Bad Lubricants: 11 Easy Ways to Avoid

Wed, 01/03/2007 - 7:37am
Kevan Slater, director of services for Schematic Approach
Try these easy maintenance techniques for sealing, storing, and sheduling your lubricants away from contamination.

Pull-out box Seal it tight. Know consumption and emergency rates. Schedule delivery time. Implement FIFO. Maintain condition of your storage facility. Rotate according to shelf life. Regulate temperature and humidity. Store lubricants indoor. Put a label on it. Shake up stored lubricants. Routinely analyze new oils.

There’s a vicious catch 22 going on in industry today and without change, more and more operations will continue to suffer needless consequences, despite good intentions.

The situation is this: Every day maintenance personnel in plants across North America fill or top off systems with new lubricants. Their objective is to positively impact the life and performance of their equipment. Yet, unknowingly they often add bad lubricants containing particulate, chemical and moisture contaminationnot exactly what they had in mind. The solution: Reconsider your lubrication storage and handling procedures.

Poor in-plant storage happens to the best of companies, often lying, deep down at the root of these occurrences. Just as you consider bearings, gears or valves, working components in mechanical systems, lubricants are no different. You wouldn’t think to install a dirty or damaged bearing on a piece of equipment using the wrong tools so why should you add "damaged" lubricants to your machines.

Begin with proper in-plant storage and handling. To make sure your lubricants and machines aren’t at risk, try the following storage tips:

Seal it tight. Lubricants are packaged in many different forms to satisfy a variety of consumption rates and storage facilities. The four main industrial lubricant packages are pails (20 liters), drums (200 liters), totes (1600 liters) and bulk tanks. To select the right packaging for your needs, ask yourself the following questions:

Know your average consumption rate and what you may need in case of emergency. Based on your historical consumption rates, you should be able to determine your average consumption over a period of time. Are you prepped for emergency refills? Maintain a safety stock that accounts for emergency refills and delivery delays.

Schedule standard delivery time. Depending on the lubricant type, manufacturer and your plant location, average delivery can range from one day to two weeks. Some specialty fluids require even greater lead times. Make sure you know the typical delivery time when estimating ideal lubricant storage volumes. The quicker the delivery, the less you will need on-hand.

Implement FIFO. Your storage space will help you determine which package types and volumes you can physically store. Try to ensure that a first-in/first-out (FIFO) inventory and usage system can easily be accommodated within your space limitations.

Maintain condition of your storage facility. Storage environment and storage methods can greatly affect lubricant shelf life. As a rule of thumb, a clean and dry room with a steady, moderate temperature combined with proper storage racking will maximize lubricant shelf life. A dirty, moist environment with fluctuating temperatures will greatly reduce expected shelf life.

Rotate according to shelf life. Most lubricants have supplier recommended shelf lives based largely upon the lubricant's additive package. For example, lubricants containing rust inhibitors may lose performance after as little as six months in storage. Conversely, some turbine fluids with a light additive dose may be shelved for up to three years. Shelf life information is available from your lubricant supplier and/or manufacturer for each product used. Try a FIFO rotation of stored fluids to ensure lubricant storage life is not accidentally exceeded.

Regulate temperature and humidity. Temperature fluctuations will cause movement of air between the atmosphere and the headspace of the container (thermal siphoning). For partially full containers with greater headspace, this air movement is increased. Although the drum is sealed and won’t leak, a rigid container still inhales air when the temperature drops and exhales as the temperature rises. Along with the air, moisture and small airborne particles enter the oil container possibly leading to degradation of the base stock and additives. Also, water might condense within the drum, drop to the bottom and get pumped to the machine during a top-off. Keep it steady, moderate. Extreme hot or cold can cause chemical degradation. As mentioned earlier, rust inhibitors may suffer significant performance losses after only six months of normal storage. Depending upon the formulation, a rust inhibitor may have poor solubility in base oils leading to precipitation during storage. This precipitation is greatly accelerated during cold storage. If it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Petroleum-based lubricants are hygroscopic. When exposed to humid air, they naturally absorb airborne moisture. The moisture immediately begins to degrade the additive package and accelerates oxidation of the lubricant's base stock once it’s put into service.

Store lubricants indoor. Whenever possible, lubricants should be stored indoors. Pails, drums and totes must be stored in a clean and dry location where temperatures should remain moderate at all times. In addition, you should keep the lubricants away from dust and humidity. If lubricants must be stored outdoors, track lubricant consumption carefully and replenish inventories "just-in-time" to minimize exposure to adverse conditions. Always shelter them from rain, snow and other elements and lay drums on their sides with the bungs in a horizontal (3 and 9 o'clock) position below the lubricant level.

Once opened, protect it well. Once the seal is broken and the container is put into use, make sure you’re using the proper pressure relief to control contamination ingress. For bulk tanks, use filter breathers are a must. Drums and pails should be capped when not in use and if your drums are frequently used, bung breather filters may be your best solution.

Put a label on it. Two common consequences of lubricant mismanagement are cross contamination and lubricant confusion. To avoid this, clearly label and stencil the proper product identification. Beware of labeling methods that are not legible or may wear out over time and take extra care in labeling containers that must be stored outdoors since the elements may damage the label.

Shake up stored lubricants. Before dispensing stored lubricants in cases of storage stability risk, agitate them on a drum tumbler to re-suspend additives that may have fallen out during storage to ensure consistency in additive concentration. Use oil analysis to confirm the oil is in proper condition for service.

Routinely analyze new oils. In many cases, new oil is the dirtiest oil in the plant. The containers used to store lubricants are often reused and may be subjected to many extreme conditions before they reach your plant. To make things worse, lubricant manufacturers are not required to ensure cleanliness of the lubricant they provide unless it is advertised as meeting a specified cleanliness rating. Routine analysis of new oils should be employed to ensure effective contamination control from small and large particles that hide inside.

Kevan Slater is the director of services for Schematic Approach Inc., a subsidiary of Trico Mfg. Corp. and a leading company dedicated to the condition assessment and asset management of rotating equipment. Kevan has spent the last decade as a senior technical consultant developing, advocating and implementing technical, business and operating strategies for improving the reliability of industrial equipment for numerous companies throughout North America. For information about Schematic Approach or to schedule a consultation, visit

Handle Lubricants with Care

Avoid contaminating circumstances while dispensing lubricants

To remove chances for contamination during critical top ups or oil changes, consider the following lubricant dispensing tips for your routine: • Make sure you use the proper transfer equipment when moving the lubricant from storage to machine. Whether you are topping off your system directly or filling a smaller portable container, it’s vital that the lubricant is filtered.

• Cycle your oil through a high efficiency filter element with a beta rating matching your equipment requirements. If your storage method exposes the lubricant to moist environments, a two-stage filtering with water-absorbing filter element should do the job.

• When transferring lubricants to portable containers, avoid using galvanized containers. The additive in the lubricant may react with the zinc plating, forming metal soaps that clog small openings and orifices in industrial machinery.

• Avoid using open or dirty containers for transfer purposes. Use properly identified, capped containers for low volume transfers.



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