The South African Institute of Tribology (SAIT) maintains that, while South Africa is slowly embracing higher-quality lubricants, owing to international original-equipment manufacturer-specified requirements from the US, Europe and Asia, the best-selling engine oil in South Africa remains low-specification monograde oil solely because of its cost effectiveness.
As a result, SAIT president David Beard says tribology education – from secondary to tertiary level and during employment – is an essential starting point to redress the trend of replacing machinery as opposed to maintaining it, as well as to deal with friction, wear, energy loss and premature component failure of machinery in South Africa.
An SAIT study, funded by the Department of Science and Technology, revealed that there is a disregard for the proper lubrication of industrial machinery in South Africa.
“Billions of rands are lost owing to friction, wear, energy losses and premature component failure, which are caused by substandard components and lubricants, poor maintenance practices, a lack of skills in installing and maintaining equipment, as well as the inefficient use of condition-monitoring techniques and poor record keeping, coupled with a ‘breakdown-then-maintenance’ philosophy,” he says.
Beard adds that these inefficiencies and losses impact on various sectors of the economy, including power generation, transport and mining, which should be overcome through education and legislative intervention.
He emphasises that correct, well-proven tribological practices can equate to savings, such as an almost 3% fuel reduction when using monograde instead of multigrade engine oils. He also highlights an energy consumption saving of about 2% owing to the use of synthetic industrial gear oils, a fuel economy saving of between 2% and 3% because of energy-saving tyres, and a decrease of at least 1% in energy consumption in the electricity generation industry owing to the use of magnetic bearings instead of traditional rolling-element bearings.
Further, tribology, in the form of condition monitoring, has a significant return on investment (ROI) and can yield an ROI ratio as high as 10:1. However, an investment is required before savings can be achieved, which is often a stumbling block in starting a condition-monitoring programme, notes Beard.
In light of these efficiencies, once the higher cost of poor tribology practice is taken into account, the replacement rather than the correct and efficient maintenance of machinery will prove itself unacceptable in many areas of industry.
The SAIT is the only institute to focus on tribology as a single discipline and Beard stresses the need for industry in South Africa to recognise it as a separate discipline, instead of only being an element that is taught when studying other disciplines such as many of the diverse chemicals, materials science and engineering fields.
Encouragingly, industrywide recognition is slowly becoming prevalent as a result of the SAIT partnering with various universities and higher education institutions, and there are plans to introduce specific tribology courses, electives or subjects.
“Our ultimate goal would be to launch a degree in tribology,” enthuses Beard.
The SAIT hosts various training courses on tribology, which range from one-day introductory courses on wear and materials, lubrication engineering and lubricating oils to a five-day course on lubrication engineering. Courses are presented at the SAIT offices at Science Park, in Kelvin, Johan- nesburg, and at conference venues in Durban and Cape Town, as well as at several in-house facilities.
The institute is also affiliated with the US-based Society for Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, through which the society’s professional examinations in South Africa are facilitated.
Beard says the SAIT will introduce a new two-day course on greases this year, the first of which will be presented in Johannesburg and Durban in April.
“The number of course attendees is high and constantly growing. The Lubrication Engineering course was full each of the five times it was offered last year, with extra courses being added each year,” he adds.
The courses are aimed at all levels of competence, from lubricators to engineering managers. An average of about 200 people attend all the courses throughout the year.
Meanwhile, the SAIT also organises and hosts an International Tribology Conference every three years, with the next conference to be held in 2014.
The conference is held at the University of Pretoria and attracts speakers and delegates from across the world.
The SAIT also arranges various shorter and more focused seminars at its Science Park facilities throughout the year. Recent seminars have focused on metalworking fluids, transformer oils and environmental awareness.