A Good Greasing Program Will Save Thousands of Dollars in Lost Productivity

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
It's a small piece of any large piece of machinery, but agriculture runs on the life of its bearings. (Progressive Farmer photo)

Failure in a maintenance program might just come down to a tube of grease -- or lack of it, said Mimi Falkman, CHS lubricants expert. "A bearing may be small, but it can cause big problems if it fails prematurely," she said. "A single failed bearing can bring an entire operation to a standstill. And during a busy time of year like planting or harvest, that can add up to thousands of dollars lost to downtime."

The gymnastics required to grease equipment makes this work one of the least-all-time-favorite maintenance tasks on the farm. But in a well-executed maintenance program, greasing equipment protects and extends the life of machinery, Falkman said.

The function of grease, according to the publication Machinery Lubrication, "Is to remain in contact with and lubricate moving surfaces without leaking out under the force of gravity, centrifugal action or being squeezed out under pressure."

Want to avoid downtime? It is important, then, to apply grease to all pins, bushings, and bearings, and to vertical joints. Grease lubricates joints and resists the intrusion of water and dirt into places where they otherwise cause damage, Falkman said. Inside equipment where temperatures rise and fall, or where grease is put under heavy pressure, a product that won't degrade or oxidize is critical.

Choice is also critical. Grease is a much better product than it once was 15 or 20 years ago. It is also sophisticated and specific. Mixing incompatible greases can cause damage as bad as not greasing the joints, bearings, pins and bushings of an implement.

Price and color have nothing to do with grease compatibility. One tube of red grease may not be compatible with the tube of red grease next to it. If you put two greases together that were not meant to be put together, you can have issues that you were not expecting.

Mixing incompatible products may cause thickener components to react with one another, leading to the loss, or the release, of the base oil. The base oil is the largest component of grease and it performs the actual lubrication.

This might be a good place to explain the three components of grease: base oil, thickener and additives.

-- Base Oil: Mineral-oil-based greases perform well in most industrial applications. In temperature extremes, a synthetic-based oil is better.

-- Thickener: The thickener is often referred to as a sponge that holds the lubricant (base oil plus additives). The primary type of thickener used in current grease is metallic soap. Soaps include lithium, aluminum, clay, polyurea, sodium and calcium. Nonsoap thickeners are gaining popularity in special applications such as high-temperature environments. According to Machinery Lubrication, bentonite and silica aerogel are two examples of thickeners that do not melt at high temperatures.

-- Additives: Additives improve desirable properties of grease, suppress undesirable properties, and impart new properties. The most common additives are oxidation and rust inhibitors, extreme pressure, antiwear, and friction-reducing agents.

Proper care must be taken to ensure compatibility when changing products, from one grease product to another. That exchange may even require you to clean out all the old grease. Any reputable supplier will have at hand a grease compatibility chart.

Here's an example of two CHS (Cenex) products.

-- Cenex's ML 365 (Multi-purpose All Season Grease) works well under extreme pressure. Cenex says it has excellent cold weather performance, resists water washout, provides protection from rust and corrosion and reduces the risk of oil separation during long periods of storage.

It is useful in high-temperature applications, moist environments, heavy shock load conditions, for chassis lubrication and wheel bearings.

ML 365 contains a lithium thickener.

-- Cenex's Poly-Xtreme is a high-temperature polyurea grease.

Poly-Xtreme has advantages over conventional soap-thickened greases such as longer life, high-temperature and wet applications. This grease has the ability to migrate where lubrication is required, Cenex says.

It has similar applications at ML 365 -- general machine lubrication, high-temperature applications, wet environments, shock and heavy load conditions, chassis and wheel bearing lubrication.

But the two greases are incompatible. Lithium and polyurea greases cannot be mixed.

They can cause each one to lose their oil and dry out. The products lose the ability to lubricate. In other instances, the interaction between incompatible greases creates a rock-salt-like material. It's highly abrasive.

Incompatible greases essentially attack one another. When you hear that grinding sound coming out of a piece of equipment because you've used the incorrect grease, you're going to have to clean out everything. If you don't, the result can be catastrophic.

Here are a few grease tips:

-- When purchasing additional grease, take a photo of the grease product you have been using to the retail outlet for proper identification.

-- Ensure the products are compatible. Look for a grease compatibility chart.

-- Most outlets have an in-house expert in lubrication. Ask for assistance when in doubt.

Find the Cenex Lubricants Recommendation Tool at:…

Dan Miller can be reached at

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