How to battle salt with an automatic lube system

automatic lube system tips

Salt and brine may be effective tools for clearing ice and snow, but their application is also detrimental to the machines tasked with clearing roadways.

Using an automatic lubrication system is one method to ensure salt isn’t causing detrimental damage to snow plow components.

The system dispenses small, measured amounts of lubricant to critical wear points at frequent intervals while a truck is operating. This maintains a consistent lubrication seal that prevents contaminants from finding their way into bearings. In addition, maintaining lubricant flow from inside the bearings outward, pushes contaminants out.

“Specifically, for snow and ice, if there’s fresh lubricant coming out of the pins and bushings, that means the water and salt or brine isn’t getting into the bearings, giving it a longer life,” said Mike Deckert, vice president of FLO Components and an instructor of the lubrication course at Mohawk College. “With this pretreatment they’re putting on, the brine, that’s brutal.”

With manual lubrication, about 75 to 80 per cent of the lubrication will get squeezed out of the bearing within the first hour of operation.

“The best time to lube a bearing is when the machine is running,” Deckert said. “If the machine is not running and they manually lubricate, what happens is it goes into one area of the bearing, then you start up the machine, and you’re asking the bearing now to move the lubricant all around.”

Automatic lube system for year-round operation

Nowadays, the same machine that’s used for snow removal will operate 12 months a year. Epoke trucks, for example, allow their operator to adjust the truck’s purpose depending on the season.

“Coming into September and October, the trucks are converted into snowplows,” Deckert said. “In March or April, they’ll turn them back into dump trucks. There’s a whole process they go through as far as converting the trucks.”

When switching a truck to work as a plow, lubrication points on the blade, spinners and wing, for example, may be overlooked.

A FLO Lubrication System is adaptable to serve a truck’s various possible attachments. Hydraulic quick disconnects allow the addition of new lubrication points to the existing system.

“When we add on the wing and spinners, it’s just a matter of plugging the manifolds of metering valves on the attachments into the main distribution system on the machine,” Deckert said.

Automatic lubrication systems have been in use for decades, and many municipalities and contractors equip their fleet of snow removal trucks with the lubrication systems.

“The missionary work has been done as far as getting the news out and seeing the benefits of autogreasers,” Deckert said. “It’s now just a matter of other municipalities and companies actually looking at it and saying “they want to have the same benefits an autogreaser can give them on their equipment.”

Increase your ROI

Jacques Lamothe, who handles business development for northern and southwestern Ontario at Tenco Inc. trucks, is a vocal advocate for using automatic grease systems.

“It’s something that will increase your ROI exponentially,” Lamothe said.

Specifically, he is a proponent of electrical, automatic grease systems over their air-operated counterparts for machines used to remove snow and ice.

“What happens with the air operation systems is you get moisture and then you get freeze-up. A lot of things depend on air on a truck,” Lamothe said. “The more you depend on your air, the more chance there is for failure of other things. So, I’m a big proponent of electrical lube systems, they don’t interfere with the air and then you always have a lube system operating.”

Although he recommends lube systems, Lamothe also notes they have to be maintained.

“If fleet owners and managers take ownership of the lube system it will work wonderfully and it will save you lots of money on your maintenance,” Lamothe said. “If they don’t, it will just be another piece of neglected equipment that they’ll have to maintain.”

Automatic grease systems require occasional inspection, and the lubrication reservoir must be checked and filled as needed. A refill is generally required for every 200 hours of operation.

“A lot of guys, when they go into it, they expect to ignore it. They think it’s a lube system, it’s going to lube my truck,” Lamothe said.  “The lube system takes a lot of the guesswork out from day to day inspections, but it needs to be inspected weekly.”

 A must-read tip

With winter equipment, the end-of-season inspection is often overlooked. Salt that gets stuck in cracks grooves and conveyors will wreak havoc on a machine during warmer months.

“When the season is over, give your truck a good inspection, and a good greasing,” Lamothe advises. “That salt mixture really works overtime in the sun, heat and rain in the summer. It creates a lot of damage.”

Often, operators will postpone the final cleaning of snow and ice removal equipment, until it is needed the following season.

“Then they scramble trying to fix stuff, if they clean things at the end of the season,” Lamothe said. “Nine times out of 10, the problems they’re running into with startup in September could have been avoided, or at the very least minimized.”

He added partnering with a trustworthy equipment company, that’s available when parts and service are needed, is also key to avoiding downtime.

“Everybody scrambles for parts and service at the same time. Planning is key, and so is a partner you can depend on,” Lamothe said. “Anyone can sell you a plow, but where are they when you need them?”