Metal working fluids can, and will, pose a serious threat to the health of employees, the environment, and the bottom line of any manufacturing business choosing to ignore the fundamental basics of good fluid management and maintenance.  Jemtech (UK)’s Steve Coull explains.

As a leading supplier of metal working fluids in the UK, working closely with Blaser Swisslube, one of the world’s leading manufacturers, Jemtech (UK) is at the forefront of the development of safe working practices and implementing management manuals with its customers. We are very fortunate to be working with Blaser, whose products have been developed not only to enhance productivity, but also be as user friendly as possible. Blaser was the first company to manufacture Bio-Concept metal working fluids sold under the Blasocut brand.

These products have been developed to make use of non-pathogenic bacteria found naturally in the water source, to control and prevent the population of harmful bacteria. The Bio-concept products have the benefit of not requiring tank side additives, such as potentially harmful biocides. However, the advanced nature of these metal working fluids does not eliminate the need for careful fluid management and maintenance. It is no secret that poor quality or badly maintained metalworking fluids can have serious health and safety consequences. A quick look at the website of the Health and Safety Executive will result in many pages of advice and warnings, as well as examples of companies being heavily fined for poor working practices. In reality, with good maintenance procedures in place, metalworking fluids should cause minimal problems to people and the environment that they are operating in.

There are six key areas that users of metal working fluids need to focus on, these are, storage; cleaning; mixing; refilling; monitoring; and maintenance. All of these areas should be part of a details maintenance/management plan for every machine using metal working fluids. And, in conjunction with the supplier of the fluid they should create an environment that is free from skin infection, bad odour and poor machine/cutting tool performance.

It is vital that customers work in partnership with suppliers when formulating a maintenance procedure for metal working fluids as each product is different and requires an individual approach to ensure it is performing to its optimum and the business is functioning within the constraints of the relevant health and safety regulations. The mere mention of health and safety has some people running for cover. However, like many other aspects of life and business, maintaining metal working fluids is a combination of hard and fast rules and common sense. For example, the storage of the fluid before it is mixed should be done at a temperature that is neither too cold or too hot. If concentrate is allowed to overheat then its chemical makeup can be affected, reducing its efficiency when mixed.

As a responsible supplier of metal working fluids we have a duty of care to ensure that our customers are aware of the potential hazards and work with them to put in place procedures that are simple and easy to follow. For those customers who opt for our bespoke service packages we undertake most of these monitoring functions on their behalf, for others we are happy to provide a manual that gives a step by step plan to maintaining optimum performance.

While the health and safety side of metal working fluid management should be fairly obvious there are many other benefits to be gained from well-maintained coolant. Virtually every department in a business will gain from good procedures with saving being made due to increased tool life, reduced machine downtime and reduced scrap and rework; reductions in consumable budgets, not only for tooling and cutting fluids, but also a reduction in spend on cleaning and spill clean-up equipment.

When done correctly metal working fluid management can increase the life of the coolant, reducing usage by as much as 20 per cent. Another by product is improved process security as there is less risk of tool breakage, which in turn leads to reductions in scrap and rework. Quality is also a beneficiary of fluid management, with surface finishes improving and been maintained longer.

However, many businesses fail to recognise the potential of good quality fluid management, with some ignoring it all together! In truth, no fluid management is better than poor management. At least it gives you a baseline, whereas poor management can be moving you further away from where you need to be, without you even knowing it at the risk of falling foul of the Health and Safety Executive.

So, let’s look at the practical things that can be done to minimise and in many cases eliminate these risks.

1. Store your metal working fluid as per the manufacturer’s instructions, but particularly keep it away from strong sunlight or freezing temperatures.

2. Before filling a machine tool with fresh coolant ensure that the system has been cleaned, again work with your supplier to set the correct procedure for this.

3. Mixing the coolant correctly is important. Ideally. use a purpose built mixing unit to ensure the correct concentration is achieved.

4. Refilling or topping up the system needs to be done at the correct concentration, again seek advice from your supplier.

5. Monitoring the metal working fluid includes daily checks on the concentration, odour and temperature and weekly checks on pH and bacteria levels.

Outside of the fluid itself companies need to be aware of other outside factors that will affect its performance, the most obvious of these is tramp oil. Incompatibility between slideway and hydraulic oil can cause serious degradation of the coolant if left unattended. A simple shake test test will confirm whether these oils are compatible with the metal working fluid and this test should be carried out whenever the oil or coolant is changed. As a matter of course an oil skimmer should be employed to remove tramp oil from the system.