Industrial lubricant storage: Six common mistakes

Understand how to avoid contamination and confusion.

By Chris Fisk June 10, 2016

Industrial lubricants aren’t something most manufacturers think much about. However, industrial lubricants affect many of the most costly areas of a manufacturing operation: machine downtime, disposal costs, parts failure and labor costs.

As industrial machines have become more sophisticated, lubricant requirements have become more stringent. Any amount of contamination found in a machine’s lubricant often results in downtime and increased product and labor costs as the lubricant is dumped and recharged. Plus, parts may potentially need to be replaced.

But these unexpected instances can happen less often—even not at all—by avoiding these common mistakes.

Common mistakes

Here are six common mistakes in storing industrial lubricants:

1. Using contaminated containers

The most frequent mistake companies make is transferring industrial lubricants in dirty containers. Dust and debris from the container immediately contaminate the lubricant. The dust and debris are then transferred to the machine where it acts like sandpaper, damaging the machine and surface finishes.

Reusing the same containers without thoroughly washing them can also contaminate industrial lubricant. Hydraulic oil and gear oil may look the same, but the components that comprise each oil are different. When combined, the oils can counteract and damage each other. You see the effects of contaminated lubricants when a residue called varnish appears on the machine’s parts. If severe enough, it can damage the hydraulic systems and gearboxes. One company unknowingly added contaminated lubricant to its system, damaging the servo valve and pumps. The contamination caused the pump to fail twice in six months. It wasn’t until they reviewed their lubricant-storage practices that they realized the pump failures were unnecessary.

2. Storing lubricants outside

Never store your lubricant outside. Temperature changes cause the air volume in the storage container to change. As temperatures fall, air condenses and can pull in moisture if drums are stored vertically outdoors. This puts your lubricants at an increased risk of oxidizing before being put into service. The best place to store your industrial lubricants is inside in a dry, clean area at ambient temperature.

3. Not using color-coded, transparent containers

The best system for industrial-lubricant storage is to use sealed containers with color-coded lids. Each color represents a type of lubricant. This prevents accidental cross-contamination.

4. Not identifying fill points on the machine

To ensure that the correct product is used, fill points on machines should be color-coded as well, matching the color of the storage units. This is especially vital for machines using many products with multiple fill points. One manufacturer didn’t mark the fill points in its machines properly. A new employee went to fill a way-lube reservoir. The employee didn’t realize there was more than one fill point and only filled one. The machine ran out of way lube, which caused damage to the ways. Color-coded fill points could have prevented a $10,000 repair.

5. Failing to flush the line after a contamination

If you’re replacing all the fluid in a machine, use a dedicated pump and hose. If you don’t have a dedicated pump or hose, then you need to flush the line out before using it. Flushing requires double the volume the line can carry. If it can carry two gallons of product, then flush four gallons through it. (But never use the same pump with oil-based lubricant and water-based products.) One crane company mistakenly filled a hydraulic reservoir with antifreeze coolant and pumped it through a $1 million machine. They drained the reservoir and refilled it with brand-new hydraulic fluid. However, when they started the crane, it was further damaged because there was a mix of lubricants and antifreeze in the cylinders. Why? Because they didn’t have a dedicated pump and hose.

6. Not using the oldest purchased lubricant first

You know how the grocery store always put the oldest food in the front of the shelf? You should practice the same with stored lubricant. This saves you money from having to throw out expired industrial lubricants. Most lubricants have a shelf life of two to five years. By using proper storage containers and implementing a few simple, inexpensive processes, you can prevent costly and unexpected downtime from lubricant contamination.

Chris Fisk is vice president and general manager at Acculube, a Dayton, Ohio-based fluids supplier to U.S. manufacturers and service providers.