Designing the Optimum Lubricant Storeroom

Without lubrication, industry would grind to a halt. It is a fact that the cogs of industry rotate around a well-oiled operation, literally.

Therefore, it is fair to say that an oil storage room should be of the same high standards as a presidential suite - not lacking in anything. Then why is it that most oil storage rooms are often located in some dark and unused area of the plant that nobody else wants? Why aren’t they treated as the crucial hub to production, and granted the every need they deserve?

If improving your oil storage area is not on your list of priorities, then it should be. Whether you are a low-volume lubricant user, or a large plant, this article is intended as a guide to setting up an efficient and well-organized oil storage room. It addresses many of the minor issues often overlooked, which as a whole, form an important and crucial part of a good lubricant storage area.

Storage Locker for Oil Cans and Top-up Containers

When drawing plans to revamp the oil store, it is important to consider the amount of space needed, the furniture and benches, provision for storage, lighting, power and ventilation, and above all, to ensure the ergonomics of it all. Making the work area and procedures as simple and as painless as possible will encourage ownership and enthusiasm in the store, and ensure proper lubrication. Because several people may be involved in the storeroom, consistency in the procedures and housekeeping is critical to good management.

Each person is essential to the overall success of the storeroom’s design. Therefore, it is imperative that the work area is laid out properly, and to avoid unwittingly contaminating stock, that good housekeeping is practiced at all times. The storeroom will be a showcase, the hub of an efficient operation if successful, and should look presentable at all times. Visitors and colleagues should feel that an oil store is as ‘cool’ as any other crucial work area.

Intermediate Bulk Container Tote Bins
Figure 2. Intermediate
Bulk Container Tote Bins

Do You Need an Oil Storage Room?

Whether you run a small automotive workshop or a large power station or open cast mine, an adequate storage area for lubricants, lubrication equipment and supplies is necessary. For some, this may simply be an appropriate cabinet or locker (Figure 1); for others, it may be bulk storage with pumped dispensing systems (Figure 2).

What is common to both is the need to ensure the basics of avoiding outdoor storage, providing adequate racking for the containers, providing suitable handling and dispensing systems, as well as disposal arrangements. More important is the need to comply with Health and Safety regulations and ensure that all members of the staff are trained in fire-fighting and spillage procedures; no organization wants the stigma of a disaster on its track record.

Addressing Health, Safety and Environmental Issues

The work area is critical to the smooth operation of the service. The comfort of the lubrication technician is important because of the somewhat hazardous nature of the store and the job. Giving ownership to the individual will help develop interest in the job at hand. This may involve the individual in playing an active role in the design and functionality of the area. Apart from the comfort of the lubrication technician, it is also important that the storeroom is maintained at a constant room temperature with adequate ventilation.

Ventilation is important to avoid the build-up of lethal fumes that pose a fire and health risk. Ensuring maximum shelf life of the lubricants is just as important. The store should be dry to avoid contaminating the oil with the ingress of moisture. It is worth requesting a Materials Safety Data Sheet for each lubricant to keep in the storeroom for quick reference, and more importantly, for the lubrication technician to check before handling the lubricant.

The ergonomics of the physical layout should be considered. Because each operation has unique circumstances with respect to lubricant types and consumption, ergonomics will be achieved over time, and improvements can be made along the way. In addition to the obvious shelving or racking for the storage of oil containers, there should be a workbench with sufficient surface to allow for dispensing and handling tools. 

Obviously, warning signs are necessary to communicate the danger of the fluids in these containers; smoking and eating should be prohibited in this area. Work by the ISO working group will improve the labeling of lubricants, providing a more consistent and global system. Fire extinguishers should be available, although the type of lubricants stored will dictate exactly what form is required. As mentioned earlier, all staff should receive appropriate training in the correct handling of these units.

A first-aid kit and eye wash solution should be kept on hand, and staff should be trained on their use. If possible, a small sink with both hot and cold water should be available, along with quality hand soap. In addition to the company policy on hard hats and safety shoes, safety glasses, eye wash and safety gloves should be available for use at all times when working in the plant. Any safety charts with explanations of warning symbols or procedures “in the event of” should be displayed around the lube store.

Nonslip flooring should be installed for safety reasons. This will allow for easy clean-up and is impenetrable to oil spillage. A concrete floor looks unsightly after a short period, is difficult to sweep, and could contribute to airborne contaminant. Likewise, the walls should be painted or tiled to minimize cleaning and dust release.

