RotaLube automatic roller chain & conveyor lubrication systems

About Us

Who we are

At RotaLube Systems Limited, we are a team of engineers, based in Blackburn, UK, with a mission to help companies operating chain conveyors of all types and sizes improve performance through effective lubrication.

At RotaLube Systems Limited, we are a team of engineers, based in Blackburn, UK, with a mission to help companies operating chain conveyors of all types and sizes improve performance through effective lubrication.

Chain lubrication is usually the single most important factor impacting conveyor performance, including wear, energy consumption, noise, and oil contamination. Yet ineffective chain lubrication is a problem our engineers see all too often.

After years of designing, installing, and re-engineering conveyors on all scales, our director David Chippendale knew there had to be a more effective and reliable way of lubricating chain than the traditional manual, brush, drip-feed, or spit systems.

Instead of applying lubricant to the outside of chains, he designed a sprocket-shaped applicator, connected via hoses to pumps on a backboard, that administers precise amounts of oil directly to the pivot points where it is needed.

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Because the applicator engages with each chain link as the conveyor moves, it ensures the pins and bushes remain properly lubricated irrespective of chain stretch (due to wear), conveyor speed, or ambient temperature.

This high degree of precision also helps to keep the conveyor clean, by reducing the likelihood of dust or material sticking to lubricant on the outside of the chain or excess oil touching conveyed products or dripping onto the ground.

By looking at the challenge differently, David came up with a simple, novel approach that would transform conveyor performance forever, saving companies around the world both time and money.

Today we offer standard or custom RotaLube solutions to fit a variety of conveyor chain sizes (pitches) and ensure effective lubrication for one up to six strands of chain. We also manufacture our applicators in a range of different materials to withstand extreme heat or moisture or meet health and safety requirements for food processing and pharmaceutical manufacturing applications.

With the help of our specialist lubricant partners, we can advise on the optimum lubricant for your needs and supply it on subscription. Furthermore, as a member of the FB Chain family, we can organise delivery of replacement conveyor chain for a unified, convenient and cost-effective conveyor chain maintenance service.

Why lubricate chain?

If there is one thing you should do to reduce chain conveyor breakdowns and running costs, it’s to invest in your chain lubrication. It’s a simple matter of physics.

Chain motion generates friction

Conveyor chains are made up of a series of interconnected links, each comprising two inner and two outer link plates held together by pins. To enable the links to pivot and articulate, the pins are encapsulated by bushings, which fit inside the inner link plates and rotate around the pins as the chain moves.

This rotational motion creates friction at the contact point between the pin and the inner surface of the bushing. As the chain articulates and bends, the bushings experience further friction as they come into contact with the inner surfaces of the link plates. The outer link plates can also slide against the stationary pins, generating friction at the pin-plate interface.

Friction is the force that opposes the relative motion or attempted motion between two surfaces in contact. So more energy is required from the conveyor’s electric motor to overcome the resistance and drive the chain. The direct metal-on-metal contact also generates unpleasant noise as the conveyor operates.


Friction Leads to wear

Over time, the friction between the chain pins, bushes and link plates leads to wear. The tiniest irregularities on the surfaces will lead to abrasion, while repeated contact cycles can create cracks (surface fatigue). In areas of high contact pressure, friction can also cause components to change shape and lose their structural integrity (plastic deformation). Furthermore, the heat generated by friction can speed up oxidation and corrosion processes, weakening the components and making them even more susceptible to wear.

Increased wear can result in component failures and sudden conveyor breakdowns, causing significant production downtime. In any case, worn components require more frequent replacements, leading to increased maintenance interruptions and higher expenses for chain and other parts. Essentially, this leads to more downtime, lost production, and higher costs overall.


Lubrication decreases friction and reduces wear

Lubricant decreases friction by creating a slippery protective barrier that reduces the direct metal-to-metal contact, flushes out any debris, and helps the chain components to roll and slide smoothly and quietly around each other. Lubricant also helps to cushion the impact of loads, reducing stress on components, dissipates heat generated by friction, and prevents air and moisture from reaching the metal surfaces, guarding against rust.

With effective lubrication, the conveyor’s motor needs to draw less energy to drive the system and the rate of wear is reduced and becomes more predictable. The results are increased conveyor uptime, less maintenance, and lower running costs. So why wouldn’t you lubricate chain?

The evolution of chain lubrication

The benefits of lubrication have been recognised for centuries, dating back to ancient Egypt where evidence of lubrication in industrial settings first emerged.

