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Q&A: Lowering the TCO of construction equipment with effective lubrication

As UK construction activity continues to ramp up with investment in new infrastructure and housing developments, so too does competition to win new tenders.

Under pressure to deliver on time and on budget, successful construction businesses have employed a total cost of ownership (TCO) approach to extract the best possible value from their machinery over its full lifetime.

Here, we explain how choosing the right oils and greases for your construction equipment can play a key role in lowering TCO by maximising productivity while minimising maintenance costs.

1.  Why is it so important to choose a high quality lubricant?

Effective lubrication is key to protecting engines, hydraulic pumps, axles and transmissions from the wear and corrosion that contribute to frequent oil changes, maintenance and even component failure.

However, a recent survey commissioned by Shell Lubricants revealed that only 47% of construction decision makers consider lubricant product performance to be an important purchase consideration (1). Although buying cheaper oils and greases may cut costs in the short term, the reduced wear protection provided by inferior products can lead to more rapid degradation of components resulting in increased spend on spare parts and maintenance. Add in the impact on machinery availability, a higher frequency of breakdowns and lower site productivity, and the effect of poor lubrication on the bottom line can be much greater.

It’s fair to say that a high proportion of construction businesses are missing out on the opportunity for TCO savings by selecting a high performance lubricant. In fact, 67% of construction companies do not believe that selecting a higher quality lubricant can help to reduce unplanned downtime, and 54% do not expect it to help cut maintenance costs. This is despite 87% experiencing unplanned downtime in the past 3 years, and 60% admitting this was due to the incorrect selection and/or management of lubricants – with 25% believing costs exceeded $250,000.

2.   What is TCO and what savings can lubricants deliver?

When seeking to maximise savings, long-term value should take precedence over short-term cuts. Similarly, it pays to think holistically when choosing lubricants. TCO refers to the end-to-end product, maintenance and business costs of a piece of machinery or equipment. We use this to evaluate the impact of lubricants not only on maintenance budget and processes, but also any costs related to lost productivity through equipment downtime.

Evaluating cost savings created via a TCO approach requires construction companies to not only consider the end to end impact of lubricants on maintenance budgets, but also any costs incurred by lost productivity as a result of equipment downtime. Taking this holistic view can help businesses identify the inefficiencies that may be leading to longer-term costs.

Choosing a high-performance lubricant that keeps components clean of deposits and protects against wear and corrosion can help increase the availability of machinery, extend equipment life and cut periods of unplanned maintenance. By decreasing spend on spare parts and maintenance, high quality lubricants create savings that far exceed what can be achieved by selecting products based on the lowest cost.

3.   What are the main considerations when upgrading lubricants?

To truly realise the cost-saving and productivity potential of lubricants in construction it is vital that businesses choose the right product for their needs. Lubricants and greases can vary significantly in quality, and not all products that meet original equipment manufacturer (OEM) requirements deliver the same performance.

The right lubricant must also withstand the harsh operating conditions on construction sites, with factors such as temperature, humidity, dirt and dust all affecting lubricant performance. A lubricants expert with in-depth product knowledge is best placed to advise on the most suitable oil or grease.

Shell’s LubeChat service, available to Certas Lubricants Energy customers, is a free, easy to use online chat tool that can answer thousands of questions about oils and lubes and equip you with the knowledge to make faster and better informed decisions to ultimately reduce your TCO. Find out more about how Shell LubeChat can help your business here.

4.   How do I choose the right lubricant for my business?

Lubricant needs are as individual as each business, and when choosing products to reduce TCO one size certainly does not fit all. Choosing products that fit in to your TCO programme means finding a balance between minimising the number of lubricants and maximising their applications to realise lower-cost, long-term product reliability.

When looking to upgrade lubricants, construction managers must evaluate the needs of their business with a TCO-driven approach that accounts for a holistic view of construction expenditure. What is the hourly cost of maintenance and time required for repairs? What is the cost of replacement parts when component failure occurs? What is the value of downtime for the company’s machinery in terms of lost production?

This is where the Certas Energy Lubricants team acts as an expert partner for construction businesses. Our technical experts are committed to understanding your business’s individual needs. With combined expertise and unrivalled product knowledge through our long standing partnership with Shell, we work to create a tailored solution to fit your specific requirements to help manufacturing operations run more efficiently and lower your construction business’ TCO.

Shell’s technical partnerships with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) such as JCB, Caterpillar and Volvo helps to ensure that their lubricants and greases are optimised for the latest equipment. Shell Lubricants works closely with a number of key OEMs to develop products that are technologically advanced and can meet and exceed equipment needs both now and in the future.  With guidance from our expert team, lubricants and greases from Shell’s products in the Tellus, Spirax and Gadus ranges, customers can have confidence that their machinery is operating at optimal performance.

5.   What are the key things to keep in mind when it comes to lubricant management?

Even the best lubricant cannot perform to its full potential if it is not applied or managed correctly. Contamination is a particular challenge in construction as lubricants and greases can often be exposed to water and particles of grit that can drastically impair their performance. In the long-term, the reduced viability and wear protection of contaminated products can contribute to increased machinery downtime and higher maintenance costs.

Few realise that contamination could be prevented by taking small measures such as storing drums in a sheltered place and wiping the lid clean to remove any dust or dirt from the container. Proper storage, handling, training and product monitoring are critical to making TCO-savings, but only 28% of companies have the correct lubricant management processes in place[2]. By taking steps to implement best practice procedures and training the workforce on the long-term value of effective lubrication, construction businesses can deliver improved productivity and reductions in product consumption, maintenance and operating costs.

The storage, handling and transportation of lubricants is critical to getting best results from your product. We recommend following these steps to maximise the overall performance of your lubricant:

  • Storing drums in a sheltered place, cleaning the top of the drum before it is opened and applying filtration can help to prevent contamination and preserve the integrity of the lubricant
  • Product monitoring and analysis can give operators advance warning of any problems that are likely to damage equipment, reduce productivity and increase maintenance costs, making it easier to avoid costly machinery downtime
  • Applying the right amount of lubricant at appropriate frequencies ensures that the product reaches the surface at the right time, so that moving parts can stay protected for longer

Ultimately, at the core of lubricant management best practice is industry knowledge and technical expertise. As an expert partner to the construction industry, Certas Energy Lubricants is proud to deliver tailored management solutions via a thorough assessment of your business operations and requirements. Our technical experts are able to offer expert advice on where best to upgrade your lubricant management practices to maximise equipment productivity while reducing TCO.

[1]  This survey, commissioned by Shell Lubricants and conducted by research firm Edelman Intelligence, polled 406 decision makers in the construction industry in 8 countries (Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Russia, UK, US) from November to December 2015

[2] Procedures included: Delivery and storage of lubricants, oil change procedures, oil dispensing systems, efficiency of grease lubrication systems, oil analysis, training employees in lubricant selection and/or management