The world would come to a stop without it!

The Importance of Industrial Lubrication

If you don’t work in some aspect of the production industry, you’ve probably rarely, if ever, thought much about industrial lubricant. But if you do work in production, chances are that lubrication is a frequent topic of conversation for you. Lubrication is essential to the proper functioning of any equipment with moving parts. Without it, our entire society would quickly grind to a halt. Not only would the products you have come to know and love swiftly disappear from store shelves… food itself would suddenly become scarce, having drastic effects on huge numbers of people. Industrial lubrication is far more important than you probably ever realized! In this post, we’ll examine the reasons why that’s true.

Interflon produces lubricant suitable for every industry, and our mission is to help businesses save money on maintenance and repair.

Table of Contents

History of mass production
Types of equipment requiring lubricant
Maintenance and repair
Food-safe industrial lubricant
All-purpose industrial lubricant

History of mass production

For as long as humans have used machines to do work, they’ve needed lubricant to make the work more efficient, and to keep the machines from breaking down. Simple machines have been in use for many thousands of years. Most of them were powered by water or animals.

A Roman boat with paddlewheels powered by oxen.

There were a few very early complex gear devices in use long ago, such as the Antikythera mechanism, which is about 2,000 years old, and which used technology that had previously been thought not to have existed until the Middle Ages.

The Antikythera Mechanism.
Attribution 2.5 Generic (CC BY 2.5)

The need for industrial lubricant coincides with the industrial revolution itself, which began in England in the mid- to late 1700’s and quickly spread across the ocean to America.

The idea of using machines to do work was already well known prior to that point in history. People had already been using simple devices like water wheels to do work for them for a very long time. A water wheel was moved by the force of water flowing through a stream or river, and it could be harnessed to do things such as turn the millstones that ground corn or wheat into flour.

With the development of the steam engine, however, suddenly it became feasible to do more and more work with machines. As this happened, the course of human history was changed forever.

An illustration of an aeolipile, the earliest known type of steam engine, from ancient Egypt.

It wasn’t until nearly 1,800 years later that people began to find practical applications for steam engines. The first industry to become mechanized by steam was the textile, or cloth, industry. Textiles were hugely important then, just as they are now. They could be made from things like flax, cotton, wool, silk, or hemp. Before the industrial revolution, all these materials were produced and gathered by hand. For example, wool had to be spun by one person, one skein at a time, on a spinning wheel. This was usually done at home.

At the same time as the textile industry was being revolutionized, people were figuring out how to use steam engines for transportation. This gave rise to the railroad, which transformed the American landscape forever. Industrial-scale had taken root in our society, and its role was only going to grow from then on.

Every moving piece of equipment on a machine requires some form of lubrication. Early types of lubrication involved fats and oils made from animals or vegetables, but these were expensive to produce and broke down quickly. With the discovery of coal oil in the late 19th century, lubrication took a big step forward.

Mass production, or the rapid manufacture of many identical pieces according to a uniform standard, was another refinement of the older way of doing things. Henry Ford, developer of the modern automobile, refined the concept of mass production in order to speed up the growth of his business. Instead of tasking a single person to make an entire car, which would be highly inefficient, mass production puts one person in charge of a single step in the process. This is the concept that allowed cars to be made by the thousands every year.

Did You Know?

The concept of mass production is actually a very old one. In the 12th century C.E., the city-state of Venice began mass-producing the ships for their massive trading fleet and their highly effective navy. Known as the Venetian Arsenal, this production center could assemble a ship in as little as a day.

Mass production also requires lots of lubrication. Coal oil, while still an improvement over the old animal and vegetable oils, was still inefficient by today’s standards. It was dirty and impure, so it was full of abrasives, and it also didn’t last very long before it had to be replaced. In the 1920s, scientists began to learn how to refine oil and add things to it to help it lubricate better.

By the 1950s, synthetic oils had been developed. And by 1980, Interflon with MicPol® had come into existence--the latest step in the evolution of an ancient science, and so far one that has yet to be surpassed.

Types of equipment requiring industrial lubricant

The broadest category of equipment that uses industrial lubricant is the assembly line. There are thousands of different types of machines used on assembly lines. Assembly lines are everywhere now, in practically every manufacturing facility around the world. Assembly lines contain many hundreds or thousands of moving parts, such as rollers, gates, hinges, arms, and doors, to name just a few.

