Store and Handle Lubricants Properly

EP Editorial Staff | September 11, 2015


Treat your lubricants well and they’ll return the favor in terms of your equipment and processes.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK), CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

The actual cost of a mechanical failure is rarely confined to a simple bearing repair/replacement. Lost opportunities and time associated with such events also come into play. Fortunately, the majority of bearing failures are preventable by implementing low-cost, best-practice-driven lubrication-management programs. Getting the most from your lubricants calls for a cradle-to-cradle, lifecycle-management approach. Storage and handling is a key issue.

From cradle to cradle

A lubricant begins life as base oil refined from mineral crude or synthesized stocks. That base is then blended with various additives to create a proprietary product for delivery to market.

Moving from the refiner/manufacturer, the finished lubricant is transferred into bulk containers for its journey to a market supplier that offloads the bulk oil into its own storage tanks. The oil is then sold to the end user and delivered in pre-packaged pails and drums, or transferred, again, this time into a bulk container for delivery and transfer into the end user’s bulk-storage totes.

At the end user’s site, the product is then stored and transferred into smaller containers used to fill machine reservoirs. Once the lubricant is no longer deemed fit for use, it’s collected in select used-oil containers, classified, and stored before shipment to a re-refiner for recycling into clean, marketable oil stocks.

The problem with this process is understandable: Each time a lubricant is stored or transferred, it’s at risk for contamination by solids and water—both of which can be deadly for bearings.

Plants begin to exert a degree of control over the cleanliness of their lubricants by entering into delivery-acceptance agreements with suppliers. These agreements are extremely important with regard to bulk transfers. Having accepted a bulk delivery, a site gains control over the product’s cleanliness through its lubrication-management arrangements and practices, which should include maintaining the best storage and handling facilities possible.

World-class end-user storage and handling facilities let personnel treat lubricants with the respect they deserve, i.e., using simple, but effective, management processes from the time products are received, transferred, stored, and dispensed, until they are drained and collected for recycling. Regardless of its particular operations and budget, the following three-step-approach can help your site develop this type of facility.

1. Understand your lubrication requirements.

A basic tenet of lubrication management is to ensure the right lubricants are used for specific equipment and, more important, specific operating conditions—“right” being an engineered choice based on performance and economy. Choosing correctly is a specialized task best left to lubrication experts. Fortunately, virtually all major lubricant manufacturers and distributors offer lubricant consolidation services in which their engineers visit end-user facilities to determine the least number of lubricant types suited for a site’s working environments and engineering requirements. This type of service is critical to the success of lubrication-management programs.

Consolidation audits are frequently offered as a no-cost, value-added service in return for an exclusive lubricant-supply contract. A consolidation initiative can considerably reduce costs by reducing the amount of different products carried in stock. Depending on its particular equipment and processes, a plant stocking more than 20 lubricants could, conceivably, reduce that number by 60% as a result of a consolidation audit.

Throughout the consolidation process, all unwanted and unused open and closed lubricant containers should be collected for recycling, as only the consolidated lubricants are to be allowed on site once the program is activated.

2. Design and prepare your lubricant storage area.

In addition to a reduced list of lubricants for a site, a consolidation-audit report should provide information on use of the chosen products that, in turn, is relevant for designing adequate storage and handling operations, including:

  • Number of different lubricant products to be carried, stored, and dispensed
  • Anticipated usage amounts for each lubricant—used to recommend the most economical purchase and storage container size. These data are also used to determine the real-estate requirement for a three-to-six month supply of each lubricant and the type of filtering, dispensing, and transferequipment needed to ensure only contaminant-free products contact bearing-surface areas.
  • In-plant geography on where each lubricant is used—used to determine economical lube routes and the logistical requirements, i.e., number of lubrication technicians required, lube truck, forklift, lubricant-delivery equipment, and maps, schematics, or directions for getting the right lubricant(s) to the right machine(s).
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and staff-training requirements.

Use the following information to determine how best to design a lubricant storage-and-handling facility. Table I lists typical attributes that factor into acceptable designs, with best practice and reasonable alternatives highlighted.


Location/Size. As with any real estate, a good location is paramount when it comes to the logistics of receiving lubricants and dispatching them throughout the plant. (Larger plants may also require controlled satellite locations.) The ability to protect virgin-stock lubricants from the elements, including temperature extremes, is equally important. Large temperature swings promote moisture condensation in containers. Wind, rain, snow, and ice increase the risk of solid and water contamination. (Always be very careful when opening stored lubricant containers). All locations must be rated for—and large enough—to allow forklift traffic. Indoor locations must be temperature controlled, large enough to house 3 to 6 mo. of inventory, and offer an exterior wall for installation of a shipping-and-receiving-dock door.

