Maintenance: Lubes in the shop

When contractors decide its time to bring their maintenance in house one of the first questions they need to address is how to handle fluids in the shop – everything from engine lubes, to hydraulic oil, to coolants and grease.

Just as you need to be fast and efficient in moving dirt in the field, so also your technicians should be able to service and lube your machines quickly in the shop to minimize downtime and squeeze the most value out of your labor dollars.

That requires a fluid handling system correctly sized and designed for your specific needs. Unlike servicing cars and pickup trucks, which have relatively small sumps, big trucks can hold up to 12 gallons of engine oil and some types of heavy equipment take even more than that. This is no job for buckets and funnels.

Assessing your needs
Look around your shop. Are your people wasting time looking for space to store quarts and gallons of product and then losing more time disposing of the used containers? Is it hard to track inventory with all these small containers? Are you risking contamination by changing lubes manually? If so, says Bill Parker, director of petroleum equipment service distributors sales at Lincoln Industrial, you’re a prime candidate for a lube handling system.

The cost justification for setting up a lube handling system is simple, says Anne Brantley, product manager at Alemite, and relates to your maintenance costs. When you’re paying others more to do your maintenance than you would to buy your own lube handling equipment, then you need to consider doing it yourself. A set up for a typical heavy equipment shop may run $8,000 to $50,000, Brantley says, but with $8,000 you can set up four or five bays with multiple product reels in each.

Brantley cautions, however, that contractors wanting to set up their first lube handling station should avoid low-cost equipment. “If you pull a reel once a month, consumer grade equipment might be perfect,” she says. “But I would never recommend that for a contractor. He’s going to pull a hose reel or an air hose four times a day or more. He’s going to need good equipment.”

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Service, repair and warranty issues also come into play, she says. Professional grade equipment is sold through servicing dealerships. “If you have a problem, we’re going to send somebody to fix it,” she says. Additionally, the people who sell and service professional level equipment often have dedicated specialists who can help contractors design and set up their shops with the right products and the most efficient layout.

The basic elements
Reels and hoses: A standard reel has 50 feet of 1/2 -inch diameter hose on it. If you need the hose to go long distances or carry high volumes of fluid you may need a 75-foot reel or 3/4-inch diameter hose. For repairs, Parker recommends each reel have its own shutoff valve to isolate it from the system.

The best mounting position is usually on the ceiling or high on a wall with the control handles within arm’s reach. “Hoses on the ground are dangerous,” Brantley says. Having objects fall on a hose or having machines run over it increases the likelihood of leaks. And grease is sometimes pumped through hoses at anywhere from 6,000 to 10,000 psi; lube oil takes about 1,500 pounds of pressure. A leak with this much pressure behind it endangers your workers and could cause a huge mess. “I recommend you never have a hose on the ground,” Brantley says. This can be avoided by mounting the reels high and using spring-retractable reels.

A general rule is to have one hose reel for every product you need to dispense. Grease, because it’s usually not dispensed in large volumes, is often best handled by roll around carts that carry pails or quarter-drum size containers, says Parker.

Pumps: The main issue to resolve when sizing a fluid handling pump is the flow rate you’ll need, Brantley says. The larger the sump you need to fill, the greater the flow rate you’ll need to be efficient. Typically heavy-duty shops require 15 to 20 gallons per
minute flow rate, while an automotive or small equipment shop would use less than 4 to 5 gpm, Parker says.

Air piston pumps are sized by the diameter and stroke of the motor, Parker says. Air motors range in diameter from 2 to 10 inches, with 2 to 3 inches common in most shops and 3 to 6 inches for high volume shops. The longer the pump’s stroke the better, as that reduces pulsations in the system. The pump’s output pressure is designated as a ratio: the relationship between the air motor size and the pump tube size. On a 1:1 pump if the input air is set at 100 psi, the output oil will move at 100 psi. If the ratio is 5:1, the oil will flow at 500 psi. Engine oil systems generally operate with a system pressure of 50 to 60 psi, Parker says. Thick grease and gear oils require high pressure pumps with ratios as high as 50:1 or 75:1.

A pump can also be outfitted with presets that automatically shut it down after a specified volume of product has been pumped. This comes in handy when doing oil changes on large reservoirs, Brantley says. Technicians can start the pump and walk around the machine doing other maintenance while the reservoir fills, she says, making better use of their time rather than standing around waiting for the sump to fill.

You can also get specialty pumps with two fluid inlets and one outlet that mix coolant or other products in a 50/50 ratio with water, Parker says, eliminating that time consuming chore. And polypropylene or Teflon diaphragm pumps can be used to move high pH liquids such as windshield washer solution.

