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Portrait of a Port


PORTLAND, Ore. – Atop one of the Port of Portlands giant Hyundai waterfront cranes, a visitor clutched at the railings of the open catwalk, swallowed the lump in his throat, and tried to ignore what felt like a Class V hurricane (really only a 20 or 25 mph breeze). Staring down at the black water of the mighty Columbia River, 135 feet below, he could see a smaller crane nearby, one of eight here at the Ports Marine Terminal 6.

On this November morning, the crane was rapidly unloading 35-ton steel slabs from Mexico, destined for this citys Oregon Steel Mills, from a ship of Liberia registry. A fleet of Hyster and Kalmar forklift trucks circled around the dock in a precise minuet, stacking the slabs into piles.

Bob Maracle, Terminal 6s general superintendent for marine equipment maintenance, seemed heedless of both the height and gusting winds. With a sweep of his arm, he said to his LubesnGreases visitor, Availability of equipment is our major concern and these cranes are our first priority; they have to operate when a ship is here.

Even though today you see only the slab ship working, Terminal 6 is primarily a container terminal, and despite the cargo, an out-of-service crane can result in a large revenue loss – one Longshoremen gang can cost in excess of $20,000 per shift. Loading and unloading has to be coordinated to ensure that the ship time on berth is minimized. With Terminal 6 being located on the Columbia River its important for the ships to be able to depart at high tide to meet their very tight rotation schedules. Delays in sailing mean that the time must be made up in transit to the next port. Departure delays translate into additional fuel costs – and we hear about it.

Maracle is employed by the Port of Portland, a quasi-public agency, and his job comes with a lot of responsibility, including making certain that the equipment works when it is needed (and answering to his boss, the general manager of Marine Operations, if there is a breakdown that holds up the timely loading or unloading of a ship).

With 530 pieces of equipment in 17 different classifications under his shops care (including the eight, soon to be nine, container cranes and 30 Kalmar and Hyster container handlers) there are endless opportunities for large and small problems to buffet Maracle. But lubricant failure is not one of them. He stated, In my 12 years here weve not had any real problems at all with lubricants nor any serious lube-related problems. Thats quite a record considering the variety of heavy-duty equipment on site, requiring 19 separate crankcase, hydraulic or grease products. More than 2,200 gallons of oil and several hundred pounds of grease are inventoried here.

This excellent track record doesnt mean there havent been some close calls, requiring alert and imaginative problem-solving. For example, early in Maracles tenure, he noticed the shop was getting requisitioned for camshaft replacements for Cummins engines after only 6,000 to 6,500 hours of service. A quick shop-floor inquiry revealed that the engine oil viscosity grade being used was SAE 40, but the Cummins service manual recommended SAE 15W-40, a multigrade.

Just by switching to the recommended multigrade resulted in a tripling of the service life, to about 18,000 hours, related Maracle.

In another case Maracle noted that even though our yard tractors had the same Allison transmissions, our testing showed that some had been generating a large amount of particulates which increased wear – and others virtually nothing. We tried a number of fixes including different filters and oils. Nothing worked and the problem was compounded by the fact that it took so long to see results of our fixes, three to four months. Oil sample analysis reports gave us some clues as to what was happening plus also gave us direction as to where we needed to go. So we looked in the market for an oil that met Allison specs and had a good viscosity index with no V.I. improvers. We went with Amsoil [PAO synthetic] and havent lost a transmission yet.

Those arent the only examples of how service life was extended through shop-floor initiatives.


Lift chains on the Hyster Container Handlers are rugged, able to hoist loads up to 60 tons. These machines move Port cargo from trucks and railcars to where heavy, fixed cranes can lift it on or off ships. Its difficult to lubricate these chains because of tight tolerances, and low-viscosity lubricants had insufficient film strength for the loads, pointed out Maracle. On the other hand, a grease that stays wet captures airborne abrasive particles which accelerate wear. It was all but impossible to find a chain lube that would penetrate and be viscous enough to create a film between the pins and leaves.

Maracle assumed that heat generated by the heavy lifting is a direct result of friction, and if friction-induced heat could be reduced wear reduction would follow. He developed an onsite, seat-of-the-pants product: a 50/50 blend of diesel fuel and Militec-1 (a proprietary lubricant with extreme pressure properties), and tested this blend on the Hyster machines.

