Look Both Ways Before Lubricating That Machine!

Stephen Sumerlin, Noria Corporation

In today’s fast-paced industrial world, few people believe that they have time to correctly mark and identify where various lubricants should go and be stored. But, this is an important task! A good lubricant identification system (LIS) spans from the lube room to the application without any missing links. This means that you must label your lubricants, not just in the lube room and application but everything in between, such as grease guns, top-up containers, filter carts, etc. All must be labeled to correspond. If there is a single break in labeling communication, the risk of cross-contamination or wrong product usage increases. This article will describe, demonstrate and provide guidance on setting up a world-class lubricant identification system and show how a proper LIS will help in your lubricant consolidation and awareness efforts.

When establishing a proper LIS, there are many variables to consider, but three primary ones have the most impact: designing the labels, corresponding lubricant properties with label designs and implementation.

Figure 1. LIS Labels for Oil and Grease


There are many ways to design a label, whether it is using specific shapes, colors, icons, etc. But whichever method is used, it should remain consistent with every label. Using specific shapes is a great way to denote lubricant type (oil or grease). For example, use a square for oil and a circle for grease. This allows everyone to quickly identify which type of lubricant is used or stored in an application.

Use specific colors to denote different base oil types or performance properties. You could use a red border for a mineral base oil and a green border for a synthetic base oil, or a red border for non-food-grade lubricants and a green border for food-grade lubricants.

Using icons is a great way to denote lubricant usage. A leading contributor of cross-contamination and wrong lubricant usage comes from not knowing the application for which the product is used. Many times, gear oil is added to a hydraulic system or vice versa. An example of using shapes to denote lubricant usage by type is to use a gear to denote gear oil and a cylinder to denote hydraulic oil. This way, there’s no question as to the application for a lubricant.

You can use shapes and colors in combination, such as a colored border or fill, to denote certain performance properties. For example, extreme-pressure (EP) oil could have a solid blue fill and anti-wear (AW) oil could have a solid white fill. Shapes and colors are only limited by your imagination and available printing software.

Lubricant Properties

Denoting all of the lubricant properties with one label is challenging, but this typically can be handled in the design phase of the label. To properly denote the lubricant properties, you must first know what properties to denote. These properties are: lubricant type (oil or grease: if oil – hydraulic, gear, etc.; if grease – lithium complex, aluminum complex, etc.); NLGI grade (grease only); base oil viscosity; base oil type (mineral or synthetic); base oil classification (G1, G2, G3, etc.); and, performance properties (AW, EP, H1, etc.).

Properties are the essence of the lubricant and the first things that should be looked at when deciding which product to use in an application. Remember that viscosity is the most important physical property of a lubricant; therefore, it should be readily visible on your label design. The next most important is the performance properties – EP or AW. These establish the physical performance of the lubricant and how they relate to machine component protection; as a result, they also should be readily visible on the label.

The last vital property is base oil type. This is where cross-contamination issues can arise and have big consequences. Ensure that you aren’t mixing base oil types, especially if you know they are incompatible. Therefore, the label design should denote base oil type.


The implementation phase is where most mistakes are made. Such mistakes can have the greatest impact on the success or failure of the LIS. Many times, the design and lubricant property correlation have been well thought out and executed, but the thoughts of where to use and how to use the labels are not. Use the labels, from receiving to application and everything in between. Create labels for your lube room to use on bulk containers, cabinets, shelves, etc. Put corresponding labels on filter carts, grease guns, top-up containers, funnels, etc. And, match these labels to labels on the actual application. For instance, ensure that the label on the gearbox matches the label on the filter cart and bulk storage container. This way, the technician is sure that the right product is going in the right place.

A complete and correct LIS label should denote all available properties, usage and type of lubricant without sacrificing readability, which can be difficult to accomplish. You don’t want a label that is too information intensive, but you don’t want a label that is information poor, which could lead to costly mistakes. (See Figure 1.)

As stated previously, the implementation phase is just as important as (if not more important than) the actual label design phase. Implementation isn’t just about labeling the equipment; it’s about labeling everything from storage to application. Figure 2 shows a good example of label implementation within a lube room.

Figure 2. LIS Labels in Lube Room Implementation

Lubricant Consolidation

A good LIS also can help with consolidation efforts simply based on denoting the lubricant’s performance properties in a generic alphanumeric code. By doing this, you allow for a more complete viewing of current lubes and their properties, which allows for easy cross-referencing and consolidating. It’s difficult to consolidate lubes based solely on their names, but when considering their performance properties, the consolidation efforts are clearer and easier.

As you can see, there are many variables and options to think about and include in a complete LIS. Think of all affected variables – from lubricant type to layout and design. With a little research, knowledge and time, a world-class LIS is within your reach.

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