubricants?

Here are a few reasons:

  • The high viscosity index of fully synthetic lubricants remains more viscous, allowing them to perform better at higher temperatures and helping protect against wear and reducing the risk of metal-to-metal contact that often causes permanent equipment damage.
  • Components such as bearings are particularly susceptible to wear, and bearing failure is a leading cause of unplanned mechanical failure of rotating equipment, resulting in production losses. Synthetic lubricants specifically formulated to protect against wear can help protect components particularly susceptible to wear, such as bearings.
  • Synthetic lubricants have much greater oxidation resistance than conventional, mineral-based oils, which is a key factor in determining oil life. Some synthetic lubricants have been shown to extend oil life up to six times longer than conventional oils, particularly at elevated operating temperatures.

Regular check-ups will help optimize lubricant and equipment life

While product choice is the most important lubrication decision impacting proper equipment performance and protection, monitoring real-time performance of those lubricants in-service is nearly just as important.

Specifically, used oil analysis (UOA) can track any changes in fluid properties between overhaul periods by identifying the presence of contaminants and machinery component wear debris, indicate changes in lubricant viscosity or report oxidation levels. Through these programs, operators can identify trends to understand if there is a potential issue that requires corrective action.

By implementing a regular, consistent UOA program, operators can ensure that their lubricant and their equipment is running at its best, helping deliver optimized equipment and oil life, reduced downtime, improved safety and environmental awareness.

Another real-world example: a U.S. energy company that extracts natural gas from shale and other tight formations was looking to extend engine oil drain and overhauling intervals for their Wakuesha 9390 natural gas engines while maximizing operational efficiency and overall productivity.

Engineers conducted an oil analysis review and gas engine inspection, using those insights to determine that the oil currently being used wasn’t the optimal choice. The application instead required a more advanced lubricant formulated specifically to deliver enhanced wear and corrosion protection for more severe operating conditions, thus minimizing carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 40.5 tons per year.

The engineering team made a recommendation to switch to a synthetic gas engine oil specifically designed to increase fuel economy, minimize oil consumption, and provide enhanced wear and corrosion protection. After converting two of the gas engines and conducting regular UOA to continuously monitor the performance of the new oil, the company successfully surpassed their 30,000-hour oil service goal with no overhauls or filter changes. Additionally, the new oil helped deliver an estimated 1.5 percent reduction in fuel consumption.

Small change, big difference

Lubrication typically accounts for only a small percentage of an oil and gas operator’s overall operations and maintenance budget. But, as some of the examples outlined in this article demonstrate, making smart lubrication decisions can have a big impact on any operation.

I’d encourage operators to work closely with their lubricant supplier to understand if there’s an opportunity to enhance their existing lubrication strategy – either by switching to more advanced products or incorporating a more robust UOA program.

By making some of these small changes, operators will be in a better position to enhance equipment performance and, ultimately, equipment life.

For more information on how lubrication can help extend equipment life, please visit the Mobil website.