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Why Automatic Lubrication for the Off Road market?

Keep it lubed; keep it productive

Automatic lubrication has a key role to play in improving the productivity of off-road machinery in the heavy mining industry

Fluctuating commodity prices, reduced profit margins, increasing expectations from shareholders, tighter governmental environmental regulations – it’s not easy for the heavy mining industry. No wonder that mining company executives are continually striving for ways to increase their company’s productivity levels.

A key contributor to a mine’s productivity is its heavy mining equipment. Keep it running efficiently and you’re heading in the right direction, productivity-wise. Let it become sidelined and inactive due to a maintenance or repair issue, and your productivity could swiftly decline.

Lubrication: not too little, nor too much

“To keep all components of heavy mining machinery running optimally for the whole of their lifetime, lubrication is essential – but it has to be optimal lubrication,” says Charles Hartl, Global Product Marketing Manager, Lubrication Equipment Division, Graco. “Suboptimal lubrication – which can be either under- or over-lubrication – can lead to machines breaking down, resulting in expensive production losses. And as many mines are in remote locations, getting a maintenance engineer or a spare part within hours can be difficult.”

The conventional solution is frequent manual lubrication. However, in the tough environmental conditions in which heavy mining machinery frequently operates, manual lubrication is not easy. Bad weather conditions can hinder or prevent lubrication from taking place. Off-road equipment is huge – and climbing up or over an 8-meter high dump truck to lubricate the furthermost pivots can be dangerous. Many components such as bucket and boom pins need to be lubricated in multiple positions, which is time-consuming. Finally, there’s the human element: different machine operators will lubricate their equipment in different ways, and not all of them will be the correct ways. The solution, and a key tool to help improve equipment efficiency and productivity, is automatic lubrication.

Optimal lubrication = automatic lubrication

Automatic lubrication involves providing smaller amounts of lubrication at regular intervals, without operator intervention. It ensures that components are lubricated when they need it most – while they are in use. It avoids manual lubrication downtime and reduces time spent on maintenance and repair. Automatic lubrication also cuts the cost of maintenance, repair, supplies and downtime, and increases equipment productivity, reliability and availability. It leads to safer operations by eliminating the need to climb on the machine to lubricate points that are difficult to reach.

“As heavy mining machinery increases in complexity, automatic lubrication is really the only way forward to protect your investment and increase running time,” adds Hartl. “It pushes dirt out of pivots, decreases wear and corrosion, and reduces lubricant consumption. It can even be set up with features that detect a blocked or broken line, and then alert the operator.”

How does it work?

A Graco automatic lubrication system can be installed on most heavy mining machines as a retrofit. It consists of three main components plus some accessories. The pump and reservoir store and provide a steady flow of lubricant. Divider valves or injectors deliver a predetermined amount of grease to each of the machine’s lubrication points. To operate and monitor the system, a controller is located inside the cab. It has touch-pad display and LED lighting for easy programming and realtime feedback for operators. The controller engages the lubrication cycle by activating the pump. It also monitors the level of grease in the reservoir as well as the movement of lubricants through the system.

Graco also provides all the accessories needed, such as hoses, fittings, mounting hardware and product-specific guarding.

Auto lube in practice

AngloAmerican is one of the world’s largest mining companies. In one of their South African open coal mines, they use the Hitachi Electric Mining Shovel EX3600. Designed to operate 24/7, a shutdown of the machine will seriously impact the mine’s productivity. To maintain its efficiency and reduce service and maintenance, an automatic lubrication system is vital to keep the bearings and bushings running.

The machine was fitted with a factory-installed auto lube system but unfortunately the reservoir was too small, causing the operator to have to stop the machine often to refill the reservoir with grease. This obviously decreased the efficiency of the machine. AngloAmerican and Graco distributor Flosolve came up with a superior customized solution based on two Graco Electric Dynastar grease pumps.

The new reservoir that was created can store up to 900 kg grease; nearly five times more than the factory fit reservoir. This increased the running time of the system to 500 hours before a refill was necessary.

One Electric Dynastar greases the boom, while the other one greases the rest of the machine. The pumps run every three minutes for maximum one minute. In case a pump cannot reach the needed pressure in one minute it will give a visual and audible alarm to the GLC4400 controller in the cab. This immediately warns the driver that there is a problem with the lube system.

Thanks to the bigger grease tank and the feedback from the pump to the controller, AngloAmerican can run their Electric Mining Shovel more efficiently. The reduced service time increases productivity and saves money.

Reliability when you need it

Other features of the Graco Electric Dynastar made it an excellent choice for AngloAmerican. Thanks to the Tube-Tube-Fill and Vent Path, no additional external hoses are needed which could break during operation and result in the machine shutting down.

The harsh conditions in the mine means that the pump has to be rugged and durable – the drive is a particularly critical link. The Graco Advantage Drive™ consists of high quality, hardened steel helical gears sealed to keep contaminants out for longer lasting performance. It has been field-proven for over ten years to be the longest lasting drive in the industry. Warranty claims on the Advantage Drive over the past five years have only been 0.2%.

Furthermore, the Advantage Drive is lubed for life, which increases the running time of the whole machine. The motor control of the EDS allows the pump’s speed and current to be adjusted. This helps to protect the power circle of the Electric Mining Shovel and makes adjustment easy. The built-in LEDs quickly indicate if there is any failure and help to make a first troubleshooting.

The high pressure Electric Dynastar is capable of 5,000 psi (344 bar) with a maximum output of 18 cubic inches (295 cc) per minute. This model maintains its high performance levels even in temperatures as low as -40C. If the application demands high flow, there is an Electric Dynastar model capable of providing 3,500 psi (241 bar) with a maximum output as high as 25 cubic inches (410 cc) per minute.

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Founded in 1926, Graco is a world leader in fluid handling systems and components. Graco products move, measure, control, dispense and apply a wide range of fluids and viscous materials used in vehicle lubrication, commercial and industrial settings.