Lubricants are a critical component to any machine, engine, or tool. How you manage and store the lubricants is as important, if not more so than the actual lubricant selection. In controlled situations, higher quality lubricants will consistently outperform their inferior counterparts. This difference is clearly seen in comparisons of oil-based lubricants (Group I-III) and synthetic lubricants (Group IV – V). However, controlled tests are not going be perfectly replicated in the work environment. Proper storage and monitoring can be the difference between high performance and early breakdowns.
The shelf life for lubricants depends on a variety of factors such as: base oil, additives and thickeners. It is often best to consult the manufacturer to determine the shelf life for your lubricants. Regardless of the lubricant’s shelf life, it will never be actualized if it is not stored properly. This leads to many problems on the manufacturing floor that have a major impact on the bottom line. This can lead to increased costs, machine breakdowns and lower-than-expected productivity.
Consistency is Key
What is the key characteristic for storage best practices? Consistency. By having consistent and routine storage practices, you will have the confidence that your lubricants will perform up to manufacturer’s stated standards. A consistent and controlled environment can also help you diagnose and remedy issues that may arise in your lubricant. For example, if your oil analysis shows that there are higher levels of moisture, you can more effectively diagnose the root cause of moisture. In poor conditions, there are many factors that can affect moisture found in oil-based lubricants, but controlled environments eliminate many of these root causes or isolate them to one-off instances (e.g. a loose oil cap, a small leak or the occasional spill).
Creating the Ideal Environment
The best way to ensure an optimal environment is to dedicate a room solely for lubricant storage. The room should be climate controlled thus protecting lubricants from the heat or the cold. As temperatures reach extremes on either end, the lubricant can breakdown and fall short on performance and shelf life. This is especially important with greases where low temperatures can affect additives. Indoor storage also protects lubricants from airborne moisture. Moisture in lubricants reduces reliability and performance and will lead to more machine breakdowns and downtime.
The storage room should be further away from any external entrance such as a shipping and receiving area or an employee exit. Lubricants near these areas are at risk to exposure outdoor weather and particle contamination. Particles in the lubricants must be filtered out or else machinery will experience greater wear and a reduce life expectancy. By storing lubricants away from shipping and receiving areas, this allows facilities to have less congested work areas and allow for efficient movement or parts, supplies, products and people.
What is the ideal environment for storing lubricants? We recommend a cool, dry area that protects the products from moisture and extreme temperatures. This means storing them in a room or floor area that is away from any external windows or doors, in a well ventilated area, and clearly separated from any workstation.
Improving Storage for End-Users
The lubricant storage room should efficiently use space, but also have the capability to expand. It is important to have all lubricants to be easily accessible so you can properly fill up the right amount of lubricant without spilling and potentially contaminating other lubricants. Many machine breakdowns occur when two incompatible lubricants are mixed. This error is preventable and the best way to ensure proper collection is to have clear and visible labels on each container. This includes having manufacturers labels clearly displayed, having color-coded labels to indicate product type, end-use or receiving date.
Another good idea is to organize containers based who uses them at their workstation. If one person uses the majority of a certain lubricant, it is sensible to store that product close to other products he or she may use. This creates an efficient process for people to collect their lubricants and reduces potential confusion and human error.
One of the greatest root causes of lubricant mismanagement and machine breakdown is human error. It happens to all of us. We are not perfect, but it is critical to strive to improve and implements rules and procedures to minimize these errors. Having properly tuned equipment ensures lubricants are properly measured out each time. Another good measure is to limit who has access to the lubricant room and ensure it is locked when not in use. When access is well controlled this reduces spillage, waste and in some cases, theft.
Theses some of the basic measures that can be taken to ensure a stable and consistent environment. We cannot control the weather, but we do have authority on the thermostat. Storing the lubricants in cool, dry area will ensure maximum shelf life. The additive packages will work properly and the performance you seek from a lubricant, will be realized and performance will improve.
Accidents happen and we learn from our mistakes. The most important thing to learn is preventing similar accidents in the future. This may involve changing processes, reworking access, or using different equipment. Making these changes ensure that mistakes are limited. It is important to regularly assess these processes ensure your lubricants are up to specifications and waste or damage is reduced. By following these best practices, your facility will be cleaner, organized and more efficient.