Lubrication Storage And Handling Tips For World-Class Contamination Control

EP Editorial Staff | June 2, 2010


Contamination never quits, nor should you when it comes to fighting it. Revisiting and, perhaps, rethinking how your site stores and handles new lubricants is a great way to strengthen your punch.

Developing and implementing a world-class contamination-control program is a sizable undertaking that usually requires significant modifications to machinery—as well as changes in procedures and methodologies that can take years. You don’t need to wait that long, though. To quickly punch up your facility’s contamination-control efforts, make sure you’re storing and handling new lubricants correctly.

Is new oil clean?
No. Typically, new lubricants are unsuitably dirty for most applications. There are, of course, exceptions: A few manufacturers offer a specified maximum particle count, and some suppliers filter bulk oil as it is dispensed. It is imperative that new oil be properly cleaned prior to use. A new drum of lubricating oil will often have a particle count of roughly 19/16/13 or higher. That means every cubic centimeter of oil in the drum contains between 2500 and 5000 particles that are at least 4 microns in diameter—that’s about one billion particles for the whole drum. How do you fight this contamination?


mj10descase2#1: Get it clean.
The first step is to filter “new” oil to an acceptable level—the method for doing so depends on the method of delivery. If the lubricant comes in drums, each drum can be filtered using a filter cart. Filtering new oil as it is applied to a reservoir or dispensed into a transfer container is an excellent and inexpensive way to ensure the oil’s cleanliness when it arrives at your site.

Another popular approach involves the use of a comprehensive lubricant management system like the one in the figure to the right. (This addresses a number of storage and handling issues at once). These systems can be configured with a wide range of options, including separate pumps and filters for different lubricants; high-quality desiccant breathers to prevent subsequent contamination to the fluid; fittings and spigots that minimize contamination; and flow meters to measure and track the amount of oil dispensed. Using such a system, users can easily clean new oil, maintain its cleanliness, prevent cross-contamination and track consumption by product type without having to engineer the process from scratch.

#2: Keep it clean.
Keeping oil clean is not difficult if you use the right tools. While it certainly helps to have an enclosed storage area with climate control, these elements are not essential for maintaining fluid-cleanliness. Common-sense measures, such as good housekeeping, wiping fittings, using dust covers, etc., go a long way in keeping dirt out of stored lubricants. The best way to prevent dirt and moisture from entering a tank or drum, though, is with a high-quality desiccant breather.

Remember this: When you remove five gallons of oil from a drum, you pull in five gallons of air. If that air is not clean and dry, the oil won’t be clean and dry. The desiccant breather prevents most particles and moisture from entering the drum. Quick-connect hydraulic fittings provide an effective means to remove and/or circulate the oil with a filter cart or drum topper without exposing the oil to the ambient atmosphere.

#3: Transfer it clean.
Keep in mind that it really doesn’t matter how well you filter your new oil or how clean it’s kept in storage if you dispense that oil into a dirty container. There are several acceptable options for delivering oil to machinery—some much better than others.

For large reservoirs, the best transfer method is to use fixed plumbing to pipe the machine-reservoirs to the storage tanks. This tactic, however, is only feasible for very large systems; it’s too expensive and impractical for small equipment. For other large systems or those with a moderate-size reservoir, the best method is usually to pump oil directly into the sump from a drum or tote tank using a filter cart.

Portable filter carts are one of the most versatile and effective tools available for lubricant transfers and decontamination. One important thing to remember when working with these carts is to use the right fittings on the equipment sumps to make the fluid transfer or decontamination efficient and effective. Additionally, it’s important to consider using units that are dedicated to specific oil types—thus preventing cross-contamination of lubricants and avoiding the labor-intensive process of flushing carts to switch products.

Some manufacturers allow you to color-code your filtration unit to help identify which cart should be used with a particular lubricant. As a side benefit, most users find that performing an oil change with a filter cart only takes about half as much time as doing the job with conventional methods.

Yet another filter cart option is to combine the storage tank and the filter cart. These types of “top-off” carts offer a convenient solution to performing oil changes and top-ups on small- to medium-size sumps. In addition to performing fluid transfers, they can be used as traditional filter carts for remediation tasks; this eliminates the need for separate units for transfer and filtration.

Finally, for those applications with very small sumps or those that are located in situations that make a filter cart or top-off cart impractical, standard oil cans are acceptable, as long as they meet certain criteria. A good-quality oil-transfer container should be plastic, sealable, color-coded or marked for product type—and it must be cleaned on a regular basis. (It should also have an opening large enough to allow the inside of the container to be cleaned effectively.)

When using top-off containers, remember to avoid funnels whenever possible. Many of the new containers utilize hand pumps that eliminate the need for funnels. Don’t forget to wipe the container nozzle and the fill port area on the reservoir before transferring the oil. Even a minute amount of material around the fill port can add millions or billions of particles to the oil in the reservoir.

It’s a knockout.
World-class contamination control can’t happen in the absence of good lubricant-handling practices. Any good storage and handling policy or system has several common elements: good filtration, high-quality breathers, filter carts and a highly conspicuous tagging or color-coding system to avoid cross-contamination of products. When these four items are addressed, the fight is almost over. LMT

Jarrod Potteiger is a product and educational services manager for Des-Case Corporation, headquartered in Goodlettsville (Nashville), TN. E-mail:; Internet:

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