Across the Western world, factories are restarting or stepping up their operations as lockdown measures are cautiously eased. Owners of machinery and their operatives will be eager to know what to look out for when restarting machinery after a temporary shutdown. Here, Chris Johnson, managing director at specialist bearings supplier, SMB Bearings, provides us with his tips for how to care for the bearings in your machinery as you look to get your factory running to capacity again
Your factory equipment may have been idle for a few weeks and now you are getting ready to restart things or step up the level of operations. You might be wondering if there are any additional checks you should make when caring for the rotational elements in your machinery. Here are some things you should bear in mind.
Corrosion is always something to watch out for when maintaining your bearings. Prior to lockdown, when machinery was operational, it is likely that the factory was well heated and ventilated. If the factory has been shut down for a few weeks, perhaps the environmental conditions are not as ideal as they might have been previously. In these cases, there is a slight increase in the risk of condensation, which is a cause of corrosion.
Contamination is another risk to stay aware of. Particulate contaminants like dust can negatively impact a bearing’s performance and shorten its life span. For this reason, it is good to keep the factory environment clean and dust-free to maximize the performance and longevity of the rotational elements in your machinery. However, there is a greater risk of contamination following a shutdown, compared with normal factory usage where cleaning schedules are adhered to.
Similarly, in machinery that is idle for a sustained period, there is the risk of the grease stiffening. Remember, grease is simply oil with a thickener added. If the oil begins to leach out of the grease, then the grease will stiffen, resulting in greater rotational torque for your bearings. However, this is unlikely to happen after just a few weeks of lockdown.
So, what checks should engineers and operators be making as they restart their machinery? Well, if you have the benefit of digital technology like predictive maintenance and vibration analysis, you will be alerted to risks before they emerge. In most instances though, and particularly for smaller and medium-sized operations, it is unlikely that you will have access to expensive technology like this. If the machinery is not yet smart, that doesn’t mean you can’t be instead. Routine manual checks to inspect bearing condition will suffice.
You can inspect the rotational elements visually, looking out for signs of corrosion or other damage. You should also listen carefully. If your bearings are getting louder, that is usually a pretty reliable indicator that something is amiss. Noise could suggest a range of problems from rough or damaged balls or raceways to contamination or inadequate lubrication.
In summary, if you have adequately cared for the bearings in your rotational elements until now, you should have little to fear when restarting your machinery after a brief period of idleness. As always, look out and listen out for possible signs of wear or contamination. Pay particular attention if you are noticing condensation in or around the factory as this will increase the risk of corrosion. And if ever you are facing any doubt, just ask an expert – we are happy to help!