Shop Productivity - Air & Lube Systems

Shop Productivity – Air & Lube Systems

If improving the productivity and efficiency of maintenance operations is an important part of any fleet manager’s job, one key to meeting this challenge is closely considering specifications for shop air and lubricant systems.

Shop Productivity – Air & Lube Systems

If improving the productivity and efficiency of maintenance operations is an important part of any fleet manager’s job, one key to meeting this challenge is closely considering specifications for shop air and lubricant systems. Whether building a new facility or upgrading an existing shop, effective choices can ensure work quality and enhance technician safety and productivity.

What types of options are available for air and lubricant systems? Where should the systems be placed to facilitate operations? What are the things that should be taken into consideration when spec’ing these systems?

For answers to these questions, we turned to Darry W. Stuart of DWS Fleet Management Services for some expert advice. The 37-year fleet management veteran uses his expertise in organization, purchasing, lease evaluation, vehicle specification and maintenance management, including shop systems analysis and cost control initiatives on behalf of a number of fleets.

Variety of solutions

“There are a variety of solutions and configurations available for shop lubricant and air systems, and good reasons to choose each of them, depending on your needs, your operation, your facility and the amount of capital allocated for shop equipment,” Stuart says, “Decisions for dispensing equipment will vary based on these considerations. It’s essential to make effective choices and not spec ineffective solutions or get overly sophisticated and complicate a simple function, as well as add to the maintenance needs of the systems themselves.”

For dispensing engine oil, Stuart notes, overhead or wall-mounted recoil reels can be an effective productivity-enhancing choice. “However,” he adds, “these systems can also be very expensive and require maintenance and repair, including cleaning the hoses. Standard manual reels should always be used for water hoses, though. That will keep the hoses off the floor where they can pose a safety hazard to shop personnel.”

While reel-based delivery systems for engine oil make sense to Stuart due to the high volume of lubricant that is used, at the same time, he says that using hoses to dispense coolant has become much less important.

“This is partly because of mobile recycling units and also because extended-life coolants and additive packages mean we’re using much less coolant today than in the past,” he says

“Many fleets have also moved away from reels for dispensing grease and gear lubricants because there are fewer grease fittings on today’s vehicles, and the integrity of seals has improved dramatically, as well,” Stuart continues. “Grease reels are also generally never in the right place when you need them.

“For dispensing grease and gear lubricants, 15-gallon rollaround kegs with manual or air-operated pumps are easier to use and less expensive to operate,” Stuart says, “The mobility these systems offer is unmatched, except by battery-operated, hand-held grease guns, which are also becoming more prevalent. The newest of these tools can produce enough operating pressure, and while the grease tubes they require may be more expensive, there’s less waste than with tubs, and productivity of service operations is generally better.”

Same reasons

For any reel system, and for air to run product dispensing equipment and shop tools, Stuart notes, the most important thing to consider is the compressed-air system itself.

“Dry, clean air dispensed at the correct operating pressure is essential,” he says. “Spec’ing air driers on these systems can be a very cost-effective solution that isn’t always considered. We spend thousands equipping tractors with air driers but don’t always make the same choice for the same reasons in the shop.”

Another important consideration, is compressor capacity.

“Fleets need to be sure they have enough compressed air in the right places to meet the needs of lubricant-dispensing equipment, air-operated tools and, especially, the tire shops,” he states. “Compressor capacity and reserve-tank needs must be determined before installing any system.”

Also on Stuart’s list of considerations for air delivery systems is to make sure that piping is sized and placed properly. Among the choices: conventional steel pipe, PVC and even the same type of flexible air lines used on vehicles. Steel pipe is most durable but expensive, while PVC can be susceptible to temperature changes and ultraviolet light, he notes.

“Regardless of the type of pipe that is chosen,” Stuart adds, “it’s important to make sure you don’t create low areas when the pipe is placed where condensation can occur more rapidly. To offset that potential problem, install plenty of drains, especially at low points and at all terminations where quick connects are used to hook up hoses. Of course, an air dryer on the system is most important. If you start with dry air, you’ll finish with dry air, as well.”

Addressing concerns

After spec’ing effective air and lubricant system choices, a preventive maintenance program for the equipment is equally important.

“It should be treated no differently than a vehicle,” he says. “Assign each piece of shop equipment a number, and schedule it for PM. This not only ensures trouble-free operation but also addresses potential safety problems before risk managers, OSHA and insurance companies make it their concern.”

Along with effectively spec’ing air and lubricant systems to enhance shop productivity and efficiency, Stuart concludes, perhaps the most important consideration is to have a place for everything and keep everything in its place. As it says in Recommended Practice 515 – Maintenance Shop Considerations from the Technology & Maintenance Council of American Trucking Associations, “the efficiency and productivity of a maintenance operation is directly affected by the design of the shop.” FE

Editor’s note: DWS Fleet Management Services is an independent “Limited Time Executive” transportation and fleet management business providing fleets with programs specifically tailored for each individual operation. For more information, call 508-384-9021 or visit

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