Manual lubrication with a brush or spray can

Traditionally, conveyor chains have been lubricated manually, using a brush or spray can to apply oil or grease – a practice that persists today. Manual lubrication poses several challenges, however. It demands extensive labour and time, struggles to reach all areas in intricate conveyor configurations, and risks incorrect application. The chain’s pins and bushings may remain inadequately lubricated, exposing the chain to friction and wear. Conversely, over-application can lead to excess lubricant consumption, spill risks, and potential contamination. Furthermore, dust and debris can adhere to the chain’s exterior, causing needless abrasion and corrosion.


Automated brush lubrication system

The first automated chain lubrication systems were devised to reduce the reliance on manual labour and ensure a more even distribution of the lubricant. Among the earliest of these systems was the brush method, where suspended brushes evenly coat the chain as it passes underneath. It’s also a technique still used today, though not without drawbacks. The brushes are a magnet for dust and debris and can easily become clogged. Furthermore, the lubricant applied to the exterior of the chain may fail to adequately lubricate the vital pin and bush areas, leaving them vulnerable to wear. The risk of abrasive materials sticking to the outside of the chain further compounds these concerns.


Automated drip-feed lubrication system

Akin to the automated brush system is the drip-feed method, where a steady stream of lubricant is directed onto the conveyor chain’s surface during operation. Like its automated brush counterpart, the drip-feed approach offers merits such as diminished labour and uniform lubricant coverage. However, it shares the same drawbacks of inefficient and excessive lubricant application, leaving the chain vulnerable to wear and clogging due to debris, as well as increasing the potential for product and environmental contamination. There is also the added risk of the nozzle becoming knocked out of place so that the lubricant stream misses the chain entirely and lands on the ground, causing a safety and environmental hazard.


Automated spit lubrication system

Spit systems aim to take a more targeted approach to lubrication than automated brush or drip-feed systems. Using sensors and timers, these systems direct small amounts of lubricant at the chain’s pivot points as the conveyor moves. The idea is to improve the effectiveness of the application while reducing waste. However, they are not always accurate. The nozzles can be easily knocked out of the place, and the timing can skew as the chain stretches from wear or the conveyor speeds up. So, these systems need regular checks and adjustments to make sure the lubricant hits the right spots at the right times.


RotaLube automated lubrication system

RotaLube represents the evolution of conveyor chain lubricant application from manual techniques, through rudimentary automation, to an accurate and reliable automated system. This innovative solution uses a sprocket-shaped applicator to deliver exact measures of lubricant directly onto the surfaces of the pins and bushes. The applicator engages with each pivot point of the chain as the conveyor operates, ensuring an accuracy that remains consistent even if the distance between pivot points slightly increases due to wear or the conveyor changes speed. To avoid clogging, the applicator conducts self-cleaning cycles by passing air through the delivery channels. Furthermore, this discerning approach minimises oil consumption and mitigates the risks of debris sticking to the chain, product damage, or environmental contamination.

The RotaLube Story

The RotaLube story began in 2007 when conveyor engineer David Chippendale had the ingenious idea for a simple, yet radical way of effectively applying lubricant to conveyor and roller chain.

Having spent over a decade designing, installing, and re-engineering conveyors on all scales, he noticed the same recurring headaches among his clients: breakdowns, excessive wear, and product contamination, all due to improper chain lubrication. Determined to deliver a long-term solution for these clients, he rolled up his sleeves and got to work.

Rather than haphazardly applying lubricant through brush or drip-feed methods, or spit systems that claim to be targeted yet are prone to inaccuracy, David had a brilliant thought. Why not channel the lubricant through a sprocket’s teeth?

So he designed a sprocket-shaped applicator, hooked it up to pumps through hoses, and voila! Measured amounts of lubricant flowed precisely to the chain’s pivot points, regardless of chain wear, conveyor speed, or ambient temperature.

To thoroughly test the concept, David partnered with Lancaster University and by 2012, the RotaLube system secured a UK patent. A year later, the US patent was granted.

Around the same time, the first commercial RotaLube system was installed and is still going strong more than a decade later.

After a string of successful installations, David licensed Interlube Systems Limited (later Timken) to sell the RotaLube system around the world. A series of turnkey contracts followed, including for the world’s largest chocolate manufacturer, which still relies on RotaLube as its preferred method of conveyor chain lubrication.

Global sales earned RotaLube a reputation as the best chain lubrication system on the market but changes in Timken’s strategic direction led to RotaLube taking a back seat. So David decided to start his own company, RotaLube Systems Limited, focusing exclusively on his brainchild. He refined the product and secured new patents for an improved design in 2016.

