Nano-Technology Brings New Advances in Wire Rope Lubrication

Proper maintenance of wire rope is essential to safe lifting operations. Photo credit: Red_Shadow/

BY: Bob Glenn, Editor and Publisher

Palm, Pennsylvania based Powderful Solutions, with its vast experience and unique knowledge in the lubricant specialty additive sector, has developed and successfully implemented technically advanced additives and components used to improve performance for a wide range of lubricants, including those intended for use with wire rope.

Why is that important? Quite simply, the main difference between any two lubricants is the quality and performance level of the additives incorporated into their formulation. The additives determine the specification values of the most important parameters that every lubricant is measured against.

And that’s front-and-center for Powderful, as they bring to bear unique knowledge in the field of tribology – the study of friction, wear, heat transfer and load bearing in lubrication between interacting surfaces in relative motion.  Producing dispersions of solid nano-sized, multi-layered particles of Tungsten Disulfide (WS2), Molybdenum Disulfide (MoS2) and Hexagonal Boron Nitrate (hBN) in various medias – oil, water, alcohol, etc. – is not universally held knowledge even in the lubrication industry.  Powderful’s particular expertise is in the homogenization and stability of these dispersions, creating game changing formulations designed to be applied and substantially improve a broad range of products, such as greases, oils, coolants and coatings.

Wire Rope Lubrication
Onboard a cargo ship in the Pacific ocean, crews conduct a renewal operation on the hoisting wire of a deck crane. Photo credit: Paullawat/

The company itself is new. However, their value is built on the accumulated experience and knowledge of each individual within their team. Their work developing stable dispersions is based on research and development spanning back to 1985.  And their team has unique R&D and production capabilities – in addition to tribological expertise – proven through successful commercial activity across a substantial customer base in mass volume.

What are the specific benefits of sub-micron, or nano, technology? Itsik Havakuk, who serves as Director or Sales and Business Development for Powderful and has extensive experience in this area, outlined several critical properties of nano-particles that are critical in lubrication.

The smaller particle sizes enabled by this technology are the most effective way to offer lower treat rates (essentially, how much additive you need for a given volume of lubricant) than conventional additives. And quite simply, lower treat rates are more cost efficient. In addition, these particles will easily pass through various filters that are integral parts of many lubricant systems – admittedly not a concern for wire rope, but absolutely essential for many other applications.

Additionally, nano-particles better reduce friction compared to conventional additives, as they can fill microscopic asperities on the sliding metallic parts. That has the long-term benefit of preventing cracks from expanding, therefore prolonging the life of contact surfaces. And for a given treat rate, an additive consisting of smaller particles will have a relatively huge volume of surface area, giving them much more contact capability to deliver their performance and reduce load pressure.

Another consideration is morphology – the shape of the nanoparticle, and here Powderful’s technology brings significant advantages. The shape of the particle is critically important to absorb shock forces, and to protect and recondition metal surfaces. Most nanoparticles are platelet shaped. That means they have limited ability to absorb shock forces, and as a result there is no flexibility between layers. Powderful produces nano particles that are polygon/faceted shaped and able to bring their performance benefits very quickly at ignition launch when load is relatively low, unlike other technologies that require higher load to bend/exfoliate to reduce friction.

These performance benefits are readily observable in comparative testing by ASTM International standards. ASTM, formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials, is recognized as the common standard for testing and measuring the performance of lubricants.

ASTM Test Results

For illustration, following is a table comparing ASTM specifications among Lithium (Li) and Lithium complex (LiX) greases with varying additives. Lithium-based greases represent about 80% of the overall market for grease, making them by far the most common.

The comparison demonstrates performance characteristics of commonly used Sulfur/Phosphorus-based additives found in many mass-volume grease formulations, described in the table as “Common S/P Additive.”

ASTM provides test parameters and specifications for testing after which measures are taken by defined methods for:

  • Wear, mm – Measuring surface abrasion in millimeters
  • EP, kgf – Extreme Pressure measured in Kilograms force
  • Dropping Point, C – The temperature in degrees Celsius at which the grease reverts to liquid form.

This table considers two scenarios in which additives are compared:

  • Relatively Lower Treat Rates meeting moderate EP specifications.
  • Relatively Higher Treat Rates meeting higher EP specifications.

In summary, the results displayed here indicate that to achieve Moderate EP, up to 250 KgF, Powderful additives at dramatically lower concentrations produce somewhat less Wear and retain slightly higher Dropping Points than those observed with the Common S/P Additive.

To achieve higher performance EP levels, 400 KgF or better, Powderful additives can meet 400 KgF using less one-fifth of the treat rate needed for the Common S/P Additive while demonstrating markedly less Wear and retaining a higher Dropping Point. Increasing the treat rate of Powderful additives achieves dramatically higher EP, KgF while actually producing less Wear and retaining a superior Dropping Point to the S/P Additive. High treat rates of S/P-based additives can lead to corrosion issues driven by increasing levels of Phosphorus.

Real World

Test results from a standardized approach allow for apples-to-apples comparison of products subjected to the same stress over a short period of time in a controlled environment. What happens in the field, over time, in extremely demanding applications?

Offshore operations often place exceptional demands on lifting equipment and wire rope. Photo credit: Curraheeshutter/

According to Powderful’s representatives, manufacturers have been conducting significant field testing of lubricants that use their technology in a variety of challenging applications. Given the unique – perhaps even revolutionary – performance characteristics of their newest advances, these users are seeking to comprehensively quantify any performance benefits in their applications exhaustively.

While detailed results are proprietary, the company can characterize some of those activities and outcomes in broad terms.

In one case, a manufacturer of mining equipment is testing Powderful’s additives and fully formulated lubricants in the mechanized systems that uses drill bits supplied by the manufacturer. They have indicated that a 100-hour improvement would constitute a significant “win”, giving us some idea about the severity of their application and scale of investment.

In another case, Powderful’s wire rope grease has been tested by a large OEM in the actual rope manufacturing process with conclusive verified results of massively prolonging the wire rope life cycle – a clear operating benefit and massive maintenance savings for the customer.

Powderful Solutions wire rope grease can be implemented upstream by wire rope manufacturers to produce high performance product, penetrating its core and preserving inner parts – resulting in extended durability and longer life cycle. Or it can be implemented downstream by customers to lubricate wire ropes in operation, providing unbeatable weatherproof, corrosion protection and outstanding performance under extreme loads.

Jim Feder, Strategic Account Development Specialist for Powderful Solutions tells us that “the lifting sector, and particularly the wire rope industry, is an area where we can provide significant value and innovation.” Powderful Solutions offers a Private Label Program that supplies fully formulated wire rope grease/lubricants under the customer’s brand name with a variety of supporting attributes.

The product can be recommended for lubrication and preservation of running ropes and strands as well as impregnation of wire ropes during manufacture. Enhanced by unique WS2 Nanotechnology, these lubricants provide complete coverage of all wire and cables, delivering outstanding performance under extreme loads and unbeatable weatherproof and corrosion protection. With a wide operation temperature range (-20C to 200C: -25F to 392F), these products extend the service life of wire rope cost-effectively, with less waste and lower maintenance costs.

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