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Chances are, if you work in an industrial setting, you have someplace where you store lubricants. It might be an old shipping container, a sectioned-off part of a warehouse or even a collection of pallets outside and a few lockers. Wherever you choose to store lubricants, there are a few things to consider to keep the lubricants safe and healthy until you put them into use. The full list of everything you should do for storage can be pretty exhaustive, so here are the top five things to remember when it comes to lubricant storage.
We know lubricants should be kept clean, cool and dry to maximize their life while in use, but this rule also extends to their life while in storage. Poor ventilation and high humidity can easily cause temperatures of 120°F on a hot day in a warehouse, and the outside surface temperatures of those shipping containers can reach over 190°F if left in direct sunlight all day. These temperatures will prematurely age your oils and cause the oil in grease to bleed more prevalently. (Ever wonder why that case of grease looks like someone dipped it halfway into water? That’s the oil bleeding out.)
I know, “but our lubricants come with labels on them.” The purpose of a labeling system is to make it easy to identify lubricants at a glance. Color and shape labels for lubricants work exceedingly well for this. For example, if I have a specific gear oil marked with a blue cup-shaped label (ideally, all the equipment compatible with this oil would have the same label), I don’t have to think about it - I know at a glance what I have in there. Labeling is particularly handy with greases. Grease tubes and guns get slathered with grime and dirt, and when we wipe them down, it often seems like the OEM labels get wiped away with all the goop we are trying to get rid of. A good label can save your bacon when it comes to knowing what grease is in what tube.
Storage cabinets are great for several reasons. They give us a place for things to live, and if you take the time to plan your storage and establish an organized system of where things go, you can open that cabinet anytime and instantly know if you are short on supplies or if something is missing. Not only that, but storage cabinets help us achieve the whole “clean, cool and dry” aspect that we are always trying to accomplish with our lubricants. I have rarely been in any manufacturing environment that wasn’t fighting off dust at the least, and these cabinets give us that clean place for our lubricants and equipment to live.
I have walked into so many “lube rooms” where there was absolutely no place to perform required tasks. A lube room should be more like a lubrication-centric maintenance bay/store area. Just having a place to shove our lubricants isn’t enough; we need a place to get work done in a clean environment. Filling the bowls for constant level oilers isn’t something that should be done on the manufacturing floor - you need a designated place to do it, and you need a working surface to do it on. How about a place for a computer? We need to track our PMs, make notes, order supplies, research products and all sorts of other things. Making the lube room a real working location with storage and working surfaces will save significant time in the long run and let you do your job better and faster.
Proper headspace management on equipment is one thing, but we need to make sure that our oils are kept safe the entire time they are with us. This starts with the initial storage. Desiccant breathers are an easy way to ensure we are doing our part to prevent particle and moisture ingression while those lubricants are sitting in their temporary storage. If you have large bulk storage containers and go through a lot of oil, take it a bit further and get desiccant breathers with the check valves in them. They might cost 25% more than the cheap ones, but they are going to last you twice as long.
I won’t sugarcoat it - building a world-class lube storage room is a hefty investment of time and resources. Depending on your plant’s unique situation (budget, facilities, crew, etc.), it can take anywhere from a month to an entire year. However, those who are able to commit to improvement and implement all the above will gain measurable results in the form of cleaner oil, greater efficiency and a more robust workplace culture.