1. a part of speech that refers to a person, place or thing
2. can refer to an entity, quality, state, action or concept

1. a part of speech that denotes action
2. can be used as an auxiliary or linking verb

From an early age, I knew I was destined for a career in science and technology. While my math and science grades were exemplary, my grades for English were frequently littered with comments such as “needs to improve grammar” or “should spend more time learning to spell.” Even with spell check, anyone who has received an e-mail from me knows that my English skills leave a lot to be desired. In fact, if it weren’t for our superb Machinery Lubrication editorial team, this article would never be published!

Aside from being “grammatically challenged,” one thing I learned at an early age was the difference between nouns and verbs. Put simply, a noun refers to an object such as a wrench, grease gun or sample bottle. Conversely, most verbs describe actions such as to tighten, to lubricate, to sample. Verbs are often actions that describe activities performed on or using nouns (for example, to lubricate (verb) a bearing (noun) using grease (noun)). So what is the difference between the noun lubricant and the verb to lubricate? The cynical may say “two letters”, but those two letters make a huge difference when it comes to precision lubrication.

When the lubricant is referred to in the context of lubrication best practice, we are typically talking about selecting the correct oil or grease based on the type of equipment, operating context and operating environment. There is no mystery to selecting the correct lubricant. For most applications, the rules have been defined by original equipment manufacturers (OEM) who usually provide an excellent starting point. The OEM guidelines should then be assessed in conjunction with other factors such as operating environment (high or low ambient operating temperatures, shock loading, a desire to extend oil drains etc.), and modified if necessary. Again, the criteria for “tweaking” OEM guidelines have been documented in books and articles, many of which are available right here in Machinery Lubrication magazine. In essence, it is relatively straightforward to take an engineered approach to lubricant selection.

By contrast, in my experience as a practicing consultant I often find that too many organizations stop at defining the most appropriate lubricant. Though often supported by their lubricant supplier, they fail to take the same approach to lubricating their machines. When this occurs, critical decisions around important issues such as:

  • Whether to use oil mist or an oil bath?
  • Which side should the bottle oiler be placed relative to the direction of shaft rotation?
  • How many shots of grease should I apply and how often?
  • How can I take a representative, quality oil sample?

are left to chance: or more commonly to the best guess of the person charged with the task of performing the stated activity. So how can this malaise be avoided? The answer is simple: take the same engineered approach to lubrication as we do lubricant selection. In the same way we talk to our OEM and/or lubricant supplier about selecting the correct oil or grease, we should do our research, or talk to subject matter experts about how to select the correct relubrication frequencies and volumes, or how to best configure our equipment to allow for optimum in-service maintainability and reliability.

All too often, the universal panacea to a real or perceived lubrication failure is to blame the lubricant. Naively, we go looking for a better lubricant, intent on fixing the problem, when in actuality it may simply be how lubrication is performed that is at fault.

Sadly, my tenth-grade English teacher passed away just a few years after I graduated from high school. But I can guarantee he is rolling over in his grave when I say to forget about fussing over correct grammar. Just apply science and engineering to differentiate between a noun (lubricant) and a verb (lubricate).

As always, this is my opinion. I’m interested in hearing yours.