Oil is a necessary consumable for the running of industrial machinery, however both the changing, and subsequent disposal of used engine oil has up until recently been a major cost and detriment to both industry and the environment.
Used oil from engines and transmissions is normally filled with contaminants including wear metals, dirt particles and toxic chemicals.
The traditional approach for changing oil in industry has been on a pre-determined scheduled basis, irrespective of whether the oil needs to be replaced. However, from a maintenance perspective if the oil's additives remain within the required specifications, and it is not loaded with contamination, it is still suitable for ongoing use.
Forty years ago OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) recommended changing oil at 250 hours. There have been massive improvements in oil technology, combustion efficiency and fuel quality, yet OEMs still recommend the same oil service interval. This outdated approach is good for oil companies and service providers but expensive for the user and damaging for the environment.
According to Bob Smith, managing director of Clean Oil Services, this entire process could well be redundant if the contaminants can be adequately removed without affecting the oil's additives.
"There's no reason why oils can't remain in service if kept in perfect operating condition," Smith told IndustrySearch.
The Lubemaster is a unique oil cleaning unit developed by Smith's company Clean Oil Services, allowing the oil to be kept in its "perfect original state" by removing particles to sub-micron levels and water below 50ppm – whilst the machine remains operating — indefinitely extending oil and machine life through reduced wear, and in turn reaping cost savings.
"The Lubemaster is an environmentally friendly approach to machinery maintenance in that you're not disposing of oil but rather keeping it in service by maintaining its original quality," Smith said.
A mobile piece of machinery, the Lubemaster's approach to cleaning oil is straightforward yet thorough, according to Smith.
"The Lubemaster works by centrifuge-over-vacuum technology," he said.
"The centrifuge which removes the particles is a well-proven technology, and the vacuum is the most effective method known for removing all three forms of moisture and de-gassing the oil.
"Particle removal is therefore not limited to the integrity of a filter element. The centrifuge removes all particles more dense than oil and continues working its way through it until it's finished removing particles at sub-micron levels.
"It eliminates the need to change the oil. In a piece of fixed plant machinery, you can just plug in [the Lubemaster] whilst the machine is still operating. What's more: the oil will actually end up cleaner because you're agitating the oil inside the compartments as the machinery remains running during the entire cleaning process.
"In effect, the Lubemaster keeps the oil in a 'cleaner-than-new-oil' state, which is why we refer to it as 'lubrication management equipment'."
According to Smith, the Lubemaster is also a relatively self-sustaining machine as well as being easy to use and maintain.
"It's very cheap to operate," he said.
"You connect it through the suction hose and return hose, then simply plug the power in and switch it on.
"The cleaning cycle time depends on the condition of the oil. How dirty it is, your ambient temperature, humidity — many factors affect it. But generally speaking, if attached to a 1000 litre system, it'll have it cleaned within 24 hours.
"There're no replacement elements; no consumables apart from electricity to run it.
"It doesn't have any filters, or replacement filters as such, to change.
"Your particle removal apparatus: the spinning rotor — it can hold up to 6kg of solids — take it apart, wash the solids out, put it back together, and then keep going.
"The alternatives have all got elements which you have to replace. Some of those elements can cost up to $1600."
One of the key ways the Lubemaster is able to help productivity is its ability to be used on machinery whilst it remains in operation. It can be used to clean as a complete machine, or the centrifuge can be attached separately.
"However in an engine for instance, if you've only got particulate in the engine, the centrifuge bolts onto the engine, and it operates whenever the engine's running, it's driven off the engine's oil pressure," Smith said.
"It's cleaning the oil all the time, so consequently with proper oil analysis, we can extend engine life indefinitely; 100,000 kilometres is not out of the question on any diesel engine using low sulphur fuels.
"We change oil on condition based on analysis results. If oil viscosity is within specs, contamination levels are being maintained and TBN is not being depleted. Why do we need to change oil in an engine?
"We have some generator sets running 60,000 hours — an unbelievable achievement in industry. Providing the oil's checked regularly (normally 250 hours) with proper analysis and all the oil's critical properties stay within range, we don't need to change it.
"The same applies with the Lubemaster. Gearboxes, hydraulic systems, turbines, compressors, transformers, waste oil — you will get moisture build-up in them; that's where the dehydration comes in. That's where you need the machine, as opposed to the centrifuge by itself.
"Oil is just like the machine it serves — service it properly and it will last longer."