Old Motor Oil Can Collector Information

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Packaging Petroleum Products

Lubrication, The Texas Company

April 1961


Packaging Petroleum Products

The process of converting a sheet of bare mental into brightly lithographed multi-colored cans of many sizes and shapes, filing them with an exact volume of oil and closing them for shipment at a rate of 600 cans per minute -10 cans per second-may seem fantastic, but is real. One must look twice to believe it. This remarkable achievement has been accomplished by the industry’s development of rapidly-operating precision machines to accomplish each of the many steps in this conversion process. The trouble-free operation of each of these units depends upon a well organized lubrication program which insures the application of the right amount of the right lubricant at the right place and right time.

The petroleum industry is one of the major consumers of tin cans but it cannot claim credit for the rapid strides made in can making and filling equipment. This belongs to the food and beverage industries, which use approximately eighty per cent of all cans manufactured. Oldsters recalling the turn of the century can reminisce on the passing of the bulk handling of many common items. It is with some regrets that pickle and cracker barrels, wooden candy pails and coffee and sugar bins have disappeared from the village store but the wooden “stove oil” barrels to which frequent pilgrimages were made to fill gallon cans for replenishing lamp and stove reservoirs will not be missed. There are only a few of many similar sights that have disappeared with the passing of a period which has been marked by great progress in the packaging of commodities in sealed containers made from glass, aluminum, plastic or steel. This evolution is not surprising since it had as its specific targets the elimination of leakage and spoilage, while promoting the availability of otherwise perishable products, easy handling and convenience of use. The single factor contributing most to the miraculous growth of the can industry is the ability of these containers to preserve food products for long periods of time. This not only insures a steady food supply for a rapidly increasing population in the urban areas, but permits farmers to raise much larger crops for much wider distribution to more markets. Cans also enhance the enjoyment of eating by making seasonal and foreign delicacies widely available throughout the year. They also make food available to arid and frigid areas which are not self sufficient in this respect.

While the can and food industries are mutually inter-dependent, the convenience and economy of can packaging for other products has given considerable impetus to the can industry. The marketing of petroleum products is one of the more important of these.

In spite of the present importance of the can in this “tin can” civilization, these containers do not enjoy an unusually long history. They are a very good confirmation of the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Late in the eighteenth century the French Government recognized the importance of preserving food to sustain its armies fighting in foreign lands. A sizable reward was offered to the first one accomplishing this objective. It seems only logical that the winner was an experienced brewer, pickle maker and vintner, one Monsieur Nicholas Appert. His solution, equally logical, was to preserve food in glass bottles, the same as wines. Appert conducted many experiments in which partly cooked foods were placed in bottles which were then sealed with corks and immersed in boiling water to complete the cooking and sterilization process. More than fifty foods preserved in this manner retained their flavor and wholesomeness for many months.

By 1810, Appert was well versed in the preservation of foods in bottles. In that year King George III of England granted a patent to Peter Durand for his idea of preserving food in “vessels of glass, pottery, tin or other metals or fit materials.” The broad material coverage of this patent is responsible for Durand being dubbed “the father of the tin can.”

The early years of the nineteenth century found the canning industry trying out its “sea-legs” with the French bottling and the English canning food for their respective armies and navies. Canning was introduced to America in 1812 by two Englishmen who opened two small canning plants on the East Coast. Glass jars were used for containers for the first twenty-five years when economies dictated a switch to the cheaper and more durable tin canisters or “cans.”

The can industry is similar to many others in that its first products were laboriously made by hand. In the early days of the industry, a craftsman cut the body and end blanks from a sheet of tinned iron by hand with a pair of tin shears. The body was bent into a cylinder and the side seam soldered. The bottom and top blanks were then soldered in place. The tops of these early cans had a large concentric opening through which the cans were filled and then finally sealed with a soldered circular metal disc. An experienced craftsman could make as many as six cans an hour.

The use of cans was adopted by other industries as an expedient method of packaging. The increased demand for cans promoted the development of improved manufacturing methods and by 1900 cans were being made at a rate of fifty a minute. During the last sixty years the accumulated efforts of all industries allied with canning has resulted in greatly improved equipment and techniques that permit the manufacture of over 42 billion cans annually. Laid end to end these cans would reach across the United States approximately 1000 times, or circle the earth about 100 times. The beneficial effects of this impetus upon the economic status of all types of food producers, the steel industry, the machine manufactures and labor is obvious. Figure 1 shows a filling machine used about fifty years ago and indicates that considerable improvement has also been made in this technique.

Of the 4.6 million tons of steel that are consumed annually in the metal can manufacture, 18 per cent is used for non-food items of which petroleum products is the most important. To the countless number of oil cans used in packaging petroleum products must be added the large number of metal drums used for the same purpose. The ready acceptance and spontaneous popularity of metal containers for the packaging of these products resulted from:

  1. Economies accruing from low material, labor and shipping costs.
  2. Versatility in respect to size and design.
  3. Ruggedness which tolerates rough handling.
  4. Packageability.
  5. Printability which permits attractive packages.
  6. Complete sealing which insures against tampering, contamination or adulteration.

The industrialization that has been accelerating during the past few decades has required ever increasing quantities of petroleum products – and many more cans and drums to package them. While modern containers are made in the same general manner as the original canisters, changes in seam design and replacement of hand work by precision machinery in all phases of operation has made it possible to supply the billions of cans required annually by the industry.

The fabrication of a plain can is not a simple one step process, but rather the integration of many unitized operations, each of which requires well designed sturdy machines which will perform their functions at high speeds with great accuracy.

The raw material for a can is steel sheet of various gauges which may or may not be coated with tin or other protective materials as dictated by its intended usage and the material it will contain. The size of the container to be made governs the thickness of the material to be used, the larger containers requiring heavier gauge material to insure structural stability.

Consumer convenience is a vital factor in modern merchandising and accounts for the hundreds of varieties of different types and sizes of packages in use today. The large number of petroleum products having consistencies ranging from gasoline to high softening point asphalt pitches and their many specific applications dictate many packages. It is interesting to note that the domestic crimped top five gallon oil containers must be replaced in many export areas by slotted lug cover containers which serve as pails when emptied. Table I lists the containers used for the packaging of petroleum products. Most of these are metal containers and it is the lubrication of the equipment used for their manufacture and filling with which this article is concerned.

Regardless of its size and shape, a can is made by slitting the body and ends from the sheet metal, forming these to the proper shapes and assembling them. This simple description does not take into consideration a number of very exacting intermediate operations required on each of the component pieces to insure a serviceable container and which require special machines, but it will serve to clarify the general processing steps and equipment used.

It should be pointed out that the lubrication of can making equipment is not as critical as it is in some industries where high operating temperatures and pressures prevail and where lubricant contamination is a problem. Lubrication is extremely important, however, as oil-starved bearings result in wear and misalignment which cannot be tolerated. Only slight deviations from designed part dimensions may produce poor joints and seals which will result in an abnormal percentage of unusable “leakers.” There are few industries where a rigid system of maintenance lubrication pays more dividends. In the can industry, as in all others, the regular application of the right amount of the right type and quality of lubricant in the right condition to the right place at the right time will prevent excessive mechanical wear, poor quality of product, excessive spoilage and costly downtime and equipment repairs.

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