Achieving Environmental Performance Enhancements in the Use of Industrial Lubricants

Achieving Environmental Performance Enhancements in the Use of Industrial Lubricants

Lubricants, specifically soluble metalworking fluids, are integral to the manufacturing processes with little change in their ‘in-use’ management over many years. The need for modernisation would overcome some of the continued negative impacts of industrial lubricant use, improving productivity and reducing costs. A recently established company based on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in Rotherham and a tier two member of the AMRC has a modern approach to the in-use management of metalworking fluids in high performance machining applications. FMS was established to “reduce the impact of lubricants in the manufacturing process”, identifying the root cause of problems and reducing the negative impacts lubricants have in the process.

One area of development has been in-house technology to recover and divert from landfill metal particles contained within sludges found within machine sumps. It is able to recover metals from these oily sludges which are often disposed of as hazardous waste. This is achieved by retrofitting mill / turn and grinding machines, with a very efficient filtration system which extracts the sludge as it is generated during the machining process. This oily sludge is the feedstock for the downstream process to recover the metal content for recycling. The filtration system is operating at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and the Sludge Material Recovery process has successfully completed a 1 year Proof of Concept study funded by the Technology Strategy Board. The combination of precision filtration, the extraction of sludges from machine tools coupled with the company’s ability to recycle the metal content is a unique solution which can help manufacturers’ significantly reduce operational cost and improve environmental performance. The two images below illustrate the difference precision filtration makes.

The company engaged with the Mercury Centre on two fronts:

  • Undertaking a study into possible uses for the recovered metal arising from the Sludge Material recovery process including additive layer manufacturing (ALM) processes and emerging high value disruptive technology.
  • Undertaking a Study of the residual contamination within the fluid stream post precision filtration to verify the performance capability of the solution.

The Mercury team studied metal particles from sludges using the Centres’ microscopy services and materials characterisation capabilities to determine properties of the remaining metal identifying its capacity to be used in an ALM process. Company Director Steve Thompson noted that “standard metalworking fluid analysis has tended to focus on the health and safety risks rather than specific in-use performance needs.” With support from the Mercury Centre the company was able to analyse the morphology and quantify the chemical composition of the extracted metal particles, using an electron microscope equipped with advanced characterisation capability. This provided a step change in detection resolution compared to other analysis techniques, allowing FMS to increase their understanding of the filtration process.

In its current form it has shown significant potential with a clear development path mapped out. The firm is establishing the importance and benefits of precision filtration in high performance machining applications and the credibility of the University of Sheffield’s Mercury Centre has been an important step in validating its work. The firm is using this continuing relationship to promote to manufacturers the need to modernise in-use metalworking fluid management practices.

View the original story on The Mercury Centre website.