In many plastic injection molding operations, whether it’s producing large car bumpers or small DVD cases, the key priorities are repeatable: high-quality output in the fastest possible cycle speed. With machines often running continuously, any unplanned shutdown due to equipment failure is costly and detrimental to productivity.

Lubrication is vital for these machines, particularly hydraulic fluid choice. As well as the protection of moving parts to help prolong equipment life, it also transmits power mechanically throughout the hydraulic system. However, not all technical managers are aware of its critical role in operations. In a survey carried out by Shell Lubricants, more than half of respondents didn’t have a clear understanding of how delayed or lost production, equipment availability or unplanned downtime can be influenced by their choice of lubricant.

Below are four top tips to help effectively select, apply and manage lubricant products, based on Shell’s decades of experience serving the worldwide plastics sector.

Top tip 1: Reconsider the importance of lubricants

Today’s injection molding machines face ever-increasing operational challenges from working harder and longer. Keeping your equipment at its peak performance is crucial yet suboptimal performance and even outright failures can often occur. Typical application challenges include corrosion, contamination, leaks, wear and formation of sludge and varnish, which can lead to issues such as blocked valves, filters and worn out pumps.

These failures are often blamed on the equipment rather than the hydraulic fluid. However, multiple surveys conducted by hydraulic equipment manufacturers and other industry bodies have shown that 50% to 70% of equipment failures are related to ‘improper hydraulic fluid condition’.

It's easy to overlook the importance of hydraulic fluid, after all, it’s estimated that it represents less than 2% of the overall operating cost of an injection molding plant. However, the reality is that high performance lubrication can deliver significant long-term savings for businesses as enhanced equipment protection helps to mitigate risk of equipment breakdown and its associated costs. The hydraulic fluid is the lifeblood of a hydraulic injection molding machine. As well as doing its primary job of transmitting mechanical power, it should also serve to extend the life of the machine, reduce downtime and improve productivity and repeatable precision.

Top tip 2: Understand which lubricant is best for your hydraulic system

Hydraulic systems are expected to deliver peak performance while operating at high pressures, fluctuating temperatures and often in tough conditions. With such demands on lubricants, it pays to opt for product formulations with advanced protection and stability properties. Prioritising lubrication within a balanced maintenance strategy will help lower the total cost of ownership (TCO), for example through reduced start-up times, decreased energy consumption and optimised cycle times. Fast start-up time is important because it means the plastics injection molding machine reaches optimal operating conditions more quickly.

While advanced lubrication can often have a premium price point, it is important to take a total cost of ownership approach to purchase, taking into account the long-term savings that they can help achieve. 

For example, SMP, a leading global plastic processing company, producing automotive parts for several major German car manufacturers, switched to Shell Tellus S4 ME at its Neustadt plant in Germany, the company has achieved energy savings of 3.4%, shorter cycle times and doubled its oil drain interval (ODI) which has resulted in a total annual saving of over €50,650.

Top tip 3: Take advantage of lubricant-related services from your provider

To support the selection of the right lubricant to meet the challenges of hydraulic equipment, lubricant suppliers such as Shell Lubricants offer additional lubricant-related services to customers. Online tools include Shell LubeChat, which provides answers on demand to questions about oils and lubricants.

For a complete service offering engineering, technical and application knowledge, customers can also make use of Shell LubeAdvisors and LubeAnalysts.

The LubeAdvisor service is delivered through regional technical help desks and field-based lubrication engineers who will carry out a lubrication survey and plant assessments and offer customised lubrication and operations advice to help improve efficiency.

To keep equipment running smoothly and to avoid maintenance costs, plastics production plants can also utilise Shell Lubricant’s oil condition monitoring service, Shell LubeAnalyst. Acting as an early warning system, customers can regularly monitor the condition of their equipment and lubricant.

A company that has benefited from its use of the Shell LubeAnalyst oil condition monitoring programme is Alpha, a world leader in the development and production of plastic packaging. Alpha wanted to extend the oil drain interval (ODI) on its Netstal-Maschinen AG plastics injection molding machines in its Croatia plant. The company upgraded to Shell Tellus S3 M coupled with Shell LubeAnalyst. This resulted in an extended oil life from 5,000 to 15,000 hours, which helped reduce equipment downtime and led to a total annual saving of over USD$16,500. 

Top tip 4: Staff training and upskilling

With the right lubricant selected, companies need to ensure that they have the right processes and practices in place to maximise its benefits. This includes implementing proper lubrication maintenance. The education and training of staff in terms of, for instance, extending oil drain intervals and the correct handling and storage of oil in the plant, is crucial to this. Again, Shell Lubricants can help through comprehensive training programmes. For instance, Shell LubeCoach is a workshop-based course delivered by technical experts who offer practical insights and best-practice techniques.

Implementing these four tips within a plastics injection molding operation can make a significant difference to your total cost of ownership (TCO).

Investing in and maintaining high-quality hydraulic fluid may be seen by some as a nonessential expense: it’s after all just a fraction of a plant’s maintenance budget. But it could help contribute to savings far higher than the cost of the lubricant itself.

For more information on how Shell can help you improve your total cost of ownership or to speak to ask a technical question, contact us today.

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