Gearboxes are the unsung heroes of power transmission. They take the motor output and change speed, torque, and direction to what’s needed to drive essential equipment. Conveyor systems, pumps, mixers, and a host of other machinery rely on gearboxes for their operation.
When a gearbox fails, the equipment or process being driven stops. That unplanned downtime translates to lost production, late deliveries, and increased costs.
An excellent way to avoid problems like these is by carrying out regular inspections. They don’t need to take long; you just need to know what to look for. Here are seven signs that your gearbox needs attention.
1. Oil Leaking from Shaft Seals
Gearbox oil lubricates and cools. If it’s leaking, the level will be low, which leads to other problems. (See below.) Oil leaks usually appear as dark streaks or tearstains in the paint directly below where shafts exit the gearbox housing.
2. Running Abnormally Hot
Heat causes expansion — that takes up clearances and leads to more wear. A simple check is to place a hand on the housing. To get more sophisticated, use a handheld IR thermometer or even a thermal camera. If you see smoke or the paint is becoming discolored, you’ve got a severe overheating problem.
3. Unusual Noise and/or Vibration
These go hand-in-hand, but in noisy environments, it’s hard to pick up abnormal sounds. Vibration, however, will tell you if something is going wrong. So, again, a hand check is good, but the instrumentation is better. You might even want to install vibration monitoring equipment on critical pieces of the plant.
4. Low Oil Level
If the manufacturer put a sight glass on the housing, it’s there for a reason. Make sure you can see oil at the correct level. If not, plan on topping it up as soon as possible.
5. Low Oil Pressure
Hard to tell without a pressure gauge, but low oil pressure suggests the pump is failing. If the gauge is reading low, plan on making repairs soon.
6. Damaged Gear Teeth
Take a cover off and check the condition of the teeth. If necessary, get hold of an endoscope for a close-up examination. Spalling or other signs of wear suggest alignment, bearing, or temperature problems. If one or more teeth are missing, it might be that the gearbox is being overloaded. Schedule repair or replacement as soon as possible.
7. Blocked Breathers
Breathers let air move in and out of the gearbox housing. If they get blocked, this airflow stops. It could lead to raised temperatures, and it may also mean the gearbox has ingested particulates from the air. Clean the breather and change the oil!
A common challenge with monitoring gearboxes is, can you be sure something has changed? It’s good practice to take pictures and make notes on every inspection. You might even video it running. This way, if you suspect a problem, you can check whether you see something new or just normal operation.
What To Do If You See Problems?
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