Clean slate ( lube se­ries part 1)

Home Diyers, lis­ten up – this is the num­ber one lu­bri­ca­tion mis­take most of us make, and it’s time to change our habits.

Popular Mechanics (South Africa) - - Contents -

AS FAR AS house­hold ap­pli­ances go, there are few prod­ucts that have saved con­sumers more time and en­ergy than the au­to­matic wash­ing ma­chine. But be­fore au­toma­tion came on the scene, the recipe for effective clothes clean­ing re­quired four things: warm water, soap, el­bow grease and time.

In­ter­est­ingly, these prin­ci­ples hold true for all ar­eas of main­te­nance and clean­ing. Whether you’re scrub­bing shirts or ser­vic­ing a fleet of earth­mov­ing equip­ment, the four el­e­ments of clean­ing are uni­ver­sal:

You prob­a­bly didn’t give it much thought at the time, but even when faced with a pile of dirty clothes, you would’ve known that these el­e­ments are all rel­a­tive to one an­other. For ex­am­ple: A highly po­tent chem­i­cal cleaner can re­duce both time and en­ergy, but may still re­quire some de­gree of tem­per­a­ture. Sim­i­larly, if the de­ter­gent you’re us­ing is rel­a­tively mild, then the clean­ing process may re­quire more time (soak­ing), or a higher tem­per­a­ture, in or­der to off­set the added en­ergy ex­pense.

Sur­pris­ingly, de­spite how ob­vi­ous these prin­ci­ples (or el­e­ments) may seem in this con­text, they’re largely ig­nored in the way of ev­ery­day main­te­nance of ma­chines and com­po­nents.

Let’s take the ap­pli­ca­tion of a mul­ti­plepur­pose lube, for ex­am­ple. How many of us are guilty of spray­ing a ‘top up’ on to a com­po­nent with­out both­er­ing to clean and re­move the old lube first?

The trou­ble with this prac­tice is that the new lube is in­vari­ably con­tam­i­nated by the old lube; so, in­stead of lift­ing the prop­er­ties of the one to match the other, we’ve ef­fec­tively re­duced the prop­er­ties of the new lube to make it closely match the fail­ing prop­er­ties of the old lube.

This raises a rather im­por­tant topic: Clean be­fore you lube.

Sadly, South Africa has largely fallen a bit be­hind in this area of in­dus­trial, com­mer­cial and DIY main­te­nance. In many de­vel­oped coun­tries, the sale of clean­ing prod­ucts is roughly on par with the pur­chase of lu­bri­cants. In other words, main­te­nance en­gi­neers and DIY en­thu­si­asts sel­dom pur­chase a lubri­cant with­out in­clud­ing a clean­ing agent, too.

In the South African me­chan­i­cal­main­te­nance area, the lu­bri­ca­tion prod­ucts are sold more eas­ily than clean­ing agents. Yet, as men­tioned

be­fore, the one can­not be cor­rectly ap­plied with­out the in­ter­ven­tion of the other.

In­ter­est­ingly, the min­ing sec­tor in SA is still (mostly) de­voted to rig­or­ous main­te­nance and clean­ing prac­tices, and, as far as case stud­ies go, no other in­dus­try faces quite such ex­tremes within its work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. That said, there’s a lot we can learn from min­ing en­gi­neers that ap­plies to all ar­eas of me­chan­i­cal and elec­tri­cal work, start­ing with how to choose the right clean­ing prod­uct.

Dust, grime, mois­ture and heat are all com­mon con­trib­u­tors to ma­chine­and com­po­nent fail­ure; of course, within the min­ing in­dus­try, these in­flu­encers are am­pli­fied in their in­ten­sity and ex­po­sure, or both.

If we con­sider our pre­vi­ous four­point list of clean­ing prin­ci­ples, it’s clear that a heavy-duty cleaner can po­ten­tially save both time and en­ergy, and will thus in­cur fewer main­te­nance costs and less down­time. But the draw­backs of us­ing a high-sol­vent cleaner may in­clude dam­age to plas­tic com­po­nents or sen­si­tive elec­tri­cal equip­ment. Not to men­tion the fact that, in some cases, a highly flammable sol­vent may not be the best choice in cer­tain en­vi­ron­ments. So, what is the best clean­ing agent?

Nat­u­rally, there’s no one-size-fits-all so­lu­tion to this ques­tion, as dif­fer­ent com­po­nents will re­quire very dif­fer­ent fea­tures. For ex­am­ple, how you clean a cam­era or a lap­top will dif­fer vastly to how you clean an axle bear­ing. But, no mat­ter the ap­pli­ca­tion, be­fore you select any old cleaner off the shelf, cer­tain ques­tions should be asked: 1. Is ‘non-flammable’ a re­quire­ment? 2. Does the prod­uct need to be plas­tic safe? 3. Do you need rapid evap­o­ra­tion to re­duce down­time? 4. Would an en­vi­ron­men­tally safe prod­uct be bet­ter? 5. Does the prod­uct need to be residue-free? 6. Do you need a pre­ci­sion cleaner, or a heavy-duty one?

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