Today, machine and equipment manufacturers are feeling more pressure than ever to reduce costs without sacrificing machine performance, and this balancing act can be difficult to achieve. One cost driver that original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) often overlook is component lubrication. This article breaks down the different types of lubrication cost drivers and presents a potential solution for avoiding them.

What are the issues with bearing lubrication?

According to a major ball bearing company, 54% of bearing failures are lubrication related. In a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), it was estimated approximately $240 billion is lost annually across U.S. industries due to downtime and repairs for manufacturing equipment damaged by poor lubrication. Improper bearing lubrication or re-lubrication accounts for up to 50% of machine failures.

Hidden costs of bearing lubrication

Downtime: In a six-sigma lead manufacturing guide, it was estimated that the average cost for downtime is $500 per hour, and in some automotive or other high-volume production factories, downtime costs are considerably higher.

Labor: A major oil company studied the time required to manually lubricate a single grease point. The results showed manual lubrication takes an average of three minutes per point. The average machine has 20 grease points to maintain. This correlates to a total labor cost of $7,300 annually for maintaining 20 grease points on one machine alone, every day, seven days per week.

Disposal: According to Valin®, proper disposal of lubricants by a process management company can amount to approximately 20% of the cost of annual lubricant expenditures. This means if a plant spends $50,000 per year on lubricants, they will spend approximately $10,000 in disposal costs.

By eliminating lubrication from machinery, OEMs can minimize the costs and risks associated with maintenance for the end user. At the same time, costs related to the proper disposal of oil can be eliminated, and the initial expenditure for ancillary components and processes (grease lines, zerks, etc.) can be decreased.

The solution: Self-lubricating plastic bearings

Self-lubricating plastic bearings are made of high-performance polymers and, unlike rolling-element bearings, slide instead of roll. They consist of a base polymer, which is optimized with fiber reinforcement and solid lubricants. The fiber reinforcements increase load carrying capabilities and wear-resistance, and the solid lubricants are transferred from the bearing to the micro-finish of the shaft in order to reduce friction. No external oil or grease is needed for their operation; self-lubricating bearings operate completely dry. They are an ideal solution for applications in labs and food processing machinery that require clean, oil-free operation. Plastic bearings also perform well in dirty environments since there is no oil to attract dust and dirt, like the agricultural industry. They can be used on softer shafting, even anodized aluminum, which has excellent corrosion resistance and is usually less expensive and easier to machine than casehardened material or stainless steel. Using high-performance, self-lubricating plastic bearings can significantly reduce maintenance costs, as well as reduce unplanned downtime due to bearing failure.

For more, visit