It was my gut feeling that if we dropped the temperature we would reduce friction and wear, he related. We selected a machine and, with a 75,000-pound test load, used an infrared camera to record the heat generated in the unlubricated chains. Then we took off as much load as possible from the chains and sprayed both chains with the Militec-1/diesel fuel blend, and allowed it to sit in the lot overnight and out of the sun so that there was no heat soaking. Using the same test procedure we took a starting temperature, then again after 25 and 50 up-and-down cycles with the 75,000-lb. test load, and compared the temperatures of the unlubricated and lubricated chains.

The results were dramatic. Before the lift chains had been sprayed with the blend, after 50 lift cycles the temperature had increased on the order of 120 percent. On the lubed chains, temperature increased only 45 percent. We continued to track the machine for three months. Also noticeably absent following the lubrication was the snapping and cracking noise that is inherent with dry chains.


A few years ago Maracle observed that new, plain spherical bearings in the boom hinges on one of the Hyundai container cranes were failing. The manufacturer replaced the original bearings under warranty, but later a noise was detected in the hinge joint when the boom was raised and lowered. The manufacturer recommended a lube with 7 percent to 8 percent molybdenum, but after eight to 10 cycles the bearings would again start making disturbing noises.

Maracle, a confirmed LubesnGreases reader, spotted something in the magazine that seemed a possible solution: I read an article about a product referred to as non-black grease, and the editor was kind enough to provide me with an address for the engineer involved at Komatsu Ltd., in Japan. I faxed the company on a Friday afternoon and on Monday morning I had a response from Mr. Satoshi Ohkawa, with a part number.

We obtained the grease from the local Komatsu dealer and pumped it into those spherical bearings.

Well, not only did the noise stop but we now grease those bearings only every three months, compared to often two or three days previously. Formerly, we had only 10 or 12 up-and-down cycles between greasing; now its in excess of 1,000 cycles and theres no more bothersome internal noises. While the preventive maintenance cycle is scheduled for three months it doesnt always get done right on schedule, so the actual time between greasings may be considerably longer.

The long and short of it is we havent had to change any bearings and the greasing – which takes two guys an hour climbing over that crane at $118 per hour – is much reduced. The scheduled greasing change saved us a ton of money.


One of our big problems is getting information from foreign OEMs as to what the factory fill is for gearboxes transmissions, brake systems and hydraulics, said Maracle. And many times, factory-fill lubricants are not available in the U.S.

For example, some of our container handlers were originally manufactured in Finland and then manufacturing was moved to Sweden. It was very difficult to get lubricant specifications from either country. Although the Swedish-built machines were identical to the ones made in Finland, when we took oil samples from them we found that the chemical additives package was completely different from the Finland-made machines. It took us a year to find out what the factory fill was for the latest machines – and then it turned out that this oil wasnt available in the U.S. So we use our in-house experience and go with that. Its not the best solution but, fortunately, it has worked.

He went on, OEMs do things differently from each other and our inventory of equipment includes products from Korea, Japan, China, Netherlands, Scandinavia as well as the U.S. Some machines have the hydraulic systems integrated with the brake systems and use the same oil, while others are separated. So, different configurations of oil are required and you never get the best possible solution; its often a compromise.


There arent many places in the United States (or the world, for that matter) more green than Portland. The community is often at the forefront of environmental initiatives, which the Port takes very seriously.

There is a certain amount of stewardship which we all need to have and we look at our petroleum products to see where we can use a better product, Maracle said. For example, we use food-grade lubes wherever we can, including in the container beams on the cranes and in the primary hydraulic system on the newest crane and yard tractors. Although ultra-low-sulfur diesel (ULSD) is not mandatory for off-road equipment until 2010, Terminal 6 began using it two years ago, in January 2005. I began using ULSD early because it was the responsible thing to do, said Maracle. We were the first place to use ULSD in Portland. Since the Port of Portland is very politically involved environmentally, it was a way to demonstrate that a public agency had gone out of its way at some additional cost to help with clean air. It was the right thing to do and we got some kudos.

This attentiveness carries over to day-to-day interaction with workers, a very sensitive area because none of the workers who implement Maracles directives work under his direct supervision. The Port contracts its workforce through Marine Terminals Corp., an Oakland, Calif., based cargo-handling services company, and all the workers here are members of the International Longshoremens and Warehousemens Union. Direct supervision comes through MTC and the union, which are very aware of their authority. In fact, union members carry out all shop and terminal operations.

When I need something done we talk about it, said Maracle, and they usually respond. Its a give-and-take relationship but things get done and we are able to keep all the wheels turning. When we did the test for the lift chains, for example, the union and their members were fully supportive.

Maracle wrapped up by citing two f words: This job is frustrating and fascinating. From the smooth way that Terminal 6 operates, he might also have added first-class.

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