Lubricators and lubricating systems dispense or distribute oils and grease to mechanical devices such as bearings, conveyor chains, railroad rails, air tools, or packing glands, for the purpose of minimizing friction between moving parts. Lubricants lessen both rolling and sliding friction, minimize wear and corrosion, increase efficiency, seal out contaminants, and are critical to the operation of many moving mechanical components. Lubricators can range from the simplest hand-operated grease gun to sophisticated, automated central systems that dispense lubricants periodically to a multitude of lubrication points in a manufacturing plant, on a ship, or in similar situations where mechanical machinery is operating and has the need for the benefits afforded by lubricants.
In referring to systems, it is these latter, external systems that this article primarily addresses. Though an internal-combustion engine certainly employs a lubricating system, it would not be purchased discreetly but is for the most part intrinsic to the engine itself. Some very large, slow speed diesels use external lubricators to inject oil onto cylinder walls, but these are special applications.
The main idea behind lubricators and lubricating systems is to take a manual, critical task—keeping friction down through greasing or oiling—and remove some of the inconvenient, sometimes hazardous, and certainly repetitive aspects of the activity by employing automation to a lesser or greater degree. Setting grease guns aside, this article will examine lubricating systems as characterized by these three classifications:
- Single point lubricators
- Multi-point lubricating systems
- Centralized, automated systems
Also discussed will be some special applications of lubrication systems. For more information on the types of oils and greases commonly used in lubrication applications, see our related guide to lubricants.