Avoid the high cost of breakdowns with these solutions

In an ideal world, 100 percent of your equipment would operate 100 percent of the time at 100 percent capacity. But in the real world, equipment failure happens. The business impact of these failures can range from minimal and easily fixed to catastrophic, depending on the situation.

Catastrophic vs Functional Failures

A catastrophic failure is usually a sudden failure of a piece of equipment that causes it to cease operation. Catastrophic failures can cause damage not just to the specific piece of equipment but also collateral damage.

During a functional failure, the equipment is still operating but cannot function according to the required design specifications and likely needs to be shut down to correct the problem. For example, a pump designed to pump at 1,000 gallons per minute that can only pump at 800 gallons per minute is considered to have functionally failed.

There are several common reasons equipment can break down. Understanding these reasons and what you can do to prevent them from occurring is your first line of defense against the consequences of unexpected equipment downtime.

Surface Degradation

According to Machinery Lubrication, surface degradation of machine parts results in equipment failure in the vast majority of cases – 70 percent. Surface degradation is comprised mainly of corrosion and mechanical wear.

Cause #1: Corrosion

Corrosion is caused when water or other contaminants create an acidic environment that eats away at metal components. It is particularly problematic in equipment that is operated in harsh climates or conditions where moisture, dirt, or salt can contaminate vital components. As well as forming rust on the interior and exterior of the machine, water increases the speed at which oil oxidizes, which ultimately leads to the part operating within an acidic environment.

Corrosion of vital industrial parts, such as Tschan couplings and worm gearboxes, is one of the most common causes of equipment failure.

Cause #2: Mechanical Wear

Mechanical wear happens when machine surfaces mechanically rub against each other and falls into two categories: abrasive wear or adhesive wear.
Abrasive wear occurs when particle contaminants, such as dirt or wear debris, cause metal surfaces to become pitted and scored.
Adhesive wear occurs when two surfaces come into direct contact with each other and transfer material from one surface to the other.

Cause #3: Metal Fatigue

Metal fatigue is similar to what happens when you try to cut wire without any tools. As you bend the wire back and forth, the metal begins to fatigue, and finally becomes brittle and breaks.
This same process occurs in machines. For example, a particle contaminant can cause a stress riser on the inner face of a rolling-element bearing. Over time and with constant flexing, the metal begins to fatigue and, if not stopped, will eventually fail.


To help prevent machinery failure caused by surface degradation, it is important to keep machinery and internal parts well lubricated and sealed against the ingress of particle contaminants. Make sure equipment is well maintained and has parts regularly replaced. Also, keep it clean and stored in an appropriate place, and only allow it to be operated by those trained to do so.

Cause #4: Improper Lubrication

Proper lubrication – using the correct type and amount of oil, grease, and fluids – is integral to avoiding equipment failures and to keeping your business running smoothly. Lubrication is one of the best ways to prevent corrosion and wear. It also protects against heat and contamination and decreases noise in bearings. When equipment is properly and regularly lubricated, it has the highest chance of maximum service life.

Conversely, improper lubrication can lead to a multitude of equipment problems, such as particle contamination, leakages, higher maintenance costs, and equipment failure.

Causes of Improper Lubrication

Here are the most common reasons for improper lubrication:

Lack of proper procedures – Without the right technician for the job or the correct procedure, improper lubrication may occur.

Over-greasing – This is a common mistake that leads to higher operating temperatures and aggressive contamination.

Poor labelling system – Labelling decreases the risk of cross-contamination and resolves confusions regarding which lubricants to use.

Under-lubrication – Inadequate amounts of lubricant or long lubrication intervals can be highly damaging to your machinery. Under-lubrication often causes noise, but in a loud facility it can go unnoticed.

Wrong lubricant – Using the wrong lubricant can cause component failures and it also voids an equipment’s warranty.

Mixing lubricants – This leads to component failures, increasing spending as parts have to be replaced.

Improper handling and storage – Maintenance personnel need training on the correct ways of handling and installing bearings and using lubricants. Even the most minute particles can enter a small dent and cause contamination.

Implementing and adhering to documented lubrication procedures – and making sure every technician is properly trained on them – is one of the most important things you can do to make sure your equipment is properly lubricated at all times.

In addition, integrating a labelling system and determining the output of grease guns while calculating the regrease requirements for all bearings to avoid both over- and under-lubrication is a good place to start.

Finally, check the owner’s manual to ensure that you are using the OEM-recommended lubricant for each piece of machinery. Using the correct, high-quality lubricant is the most important thing you can do to avoid costly equipment failures and to keep your equipment and your business running smoothly.
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