By Mark Copeland, Key Account Manager, Acculube
Oils are as varied as the machines they lubricate. The old mantra "oil is oil" is just that, old. But all the options can create confusion when it comes to purchasing oils, such as for hydraulics and way lubes.
Why You Can't Use Just Any Hydraulic Oil in Slideways or Any Other Ways
Way oil, also known as slide oil, is a type of hydraulic oil with a tackifier, an addictive that makes it stick to surfaces. Way lube is ideal for vertical surfaces and anywhere where machine parts are moving over the top of each other. It's commonly used as a lubricating oil for slideways used in planers, drills, saws, grinders, milling machines, and others.
Way lube holds in place, so slides are lubricated, reducing friction. Without the tackifier, hydraulic oil will either run off (such as with a machine positioned up and down) or stick to one side of the machine (such as where machine parts move over the top of the other) and then run off.
The Wrong Lube Costs You More
The best lube for any application is the one that works best with the least amount. The goal is to get the right product, but not too much of it. This approach helps you save money, preserves the machine parts, and lowers waste disposal costs.
Too much oil, too much money
When oil doesn't stick where you put it, you have to keep adding more and more. A gallon of way lube will go much further lubricating a slideway than a gallon of regular hydraulic oil. Regular hydraulic oils cost about three dollars less than way lube. That initial cost saving is destroyed when you have to buy extra gallons. Don't be surprised if your annual purchases are more expensive when you use the wrong lubricating oil.
More tramp oil
Any oil used in a machine will eventually end up in the coolant as tramp oil. Tramp oil is a contaminant. This unwanted oil can enter your metalworking fluid from a variety of sources such as leaks from way, gear, spindle and hydraulic oils or oil on parts from previous operations.
Tramp oil can shorten the life of your coolant, sicken your employees, ruin your machines, cost you money, and leave a residue on machine parts. The more oil you use, the more tramp oil you have to dispose of.
More machine part wear
When friction isn't reduced properly, slideways and other machine parts wear out faster, causing machine downtime and additional maintenance costs.
The Old Bar and Chain
Go to any machinist forum online and someone will inevitably say you can save money by using the same bar and chain oil for your chainsaw in your industrial machine. My advice: Don't. Yes, bar and chain oil and way lube are very similar. However, bar and chain oil is used to cut down a tree in a $100 to $500 chainsaw. It's not manufactured to work inside a quarter-of-a-million-dollar milling machine with delicate electronics required to handle precision work.
Unknown additives may be added to bar and chain oil that could hurt the inside of your machine. Plus, batches of bar and chain oil may vary. Chainsaws don't require tight tolerances, so there's no need to be very precise in manufacturing batches of its lubricating oil.
The Secret to Identifying the Best Way Lube
The secret to finding the best way lube for your machine application is to start with a high-quality base oil and the correct amount of tackifier.
How you use the machine can also affect the type of lubricating oil you need. For example, slideways moving four feet require a higher quality lubricating oil than one moving two feet.
Unfortunately, while the machine manual should tell you the thickness of the oil you need, it usually won't tell you the type or quality of oil it needs.
This is where you either educate yourself on the different oil brands or ask a specialist. Most of the major suppliers of oil will have a person trained to evaluate your machine needs.
Oil is not just oil anymore. With the right research and knowledge, you can select the best oil type and brand for your specific machine and its use—saving you money and maintenance headaches for the long haul.
About the Author
Mark Copeland is a key account manager at Acculube (http://acculube.com), a Dayton-Ohio based fluids supplier to American manufacturers and service providers.