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Choose the Right Lubricant to Reduce Equipment Costs

Over the last few years, substantial changes have impacted the industry’s landscape—from the introduction of API CK-4 and FA-4 engine oils and Tier IV engines to stringent new emissions legislation and the drive toward improved fuel economy.

In today’s tough economic climate, many industries are facing challenging operating conditions and a variety of business pressures. In the construction industry, the expectation is that operations maintain high standards of reliability, efficiency and safety, while simultaneously reducing expenditure and remaining price competitive. For heavy equipment fleet managers, fuel is one of the biggest operating costs; in the long run, even marginal gains to fuel economy can make a big difference to a business’s bottom line.

So, how can construction equipment operators make the most of the new oils?

Lubricant selection

There is a great deal of interest regarding the role lubricants play in reducing upfront costs. Lubricants have the potential to improve fuel economy and enhance engine performance and protection. This is achieved through minimizing metal-to-metal contact between moving components, while also reducing pumping and spinning losses. Due to the oil’s lower viscosity, it requires less work to move through the engine, and therefore flows faster. Newer engine types, which run at higher temperatures, can also stress conventional lubricants and accelerate the rate at which the oil oxidizes and derogates.

Of particular relevance to those in the construction industry are API CK-4 oils, which are designed to be more robust and resistant to oxidation, as well as have improved resistance to aeration and increased shear stability. Improved aeration control is important for off-road engines where more air than usual could become entrained in the engine oil. A high level of air entrainment is dangerous, particularly at the bearings, where maintaining a suitable oil film is critical for protection.

Together, these design improvements provide enhanced performance and greater hardware protection, and may reduce vehicle downtime—a major source of missed opportunity in construction operations.

API CK-4 licensed oils are backwards compatible, allowing for their use in the vast majority of older diesel engine vehicles that ran previous oil categories (API CJ-4, CI-4 Plus, CI-4 and more). In addition, users can benefit from the increased robustness of CK-4 oils over the previous CJ-4 oils, enabling increased performance and protection gains.

The Role of Oil Analysis Testing

There are numerous benefits to implementing an effective used oil analysis program in a company’s fleet management practice.

A good program is part of a sound maintenance regime and is a cost-effective process that can monitor oil condition in heavy industrial equipment.

Oil analysis typically involves three steps: taking a representative sample from the equipment, sending the sample to a qualified used oil analysis lab, and interpreting and acting on the results. Oil analysis is most effective when performed at regular intervals, so that a trend can be generated and used to improve performance and efficiency of equipment.

Testing can detect impurities and measure their concentration, showing operators how and why machinery is experiencing wear, and helping to identify the source(s) of contamination. By evaluating the condition of lubricant and equipment on a routine basis, minor mechanical problems are discovered before they become serious and expensive to fix. To extend drain intervals, and improve efficiency and fuel consumption, it is highly recommended to implement a used oil analysis program.

Low/High temperature operations

Another thing worth considering is selecting an oil that can handle tough climates and extreme temperatures.

Depending on the location, the equipment used in construction operations may be exposed to varying challenges posed by high and low temperatures. In such difficult conditions, the viscosity in the lubricant can become a cause for concern. If the temperature reaches the critical zone, depending on the chemical composition, the lubricant can start to stiffen or become overly viscous. This results in machinery hardware being improperly lubricated and under strenuous conditions, over time, equipment may experience catastrophic failure.

To prevent this, construction operations can use a lower viscosity oil, which can stay viscous and maintain flow  under a wide range of temperatures. Multi-grade, low viscosity oils perform better over a range of temperatures—it’s not too thick in cold climates or too thin in heat—ensuring proper and adequate flow of oil to protect key critical engine components.

In addition, the entire vehicle powertrain and hydraulic system can experience improved operating efficiency by uing the lowest viscosity grades allowed by the Original Equipment Manufacturer’s (OEM) ambient temperature requirements.

With a business to manage, jobs to deliver on time and under budget, and machinery to keep running, it’s important that contractors choose the most appropriate product to meet the demands of the seasons, and their operating conditions. This choice should be based on the particular OEM ambient temperature range recommendations as provided in the owner’s manual.

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