Proper O-ring storage promotes leak-tight sealing

Special to CCJ ONSite by Brian Hulse, BDHulse Consulting Services LLC

The actor Samuel L Jackson’s intimidating line in a credit-card commercial (“So, what’s in your wallet?”) came to mind the other day while I was reading an excellent blog written by Kelly Forrest for Cleveland-based Brennan industries, entitled “What You Don’t Know About O-Ring Storage.”

It pointed to the intricacies of O-ring storage, life limitations, and the various mitigating or aggravating factors that affect component life. It got me thinking about how many times I had pulled a new gasket or O-ring out of a plant warehouse and found it to be junk—either damaged by shelf wear, hard as a rock, or through some other mystical means, unusable.

The fallout: A frantic search for another (hopefully usable) part, the cost of the extended work stoppage, the cost of carrying a worthless part in inventory, etc. The very best intentions of (1) managers who authorized its purchase, (2) the supply-chain folks who bought it, (3) the warehouse people who stored it, (4) the maintenance planner who had it pulled from stock, and (5) the technician who was about to install it, all were swept away in an instant.

Can I get an “A-men”?

As Forrest pointed out in her blog, O-rings are not only subject to deterioration over time; temperature, humidity, ozone, UV radiation (sunlight), and ionizing radiation all can factor in. She points to SAE International Standard ARP5316D as a generic governing standard for O-ring storage, in addition to advice provided by manufacturers.

During an assignment some years back, I was surprised at how many things in the warehouse for a typical LM-powered generating plant have expiration dates—documented or undocumented. As I became more knowledgeable and vigilant on the topic, I learned that some of those items had been received after their expiration dates.

Many vendors didn’t allow product returns solely for expiration; we had to write a statement into our purchase-order boilerplate giving us the specific right to return products arriving expired or unreasonably close to expiration.

As it turned out, almost every chemical compound we stocked, from lab reagents for testing boiler-water chemistry to greases to maintenance products, had some kind of life limit associated with it. We also became aware of specific storage requirements for a lot of items. Not just chemicals, but mechanical assemblies like servo valves and pumps.

In supplier manuals, we found storage requirements for both environmental conditions and periodic shelf maintenance (lubrication, exercising, etc) that we were not doing. Looking back, we wondered how many cases of spares’ “infant mortality” were actually attributable to inadequate care during storage. It was a little frightening.

Warehouse space always is at a premium, and managers usually are looking to reduce square footage, not increase it. No one wants to be questioned for building a “Taj Mahal” warehouse.  

Typically, things like air filtration and climate control are seen as a luxury and not in the budget. Specialized shelving or Vidmar modular storage cabinets are out of the question. The warehouse usually has no manpower provision (assigned technicians or access to technicians) or budget for performing shelf maintenance on stored equipment.

Plus, warehouses often have no access to any kind of work-order system that allows for maintenance tracking on stored items. And yet, we entrust it with operational consumables and maintenance spares worth millions of dollars with an expectation they will be ready for use when needed.

So, this brings me back to Jackson. But what’s in your wallet isn’t the question. The question is “What’s in your warehouse?” How many useless items? How much wasted capital? How many hours of needless downtime? How much lost production? If that doesn’t make most plant managers go “Hmmmmm. . . .” I don’t know what will. Understanding and assessing the impacts of inventory storage requirements should be a consideration when:

    • Designing the warehouse space.

    • Staffing the warehouse.

    • Budgeting for the warehouse.

    • Building processes for the warehouse.

    • Operating the warehouse (and training).

    • Deciding to add an item to the inventory.

    • Making changes/improvements to the warehouse and/or warehouse processes.

In other words, just about any time you’re making warehousing decisions, thinking about what’s in your warehouse—and how it needs to be cared for—is a good idea.

Much like Jackson in his commercial role, a lot of this can seem intimidating. Knowing and complying with all the storage requirements of each item you carry seems like a monumental task. But, there is help; you’re not in this alone. You can:

    • Get assistance from your vendors/distributors (make that an element in your purchase orders).

    • Get assistance from professional groups (SAE, ASME, IEEE, etc).

    • Find commercial resources—like Forrest’s blog on O-rings.

    • Find regulatory resources—such as Airworthiness Directives from the flight side regarding hoses.

    • Use the technical publications supplied with your purchases.

    • Provide awareness training to your supply-chain team (share the load).

    • Bring your technical personnel into the warehouse to perform formalized storage audits.

    • Develop “rule-of-thumb” observations to trigger storage questions on new items—such as:

    • Is it a chemical compound?

    • Is it a mechanical assembly?

    • Is it a “soft part”—that is, an O-ring, hose, pliable gasket, etc?

Being proactive when it comes to warehouse management isn’t just a show of skills—it’s a dedication to supporting the mission of the plant and the plant staff. Having what is needed when it’s needed by the most economical means possible should always be the goal.

More lessons learned from Brian Hulse

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