Fast forward to 2021 and a new chapter unfolds. RotaLube Systems Limited was acquired by and became a subsidiary of FB Chain. Headquartered in Letchworth, UK, FB Chain is a manufacturer and supplier of industrial chains and associated parts for conveyor systems, as well as forklift trucks and telehandlers. Owned by Addtech, a Swedish technology solutions powerhouse, FB Chain and its group of companies make a formidable international team.  

In RotaLube, FB Chain found a gem to help customers get more value from their conveyor chain, while RotaLube Systems Limited benefits from FB Chain’s broad experience and Addtech’s financial strength.  

Together with FB Chain, the RotaLube Systems Limited team is excited to grow the business and help even more conveyor OEMs and end users to experience the game-changing impact of optimal lubrication.

Timeline

  • 2007 The inspiration
  • 2008 Design, advice, and IP protection applied for
  • 2009 Concept proven at Lancaster University
  • 2009 Prototyping and testing – WOW, it really works!
  • 2011/12 UK patent granted
  • 2012 First major RotaLube installation – Still running today!
  • 2013 US patent granted
  • 2013 Licence to sell agreed with Interlube (later Timken)
  • 2014 RotaLube approved by the world’s largest chocolate maker – Still preferred today!
  • 2016 RotaLube Systems Limited established and new patents granted
  • 2021 RotaLube becomes part of FB Chain

How RotaLube works

  • Applicators can be supplied separately or as part of a complete RotaLube system, including lubricant reservoirs and pumps that can be mounted on back plates or inside enclosures according to the location and application of the conveyor.
  • A timed activation mechanism coordinates the controlled release of lubricant from the reservoirs through the hoses to the applicators with the conveyor’s movement.
  • The novel sprocket-shaped applicator engages with each chain link as the conveyor operates, reliably delivering lubricant where it is needed irrespective of chain wear or conveyor speed.
  • Targeted application keeps the exterior of the chain clean, reducing the risk of lubricant or material attracted to the lubricant from contaminating the conveyed product.
  • Self-cleaning air cycles prevent clogs and blockages in the applicators to ensure effective lubrication and minimal maintenance intervention.

Benefits of RotaLube

Our lubrication partners

At RotaLube Systems Limited, we’re experts in the application of lubricants to conveyor and roller chain, not the lubricants themselves. That’s why we have partnered with experienced tribologists (people qualified in the study of how surfaces behave in relative motion) at world-leading lubricant companies Interflon, Fuchs, Klüber and Castrol. Together, we can help recommend the optimum chain lubricant for your individual needs, contributing to greater safety and performance with lower operating costs.

Chain manufacturers often use grease or petroleum jelly to protect chains from rusting during storage and delivery. Such greases should not be applied to conveyor or roller chain in service, however, as they are too thick to protect the chain from friction.

The keyword is viscosity. The lubricant needs to be fluid enough to penetrate the chain’s internal bearing surfaces, yet still viscous enough to maintain an effective film in your application. Conveyor chains operating in ovens and dryers, for example, need to be able to withstand high temperatures without quickly evaporating. Chain lubricant for a theme park water ride, however, will need to be resistant to being washed away. Finally, chain lubricants for the food and beverage and pharmaceutical industries will need to meet strict health and safety requirements from the relevant regulatory body.

In non-food applications, a nondetergent based petroleum oil is usually commonplace with antifoaming, antioxidising and extreme pressure agents added according to need. Food-grade lubricants, meanwhile, are typically formulated using synthetic base oils that have been carefully engineered to ensure they do not pose a risk to food safety where there is a possibility of incidental contact with food.

Once we have discussed the requirements and challenges of your unique application, we will liaise with our expert lubrication partners in order to determine the right lubricant for the job. We can even supply it to you on subscription, so you will never find yourself without.

At RotaLube Systems Limited, we are a part of the FB Group, a European network of chain businesses specialised in the manufacture and supply of conveyor chain, roller chain, leaf chain, and associated parts.

The FB Group takes immense pride in its rich heritage, being one of the world’s oldest chain companies, with a history of selling chains dating back to 1912. Fuelled by a spirit of curiosity and a shared enthusiasm for co-creating solutions with customers, coupled with the agility to respond to evolving market demands, FB Group has not only survived but thrived for over a century. This success can be attributed to its adaptability, coupled with the ability to deliver tailored solutions even in small batches.

Being a member of this chain community enables our engineers to leverage the immense application expertise and international experience of our colleagues across a broad range of sectors, including quarrying and cement production, biomass, recycling, paper and pulp, food processing and textiles.

If required, it also enables us to offer a one-stop-shop for replacement chain, attachments and sprockets and conveyor re-engineering services alongside our RotaLube systems and lubricant subscriptions. We can provide a convenient package of wear parts and maintenance solutions that saves customers time and money.