These days, many parts of an assembly line are automated, which means robots are doing the work of humans. But since robots are just different kinds of machines, they, too, require lots of lubrication to keep their various pieces in good working order.

Agricultural equipment also requires lubrication. Modern farming is done almost completely by machine. Tractors, tillers, planters, harvesters, balers, and threshers all contain lots of moving pieces, bearings, and other items that need to be able to move freely and efficiently, and to last as long as possible. Lubricant helps all these pieces move with a minimum of friction, which means they last longer before needing maintenance or replacement. Without proper lubrication of agricultural equipment, there would soon be massive food shortages.

Transportation is another general category where lubrication is required. Trains are used less than they used to be, but if you live in a large city, next time you’re riding the subway, check out the underside of the cars as they pass you. You’ll notice large amounts of grease everywhere. Without it, those train cars would hardly move at all. The engines of a modern jet need to be lubricated in order to spin. Your automobile needs lubrication, too. The oil you put into your engine once every several weeks is there for the express purpose of lubricating the inner workings of your motor. If you forget to give your car oil, it won’t be long before the whole thing breaks down.

Just about everything you’re wearing, everything you use, and everything you eat today will have passed through some sort of mechanized process on its journey to you… and without proper lubrication, every single one of those processes would have broken down. They say that money makes the world go ‘round, but lubrication is what keeps it moving smoothly.

Maintenance and repair

Lubricants can aid greatly in the maintenance and repair of all equipment, largely by reducing the need for such things. The less maintenance a machine requires, the cheaper it will be to run. Low maintenance should be the goal of every business that uses machinery. If a business is willing to invest in a proper lubrication regime that is appropriate for their line of work, and if it recognizes the importance of a regular predictive maintenance regime, it will begin to see a reduction in maintenance crew workload almost immediately, with savings apparent soon after.

Food-safe lubricant

Food-safe or food-grade lubricant is one kind of industrial lubricant. Again, it’s something you might never have heard of, but it plays a very important part in your life. As you might guess from the name, it’s a type of lubricant that’s okay to consume in very small quantities. This type of consumption is called “incidental”, because the lubricant is not added directly to the food. Instead, it’s used on the equipment used to prepare or package the food. If a small amount (less than ten parts per million) accidentally gets into the food, it will still be safe for human consumption.

Food-safe lubricant is not intended to be added directly to consumable items, nor is it intended to be applied to cooking implements such as frying pans. In the United States, its use is required by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and more specifically by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as spelled out by regulations given in 21 CFR 178.3750. The handling and storage of food-safe lubricants is regulated by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which gives the FDA its authority to conduct food recalls in the case of contamination.

Food-grade lubricant isn’t just for things you might eat. It’s also for beverages, medicines, vitamins, supplements, cosmetics, pet food, and animal feed… anything that might touch your mouth or be ingested orally. One new use for food-grade lubricants is in the growing cannabis production industry, which became legal in Canada in October of 2018, making Canada the world leader in producing cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes.

Interflon makes a variety of food-grade lubricants. You can read more about the subject in our blog post entitled “What is a food-grade lubricant?”

All-purpose industrial lubricant

An all-purpose industrial lubricant is one that can be used anywhere a food-safe lubricant isn’t required. It’s difficult to list all the ways in which all-purpose lubricants can be used, simply because there are so many of them.

One example of a good all-purpose lubricant is Interflon’s Fin Super. This product comes in a 300-ml aerosol can, and can be used on just about any surface where less friction is desirable, from the hidden to the obvious, from the very small to the very large. For more about how to use this incredibly versatile product, check out our blog post called “14 Ways to Use Fin Super”.

Interflon makes a variety of specialized lubricants for all types of industrial environments, from the very cold to the very hot, from the very fast to the slow, from the large to the small. If you work in industry, it's important to make sure you are using the correct type of lubricant for your machinery. And no matter what kind of machinery you're using, Interflon makes a lubricant that can replace what you're currently using and can help you increase your savings. This is no idle boast. Our products contain MicPol®, a unique technology that helps our lubricants stick longer, shed water, and stay free of dirt and soil.

We're in the business of helping businesses save money!


Important Inventions of the Industrial Revolution

Textile Manufacturing by Pre-Industrial Methods

A Brief History of Lubrication