Most companies now participate in ISO 14001 and have access to an expert in these matters regarding their lubricant types and local conditions or circumstances.

The oil storage room must comply with local and national laws regarding the environment, and may even contribute to the measurements used in attaining and maintaining the organization’s “green” status. Therefore, space for disposal of used oils must be considered, whether storing them for removal by a contractor or for reclamation on-site.

It is also important to consider any drains that may run under or near the lubricant storage room, because a spill could possibly contaminate local water sources. This may require special drainage within the storeroom. Special containment sacks should be available at all times to prevent a spillage from seeping into drains and should be placed not just in the storeroom but around the site. The environmental officer will be able to identify critical areas where this might be an issue.

Signs, labels and tags on the containers and piping used to dispense oil should be adequately descriptive and well-placed. Any individual working with lubricant storage and distribution systems should be familiar with such conventions. Training, work instruction sheets and signage are crucial.

Dispensing Systems

Depending on the nature of the business, a simple cabinet (Figure 1) may suffice for the storage of the small containers (less than 6.6 gal./25 L). Even in this small area, it is important to ensure it is indoors and protected against airborne contaminants such as dust and moisture.

Stock rotation (Figure 3) is just as crucial for small container storage as is inventory control. Too little stock on hand and machines may operate with too little lubrication. Too much stock and the lubricant may degrade beyond its useful life before it reaches the machine.

First In First Out
Figure 3. First In, First Out. Use products in same sequence as they arrive.

Next, some sort of dispensing container is required to get the lubricant into the system (Figure 4). Proper oil cans are designed to exclude extraneous contaminant. They have spouts that dispense oil inside the machine and not outside. While the human eye may not see any contaminant, and thus assume that new oil is clean oil, particles of silica from the dust in the atmosphere or from production activities can have a serious impact on the wear rates of the equipment.

In larger operations, the use of 55-gal. U.S. (208 L) drums is often the norm. Indoor storage is crucial for this arrangement. The shelving should allow the drums to be stored on their sides with the bungs at three and nine o’clock to ensure an airtight seal. Outdoor storage is not recommended because water accumulates on the top of the drum. This can lead to corrosion and water ingression, causing lubricant damage. Carts should be available for moving the drums from the delivery point to the racks.

Oil Transfer Containers
Figure 4. Transfer Containers

When several tiers of shelving are used, appropriate equipment such as a drum stacker should be readily available for lifting to higher levels (Figure 5). Some oilers prefer to dispense manageable amounts from drums into smaller 0.6-gal. U.S. (2.27 L) containers.

However, some sites require that the drum be taken to the filling point, and appropriate handling equipment must be available, because they exceed 400 lbs. (200 kg) when full. While the most common method of dispensing oil from the drum is to use a hand crank pump, this allows contamination in the drum to be dispensed into the system.

More proactive organizations now use a filter cart, which may be capable of carrying the drum plus drum pumping and filtering the oil as needed. These are recommended where it is necessary to dispense from the drum directly into either a smaller container or the machine.

The use of drums should be restricted to one type of oil to avoid cross-contamination, particularly where it is replenished on a regular basis from a bulk store. Use caution when standing a drum at any time, because it is possible for a sharp object, such as a nut or stone, to pierce the bottom of the drum, causing spillage.

Drum Stacker
Figure 5. Drum Stacker

Where a site has a high throughput of a few lubricant types, then the ultimate oil store is a bulk container area with distribution piping to the required areas. Several points must be considered when identifying an ideal location for a storage room.

Tankers should be able to easily access drums and electricity for the pumping units. The bulk containers may be stationery - with a tanker replenishing the lubricant, or the container may be portable - delivered, hooked up, used and then removed for refill.

If a suitable roofing structure cannot be provided, containers should be designed to avoid water settling on the tops of the containers; preferably, these should be designed with domed tops. In addition, containers may need quality desiccant breathers to avoid dust and moisture ingression.

Sight glasses or level gauges will help technicians know when to reorder lubricants. Sampling points on stored containers allow analysis to be performed at regular intervals to ensure quality of the stored lubricant. Provisions should be made for cleaning the containers at regular intervals.

The area will require adequate drainage for catching spillage or leakage, and environmental concerns must be considered. Ideally, the pumping station and dispensing points should include filtration units to ensure clean delivery of the oil to the system, and may include flow meters for the management of lubricant consumption in each area.