Ventilation. Because lubricants discharge vapors that can be harmful if allowed to accumulate, good cross-flow ventilation from fresh-air units and exhaust fans is essential for indoor facilities. Enclosed outdoor facilities may require their own extraction/ventilation systems if, because of location, they can’t take advantage of prevailing-wind vents that are open to air and augmented by exhaust-fan units. (Note: Vents should be equipped with furnace-style filters.)

Fixtures. Based on lubricant turnover rates and storage-container economics, storage-and-handling facilities might contain 300-gal. poly totes for bulk-oil distribution, custom color-coded steel-tank bulk-oil storage and dispensing systems, drum racks designed to take palletized drums in an upright position, or drum-dispensing racks set on spill-control platforms with drums positioned on their sides with dispensing/metering valve systems. Pails that can be stacked on pallets (similar to drums) are appropriate solutions for storing less-used lubricants.

Transfer/Filtration Equipment. To move lubricants to machines, personnel must transfer them from one container to another in the most non-contaminable way possible using dedicated transfer/filter-cart-style dispensing units, in conjunction with dedicated closed-pour containers.

Spill Control. Best practice is to slope storage-room floors to a low-point drain where spilled product can be collected into an easily accessible common tank for recycling. Local spills can be managed with dry spill-absorbent prducts.

Safety. A permanently plumbed eyewash station is a must when dealing with petroleum-based products. Up-to-date MSDS binders and Standard Operating Procedures are to be posted at the entrance to the facility.

Stock Control. Most lubricants are only rated for a shelf life between 6 and 12 mo. Stock must be rotated on a regular basis following a first-in-first-out (FIFO) approach to inventory control. Past-due-date products should be returned to the supplier or recycled, and the stock purchasing/usage history evaluated and adjusted accordingly.

Waste-Oil Control. Mixed waste oil can be 10 times more expensive to ship off site than unmixed oil waste. Each lubricant used in the plant must have a dedicated collection tank/tote clearly marked for waste-lubricant type, the only exception being spilled oils. Used oil is likely transported to the site’s storage-and-handling facility in a number of different containers that need to be disposed of according to local municipal and state requirements. (Note: Oily rags can self-combust in a regular garbage can. Collect these rags in a marked, fireproof trashcan.)

Lubricant Identification. Having gone to the trouble of consolidating your lubricants, clearly denote dedicated areas in the facility for each and every lubricant by labeling them with large letters (2 to 3-in. high) to identify these products. Develop a plan or drawing of the facility, identifying locations of each lubricant and waste tank, and post at the facility entrance.

Processes and Procedures. Best practices are not only rooted in the design, but in sustainable operation of the facility. Be sure to develop, map out, and train all staff on all processes and procedures related to use of your lubricant storage-and-handling facility.

World-class, end-user storage-and-handling facilities let personnel treat lubricants with the respect they deserve. This well-designed layout incorporates features that make these activities easy. Courtesy: Des-Case Corp.

World-class, end-user storage-and-handling facilities let personnel treat lubricants with the respect they deserve. This well-designed layout incorporates features that make these activities easy. Courtesy: Des-Case Corp.

3. Pay attention to the paperwork.

To ensure your lubricant supplier provides the cleanest products possible, follow these simple rules before accepting bulk deliveries in your new storage-and-handling facility.

Insist on receiving a Certificate Of Analysis (COA) for each delivered lubricant, and keep this document on file until the batch has been used.

Never assume a lubricant is delivered according to its COA-document specification.

Execute a delivery-acceptance agreement that requires a supplier to provide lubricants based on COAs and/or a set of internal minimum-cleanliness guidelines (such as those noted in ISO 4406:1999), and viscosity specifications, within +/-10% of COA specification.

Establish an oil-quality-analysis test acceptable to your site and supplier(s), and develop a service-level agreement that outlines lubricant-condemnation levels and remedial-action requirements should, on delivery, a product fail this test.

Perform quality testing regularly, taking a bulk sample after the tanker truck lines have been flushed prior to transfer, and from the center of any supplier pre-filled containers.

Once preceding rules and the associated procedures are instituted, it becomes crucial to update all of the following systems, functions, and information:

  • The asset-management preventive-maintenance system, to reflect new lubricant choices on work orders
  • Machinery bill-of-materials information
  • The inventory section of the asset-management system, to reflect stocking of new lubricants
  • Lubricant labeling on equipment reservoirs, if applicable
  • MSDS manuals
  • Equipment manuals
  • Purchasing records.  MT

Lubrication expert Ken Bannister is principal consultant with EngTech Industries, Innerkip, Ontario. The author of Lubrication for Industry and the Lubrication Section of the 28th Edition of Machinery’s Handbook (both Industrial Press, South Norwalk, CT), he can be reached at kbannister@engtechindustries.com.

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