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Q&A with Brian Gleason at Des Case

Q: What is a desiccant breather?

It is a simple device that strips the surrounding air of contaminants both moisture and dirt to keep lubricants running clean and dry. It replaces the standard breather cap on gearboxes, pumps, hydraulic reservoirs, transformers and storage tanks

Q: What problems does a desiccant breather solve?

Desiccant breathers solve the problem of contamination ingress, which is a widespread dilemma affecting the quality of lubricants and related machinery. Dirt and water are the two most common, most serious failure culprits.

Q: What did people do to solve those problems before desiccant breathers?

Well, mostly they would change out oil more frequently, wasting thousands of dollars. Or they would try to drain off water and filter oil after the fact for about 10x the cost of preventing the contamination in the first place.

Also, shop rags as filters and open tube turn down pipes were used, albeit ineffectively.

Q: Does equipment have to be retrofitted to use a desiccant breather?

Most gearboxes, pumps, reservoirs, tanks and transformers have a simple ventilation cap that allow air to be exchanged as fluid levels change or temperatures increase or decrease. On these systems, desiccant breathers are easy to install with no modifications using one of several adapter options.

Q: How can users determine the financial benefits for installing desiccant breathers?

To demonstrate potential savings, Des-Case has created a very powerful, interactive electronic tool on our website. By answering a few key questions, users will have a compelling snapshot of how breathers can enhance operations as part of an overall reliability optimization program. The address is

A second way to measure effectiveness is to evaluate the lube life extension provided after breather use is initiated. Two caveats, the breather should be installed on a clean system and breathers must be monitored regularly and changed when color indicates. The fluid will typically last 3 to 4 times longer, making breather use simple to justify.

Q: Are there applications or environments where desiccant breathers should not be used?

Yes, applications in which temperatures are too extreme for the breather housing itself (i.e. blast furnaces). Standard vented breathers are not applicable for closed loop systems, instead use of hybrid/expansion chamber type breather is recommended. Sealed for life bearing applications are not applicable because grease is used as a lubricant. Certain fire resistant oils designed to hold water would not benefit from desiccant breather use, but would benefit from a non-desiccant, high-quality particulate filter breather.

Q: Does Des Case have to educate the end users about the benefits of using desiccant breathers or are many already aware?

Absolutely, it is the single most important thing we do each day. The learning curve is steep and is just taking off now that more emphasis is being placed on reliability optimization and lubrication excellence. Manufacturers are becoming more proactive, implementing best practices, analyzing failures, monitoring oil conditions, etc.All of these things contribute to breather sales, but the market is still relatively untapped.

A lot of unprotected systems remain and that's our job. We won't be happy until every single one is equipped with a contamination control breather.

Q: Can you tell us about one of your most satisfying Des-Case customer success stories?

A.E. Staley, one of the largest corn refiners in the United States, needed a way to extend the life of costly synthetic lubes. Breather use was the answer for its Loudon, Tenn., plant. Once a breather program was implemented, lubricants were lasting four times longer. By extending oil change intervals, hundreds of thousands of dollars were saved. After 20 years of use, the ROI has been astronomical.

Q: Is there any special training required to utilize desiccant breathers correctly?

No, but it is important to work with the distributor or manufacturer for proper sizing and to prevent misapplication.

Q: How can people learn more about desiccant breathers?

Consult with oil suppliers, most of which now offer breathers as part of their overall lube program; discuss the benefits with oil analysis labs or reliability consultants; read articles or attend classes on contamination control. And please visit the Des-Case website at or call to speak to one of our experts.

Editors Note: Sometimes the simplest things can have the most dramatic effect on Reliability. Contamination control solutions in lubrication and fluid power systems are one of the most important foundational elements that ensure machinery reliability. Installing desiccant breathers are a perfect example of starting your reliability program with practical steps that can have an immediate and beneficial impact.

Terrence O'Hanlon

Terrence O’Hanlon, CMRP, and CEO  of® and Publisher for Uptime® Magazine, is an asset management leader, specializing in reliability and operational excellence. He is a popular keynote presenter and is the coauthor of the book, 10 Rights of Asset Management: Achieve Reliability, Asset Performance and Operational Excellence.

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