How to Choose a Lubricant Distributor

It is assumed that all distributors follow the same quality standards. However, there are some with strong quality control programs. For example, The Shell Corporation Distributor Product Quality Assurance (DPQA) program. The Distributor Product Quality Assurance program recognizes distributors who adhere to an exhaustive set of more than 120 Shell QA/QC guidelines for both facilities and procedures. DPQA employs many of the same principles as ISO 9002 and QS 9000, but adapts them specifically to the lubricant storage and handling business.

Locating a distributor certified under this program is a good start in ensuring that your lubricants will be delivered with the quality that the OEM requires.

The Shell DPQA certification and inspection requirements include critical guidelines that apply to many areas of a distributor’s facility:

  • Office area and building exterior: Must be neat and well-organized with proper environmental, health and safety (EHS) procedures in place. An organized facility plays a crucial role in assuring product quality.
  • Warehouse: Must be a clean, well-organized, safe environment with proper lighting. Products must be grouped appropriately. Empty pails and drums must be stored properly to prevent contamination.
  • Bulk storage: Tank farms should be organized according to product families; such as hydraulic oils, turbine oils, motor oils, gear oils, etc. Each tank must have the appropriate water draw-off valves, breathers, etc. Each product or product family must have its own pumping and metering system, also color-coded. These lines are not only color-coded by product family, but they are also labeled by specific product. Manifolds are not allowed.
  • Product transport: All lines, meters and pumps used to move product within the plant - whether it’s from the manufacturer’s transport truck to a bulk tank, a bulk tank to a blending or packaging operation, or a bulk tank to the distributor’s transport truck - must be color-coded and labeled by product family. If products within a product family are to be moved over the same lines, flushing procedures must be posted. This is particularly important when loading transport trucks. Shell DPQA distributors are required to have two sets of lines, pumps and meters on each truck, plus posted flushing procedures when flushing is necessary.

In addition to facilities, the Shell DPQA program evaluates distributor procedures including:

  • Written procedures for proper handling of all bulk unloading, loading, handling, delivering and packaging.
  • Written procedures for maintaining a clean and safe facility. This includes everything from general household cleaning to how to store retain samples, totes, drums, repackaging containers, etc.
  • Proper logs for all critical actions, including offloading, packaging, transferring, blending, loading bulk and loading.
  • Proper environmental procedures, from a spill prevention control and countermeasure plan (SPCC) to delivery trucks carrying emergency equipment.

The Manufacturer-Distributor Relationship

A good relationship between the lubricant manufacturer and the distributor can pay dividends for you as an end user.

Shell, for example, works to provide this kind of relationship with its Products Plus Services program, which the company has established in approximately 30 industrial markets nationwide. In these markets, Shell selects a DPQA distributor as its market partner (in Chicago, this is Keller-Heartt Oil), and provides a full-time lubrication specialist to work solely with the selected distributor and the distributor’s customers. The company also provides equipment (filtration and dehydration, for example), sample analysis, problem-solving expertise and other assistance as needed.

What does this manufacturer-distributorship relationship offer the end user? One good example is oil filtration service.

Although filtration can be effective in limiting solid particle contaminants, new particles are introduced each time a lubricant is transferred from one container to another. Let’s face it, where it really matters is the final destination, and it is here where distributor service offerings such as filtration can be so beneficial.

In most cases, on-site filtration can guarantee a cleanliness level of ISO 15/12 or better, giving the end user the satisfaction that the oil cleanliness meets the control limits set forth by his OEM or plant.

Of course, a good manufacturer and a good distributor are not all it takes to ensure trouble-free lubrication. You as a user also play an important role in the process.

The End User’s Role

Your first responsibility as the end user is to be aware of the supplier’s capabilities and commitment to quality. You should routinely investigate the manufacturer and distributor to make sure that quality standards exist and are being met.

Your second responsibility is to insist that the supplier provide a retain sample from the hose end of the transport before the oil reaches the on-site staging tank.

The retain sample should be taken from the hose end for two reasons. First, this is where the product becomes your property. And second, the hose itself is a potential source of contamination. If you’re not sure whether your oil distributor is equipped to take samples at the hose end, ask.

Finally, think of your investment in lubricants in the same manner as your investment in new production machinery. Make sure you have a program in place to regularly analyze and maintain your oil, incorporating filtration, dehydration, additive replacement or other reclamation techniques.


The benefits of having both the right manufacturer and the right distributor on your team are fewer worries and hassles and lower overall costs. A quality-assurance and quality- maintenance program provides a number of benefits including:

  • Consistent quality products that meet OEM requirements, from batch to batch, delivery to delivery.
  • Less risk of contamination and subsequent damage to costly machinery. This means better performance, greater dependability and less unplanned downtime.
  • Better risk management. A comprehensive audit trail and consistency in manufactured quality and delivery can potentially reduce liability and reduced insurance costs.
  • A safer environment, because your lubes will help keep machines operating within their design limits.
  • Better environmental protection, because your lubes will be safer from contamination, they will be less likely to end up as a hazardous waste disposal problem.

Make choosing your distributor as important as choosing your lubricants. Visit and inspect both your lubricant manufacturer and your distributor to make sure their quality standards and quality-assurance procedures meet your own standards. Ask them how they maintain and assure product quality.

Consider filtering your new oil, and remember that new oil is not always clean oil. If possible, choose a distributor that offers on-site oil filtration; such a distributor will also probably offer reclamation and a variety of other services that can help lower overall costs. Finally, stay vigilant in taking retain samples for bulk oil deliveries and never make assumptions. Assumptions can cost you.

Lubricant delivery is no more a uniform commodity than is the lubricant itself!

Keller Heartt is very proud to hold the distinguished Shell Distributor Product Quality Assurance certificate

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