What is Lubrication?

Justin Christensen |

Download PDF Keeping machines lubricated is necessary for machines to run properly.

Resist though you may, friction makes the world go round. Without it, simple activities such as walking, writing on a piece of paper and setting a vehicle in motion would be impossible. On the flip side, there are times when its presence needs to be minimized, like in an engine or a machine.

That’s where lubrication slides in. Lubrication is an applied oil-based substance that reduces the resistance of friction, making motion easier or more fluid. However, it does more than just make things “slippery”. Its purpose in mechanical operations is to:

  • —Lower operating temperatures
  • —Minimize corrosion of metal surfaces
  • Decrease wear on parts
  • Protect against contamination

How lubrication works is dependent upon its formulation. All lubricants come from either vegetable, synthetic or mineral based oil. To that is added additives and thickeners, depending on the usage. Let’s take a look at the latter two, which are primarily used in the industrial environment.

Base Oils

Mineral – Molecules vary in size and length; commonly used for engines, processing, manufacturing sealants and adhesives, and moderate temperature applications.

Synthetic – Molecules are consistent in size and weight; better suited to extreme applications that require high flashpoint, low pour point, fire resistance, temperature stability, high shear strength or high viscosity qualities.


Are used to enhance, suppress or add desired qualities to oil or grease.  Common additives include:

Dispersants – Particles from machine wear become suspended in the lubricant and are transferred out through filters and separators, controlling contamination.

Corrosion Deterrent – Prevents water from contacting metal surfaces, eliminating the formation of rust and further damage to components and surfaces.

Anti-wear and Extreme Pressure – React with surfaces to form a thin layer that prevents metal-to-metal contact. Very useful with high volume of stop and start situations.

Detergents – neutralize acids and clean surfaces that need to be free of deposits.

De-foamants – breakdown bubbles to reduce foaming.


Simple or complex soaps are used to make grease and can be up to 30 percent of their formula. Calcium, clay, lithium, polyurea and silica are examples of simple soaps, which have a butter-like texture. Aluminum, sodium and barium are some of the complex soaps and have a more fibrous texture.  Non-soap thickeners such as bentonite and silica aero-gel are popular for their non-melting qualities. 

Importance of Choosing the Right One 

Selecting the right lubricant for your application is dependent upon the machine design and operating conditions corresponding with the desired lubricant qualities. It is important to be aware that grease is applied only when using oil is impractical or inconvenient and the two cannot be used in place of one another. Misappropriate use of lubricants can have devastating consequences, such as damaged equipment, loss of productivity, or contamination harmful to products and humans. Recovering from any of these situations can be very costly. 

To help keep your business and your equipment running smoothly, engage the professional services of a lubricant distributor you can count on. Whether you run a food processing plant, a quick lube, a fleet of vehicles or a family farm, they will have top of the line lubrication products for all of your unique needs and strategies that will promote efficiency and profitability in your operations. The facts are better than the friction.