Keeping your gearbox lubricated is the key to successfully maintaining any machinery or vehicles. That being said, there’s more to it than simply filling up your gearbox with lubricant and being done. Different gearboxes require different lubricants in order to protect their components. The operational environment may also have a strong influence on the fluid required as well.
The application the gearbox is used in and the type of lubricant both determine your oil’s life expectancy, so it’s important that you use the proper lubricant formulation and viscosity to maximize performance and longevity. To help you do just that, use the tips below for choosing the right lubricant and replacing your fluid:
Choosing the Right Gearbox Lubricant
When it comes to choosing the right lubricant for your gearbox, there are several factors you need to take into consideration. Thankfully, part of the guesswork can be eliminated by simply following OEM recommendations. First, check the gearbox maintenance/installation manual to find out the proper grade of lubricant it requires, such as ISO VG 220 EP or AGMA 5. It might also be on the nameplate. Generally manufacturers will give you a specification and a list of brand/product names that will meet the needs of the gearbox.
Once you’ve found the OEM recommendations for the proper fluid, the next step requires you to consider the operating environment of your gearbox. What are the operating temperatures? Is it a dirty, dusty environment or relatively clean and clear? Are you operating indoors or outdoors? Different operating temperatures require different lubricants, and you’ll potentially need multiple lubricants of multi-grade fluids if your machine’s operating temperature changes (e.g., outdoor operations in winter and summer). Lower ambient temperatures require thinner oil to flow effectively, whereas higher temperatures require thicker oil to make up for the heat breakdown, and may also often require added protection against oxidation. If the air is dusty or humid, a desiccant breather system can help prevent dust from sneaking in or water ingress.
Knowing When to Replace Your Gearbox Fluid
It’d be nice if there was a universal answer to the question “how often should you change your gearbox oil?” but different gearboxes have different requirements. Likewise, the more you run your machine, the sooner you’ll have to replace your fluid, so there are many variables that factor into when you should replace it.
For starters, it’s important that you keep your oil cool, clean, and dry to maximize its life expectancy and minimize your refill frequency. You also want to make sure that your gearbox is always filled to the proper fluid levels, as running your gearbox without fluid is like running your car without oil. The size of your gearbox will dictate how much fluid you need, with modern gearboxes typically leaning toward the smaller side. The inside of your gearbox should have an oil fill level marked, but you can usually find the approximate fill quantity in the operating manual as well. Whatever you do, always make sure you fill the gearbox to the level indicated. In some cases, gearboxes come factory filled, which means you’ll have to conduct visual inspections to ensure it hasn’t leaked.
If you’re using a new gearbox, most manufacturers recommend an initial oil change some time during the first 500 hours or 6 months of operation (whichever comes first). Ideally you would conduct a fluid analysis after this initial change to assess the fluid and the equipment’s condition. This initial change and analysis should give you a good idea of how your oil performs in your gearbox, and you can determine your proper refill schedule after this initial test. If your oil didn’t perform well, you can use these test results to re-asses your oil selection and make improvements.
Even if you have the perfectly formulated oil and refill schedule, however, it’s still normal for your gearbox components to experience a little wear. These wear particulates have to go somewhere, and if left alone in your oil, they’ll act as abrasives and cause further damage. This is why it’s important to change your gearbox oil at least quarterly, semi-annually, or once a year depending on the factors above, and more frequently for machines with heavy use. Rather than changing your gearbox oil due to wear and contamination, filtration procedures can be implemented on your equipment to extend the life of your fluid and also reduce wear — which in turn extends the life of your equipment. Grease-filled units can be changed less often, as grease does a better job suspending the particles, rather than splashing them around.
How U.S. Lubricants Can Help
Need help formulating the ideal gearbox lubricant or figuring out the right refill schedule? At U.S. Lubricants, not only can we create the ideal lubricant for your operating environment, we’ll also work closely with your team to establish the proper refill schedule and walk you through the refill process. No matter your machine requirements or order size, we’ll get you exactly what you need to ensure your operation is a success.
For more information about our gearbox lubricants and equipment, contact Tony Springer at TSpringer@uslube.com or by phone at (800) 490-4900 ext. 8823.