For a complete and proper lubrication program to work effectively and provide the most return on investment, every step must be considered, from receiving to application. Throughout the way, there are missed opportunities to increase equipment productivity and reliability and to maximize the returns of investing in a professionally designed lubrication program. One of the biggest and most costly missed opportunities is proper lubricant storage and handling. With the advancements of technology in the lubricant storage area, you can find just about any type of storage device to suit your needs, whether it is a pail or a full rack-mounted storage/filtration system.

Many facilities are unaware of the danger that improper lubricant storage practices create and what inevitable fate it will lead to in terms of equipment reliability and life cycles. Proper lubrication is not only about the right amount at the right time at the right place; it also is about keeping lubricants clean, cool and properly identified. The following sections will outline best practices for lubricant storage and handling.

Figure 1. A hard-plumbed filtration system works best in conjunction with a rack-mounted storage system.

Bulk Storage and Handling of Oil

The first area of a lubricant storage and handling system that requires attention is bulk storage. Whether storing lubricants in a 10,000-gallon tank or in 55-gallon drums, it is very important to ensure that the lubricant’s quality is not tainted by contamination or additive settling. To ensure that lubricants stay in an optimal condition, determine how much lubricant should be stored at one time. To aid in this process, certain steps can be employed, such as:

1) Determine lubricant consumption rate. Consumption will vary greatly depending on industry and equipment type. To ensure that the right lube quantities are being stored at a facility, you must determine the consumption rate. There are many factors that contribute to consumption, ranging from leaks to excessive drain-and-fill tasks.

2) Determine lubricant storage capacity. The required lubricant storage capacity depends on consumption, but often, there are too little or too many lubricants stored at one time. The proper storage capacity should maximize shelf life but allow for a certain percent excess of critical lubricants to be stored for emergency situations.

3) Determine lubricant supplier turnaround time. A lubricant supplier’s turnaround time should be a metric used to aid in determining the quantity of lubricants stored. If there is a short time interval between deliveries, fewer lubricants can be stored on site; but if there is a lengthy time interval between deliveries, the quantity of lubricants stored on site should account for this.

Once you determine the consumption rate and storage capacity, decide what type of storage containers will be used. A correctly sized storage container is a direct reflection on the consumption rate and storage capacity. If a large consumption rate is determined, a bulk storage tank may yield the best results; but if a low consumption rate is determined, a rack-mounted storage system or 55-gallon drums may yield the best results.

Figure 2. This is a good example of proper drum storage for indoor and outdoor applications.

Whichever storage container you choose, it is best practice to filter the new oil after the storage system is filled. Doing so will reduce the amount of contamination that came with the new oil. Perform periodic filtration and agitation to maintain certain ISO cleanliness levels and prevent additive settling. Periodic filtration is a good practice to ensure that clean, fresh oil will be used to perform top-ups and drain-and-fill tasks. The two primary methods for filtration of bulk stored oils are a hard-plumbed filtration system and a filter cart. The hard-plumbed filtration system works best in conjunction with a rack-mounted system (Figure 1), and filter carts work best with drums (Figure 2).

Notice from Figure 1 that each container is fitted with a breather, sight glass, filter, lubricant label, quick-connect fittings and dedicated dispensing line. This system will ensure that the lubricants are at an optimal condition when they are needed and that the right product for the application is dispensed.

When using 55-gallon drums, the same approach can be taken for contamination control. Each drum can be outfitted with breathers, sight glasses, quick-connect fittings, etc. Perform filtration on a periodic schedule using dedicated filter carts for each lubricant type. Figure 2 is a good example of proper drum storage for indoor and outdoor applications.

Once the bulk storage system is properly set up, consider the method for transporting oil and filling machines. The best top-up method utilizes a proper top-up container, one that is sealed from the environment, has a built-in spout, hand pump, etc. (Figure 3). If short cuts are taken at this stage, the time and effort spent building and designing the bulk storage system and ensuring the quality of bulk oil with filtration will have been wasted. Too many times, oil is highly contaminated from the time it is dispensed into the top-up container to the time it is added to the machine.

Also, when the stored oil is transferred from the bulk storage system to the top-up container, it is best practice to filter the dispensing oil. This can be made easy with the use of a hard-plumbed filtration system and a rack-mounted storage system, as in Figure 1 fitted with dedicated dispensing nozzles. If using 55-gallon drums, install quick-connect fittings, a hand pump and an inline filter to achieve the same goal.

Figure 3

Storage, Handling of Grease

Grease storage is much simpler than oil storage due to the lack of transportation and contamination hazards. Grease tubes are sealed from the factory and remain contaminant-free until put into service. Once grease is opened and put into service, whether it is by a grease gun or automatic grease system, properly re-store it, if needed, to minimize contamination. One method is to use grease storage containers. These containers are good at taking partially used grease tubes and keeping them clean and fresh.

Another way to store grease cartridges, new or used, is within a storage cabinet (Figure 4). Even when storing used cartridges in a storage cabinet, you should utilize the grease storage containers. Storage cabinets are good devices to ensure that grease cartridges and other top-up containers are kept away from contamination and physical damage. Also, correctly set-up storage cabinets promote ease of use by making top-up containers and grease tubes readily accessible.

Grease and Oil Life Cycles

For both oil and grease, be aware of their respective shelf life. Exceeding OEM shelf life may render the product useless or severely hamper its performance. For this reason, it is best to use the First-In, First-Out (FIFO) method. This simply requires the maintenance professional to first use the lubricants that were put into the storage system first. This will ensure that lubricants do not accidentally exceed their recommended shelf life.

Figure 4. Cabinets provide a great place to store grease cartridges.

Labeling and Identification

Lubricant labeling is an often-overlooked aspect of storage and handling. Labeling is just as critical as periodic filtration. Without proper labeling, it is easy for lubricant cross-contamination to occur. Lubricant cross-contamination is a result of mixing two lubricants together and can yield a devastating result. This happens more often in the dispensing equipment than the bulk storage equipment.

A labeling system is a simple concept, but it can be difficult to implement and maintain. You must determine how to label each corresponding lubricant. It can be a color-coded system, an alphanumeric system that depicts important performance data about the lubricant, or a combination of both.

Any labeling system can ensure that the right lubricant is used at the right location and prevent cross-contamination. But in order to do this, the system must be kept consistent and up to date with current lubricants that are in use and being stored.