Meters: You have two choices in fluid meters – electronic or mechanical. Mechanical meters are more rugged. “You can run over them, drag them around, they’re robust and they will withstand anything, including the weather,” Brantley says. “Electronic meters are popular, though. People like the digital readout and you can calibrate them easily, but with the electronics, they’re not as rugged,” she says.

Both mechanical and electronic meters allow you to keep tabs on how much product is dispensed. But the electronic ones can be tied into a fluid management or fluid inventory control system with sophisticated capabilities. These allow you to monitor and tabulate how much of any given fluid goes into what machines and how often. They can be integrated with tank monitoring systems that automatically let your supplier know when inventory is running low. You can program them with password protections so that only certain individuals can dispense certain fluids at certain times and thus eliminate theft or unauthorized use. And these can be wireless or hard-wired systems. The most sophisticated systems generate reports and spreadsheets that can be used by managers of large service facilities to monitor costs and budgets.

Brantley says these fluid management systems are starting to interest environmental regulatory agencies as well. Groups like the Environmental Protection Agency want to know how much of these products you are using and how you’re disposing of them. Inventory controls and records will only become more important in the future, she says. And as the price of petroleum products continue to rise, contractors will need better ways to measure and manage these costs as well.

Compressors: Compressed air is used to run lubricant pumps and at low pressures, Parker says. The size of the compressor is determined by the shop’s total air usage and that usually means the amount of air it takes to run the shops biggest impact wrench. Fluid pumps don’t require nearly as much air power as the rest of the equipment in the shop and usually not a determining factor in sizing the compressor.

Although the compressed air doesn’t ever touch the product, it’s important that you put filters and water separators between the compressor and the pumps to keep moisture and dirt created by the compressor from contaminating the pump. “Air is dirty stuff,” Brantley says.

Drums and containers: There are an almost unlimited variety of drums and containers available for the fluids used in shops. In many cases your choices will be dictated by what the local fire marshal requires. There is a trend toward double wall tanks, Brantley says. These provide extra protection against leaks and spills. Plastic tanks are relatively new to the United States, but used throughout Europe, she says.

Putting it all together
Pumps and air compressors are loud. Brantley recommends putting them outside the main building envelope.

Vented, locked rooms with easy delivery truck access offer the best lubricant product storage areas, Parker says. Second best would be an outside covered slab next to a building with a locked fence enclosure.

Bulk tank storage reduces the labor involved in handling drums and cuts down on injuries, according to Parker. Pump hoists also reduce the likelihood of injuries and a combination primer/hoist helps prevent pump cavitation. When product is kept in 55-gallon drums, the safest method for changing these drums is to use stub pumps (pumps with a short pump tube) mounted on the wall with a 2-inch suction hose. The suction hose is attached to a tube and foot valve in the drum. This keeps the heavy pumps on the wall and makes drum changing easier. It also helps prevent foreign material from entering the pump tube, as an employee can not set the pump tube on a dirty floor when changing drums.

Following the law
Most cities and counties have strict regulations and requirements about providing containment capabilities around your bulk oil and fluid storage facilities. There are also a host of laws and regulations from the EPA as well as the Occupational Health and Safety Administration regarding the storage, handling and disposal of waste oil and fluids.

Suffice to say you can’t just wing it when it comes to setting up a lube handling system. Get expert advice and get it early in the planning and design process so you don’t buy equipment you can’t use or have to replace and so you don’t get stuck with a big fine and a cease work order when the fire marshal comes round for inspection.

Free heat with waste oil
One of the big responsibilities you will assume once you start doing your own maintenance in house is disposing of the waste oil. You can pay to have this done, and in some circumstances when the price is right, waste oil recyclers will pay you for the product.

Another option, one with a nice payback to it, is to burn your used engine oils in a waste oil burner and use that heat to warm up your shop and reduce your utility bills. Waste oil heaters cost anywhere from $3,000 to $10,000 depending on the size of the space you need to heat. Payback will depend on your climate zone and how much you have to pay to heat your shop conventionally – but the fuel is all free. Consult with a dealer to determine your payback period and the correct size unit for your needs.

Clean Burn makes a line of waste oil furnaces and boilers and used oil recycling centers The furnace models range from 140,000 BTUs/hour for small shops and garages up to 500,000 BTUs/hour for large facilities with multiple bays. The company’s waste oil boilers can be used to generate hot water for truck and equipment cleaning facilities, baseboard heating, space heating, in-floor heating and ice melt applications. Recycling centers (shown here) team a waste oil heater with a 250-gallon storage tank to make collection of waste oil simple and efficient.

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Lanair’s waste oil heaters can pay for themselves in 12 to 18 months using 500 to 1,000 gallons of oil, according to the company. The heaters range in size from 100,000 to 320,000 BTUs and can heat shops from 5,000 to 15,000 square feet. Its modular designs feature easy installation and a swing out burner for simplified maintenance.

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