Michael Mathe
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Just Like Fluid Lubricants, Each Component Offers a Unique Set of Benefits

For many, grease is a mysterious substance. People know it's there and that it's protecting their equipment's components, but questions remain on how it works.

It is important to first understand how grease differs from standard lubricating oils. Grease is made from many of the same components common to fluid lubricants, such as base oils, additives and viscosity modifiers; however, there is one important component that distinguishes grease from its lubricant counterparts: thickener. Thickeners make grease semi-solid or solid, so it can protect applications subjected to heavy loads, high temperatures and high impact.

Thickeners are used to give grease a consistent, gel-like structure that adheres to equipment surfaces. They can be made from a variety of substances, but typically fall into one of three categories: soap, non-soap or polymer dispersion. The chemical structure of each of these thickeners is complex and differs greatly depending on the type of thickener; for the sake of this article, we'll stick to the basics.

Soap greases are either simple or complex and are comprised of a variety of elements. For example, lithium is a simple soap-based grease. Lithium is the most widely used and versatile of the soap-based products; it accounts for at least 50 percent of domestic grease production. Lithium-based greases are often used in automotive chassis and wheel bearings, or as a general industrial grease. They are smooth and buttery in appearance and have a medium dropping point (up to 400°F). The dropping point is the temperature at which the base oil separates from the thickener and the grease can no longer adequately protect components. The higher the dropping point, the better protection the grease provides at higher temperatures.

Complex soap-based thickeners were developed to withstand higher operating temperatures in modern equipment. Aluminum-complex greases are a good example; they are often used in steel mills and rolling and plain bearings. They are typically smooth and slightly gel-like in appearance. Aluminum-complex greases also have high dropping points (above 500°F) and are resistant to water and softening, which enables them to provide protection in a variety of extreme environments. They are shear stable and resistant to washout; however, they often have poor rust and corrosion resistance.

Calcium sulfonate is a non-soap-based thickener. AMSOIL uses calcium sulfonate thickener in its Synthetic Polymeric Off-Road Grease, Multi-Purpose Grease and Water-Resistant Grease. Calcium sulfonate thickeners offer enhanced performance benefits by improving the performance of additives already contained in the grease for better wear protection, water-washout resistance, extreme-pressure performance and dropping point. This type of grease is a good candidate for off-road automotive applications and steel or paper mills where high temperatures and shock loading are common.

Polyurea non-soap-based thickeners are the most widely used non-soap thickener. They offer good oxidation resistance and thermal stability, which makes them very durable and ideal for use in sealed-for-life bearings.

The third type of thickener is a polymer dispersion thickener, sometimes referred to as a "specialty" thickener. In a polymer dispersion or specialty thickener, polymers are mixed with the base oil to produce a thickening effect. Silica is used as a thickening agent in some specialty greases and the result is a high-temperature, water-resistant grease. Carbon black and pigments are also used as specialty thickeners; however, they tend to have a consistency more similar to a very viscous oil as opposed to the more solid, stiff-like consistency of a grease.

It is important to remember the role grease plays in lubrication and the performance benefits it provides. Although many people have limited understanding of its finer points, grease is a necessary lubricant that offers extreme-pressure protection in numerous applications that couldn't perform properly without it. Published, AMSOIL Magazine 04/12. LLC is a large nationwide Dealer of AMSOIL Synthetic Lubricants and is now expanding into your area and surrounding states. If you have a business or are an individual with several vehicles, AMSOIL has several options available that may allow you to Purchase AMSOIL Products at Wholesale Prices. We can show you how to save money and extend equipment life with AMSOIL Synthetic Motor Oils, Lubricants, Filters and Fuel Additives. Please visit the AMSOIL Online Store for more information and to purchase AMSOIL Products.

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