Photo Courtesy of PPC
Corrosion, mold, dirt and other contaminants take a toll on idle equipment. Here, several military trucks get the shrink-wrap treatment.

Climate-controlled storage is not always an option when preserving idled equipment, materials and parts. Because leaving equipment out in the open can cause serious damage and downtime, some companies are investing in military-grade enclosures that keep out light, dirt, moisture and animals for years.

"In most cases, we find that clients know how to run a piece of equipment, but they don't know what they need to do to shut it down," says Steve Hanna, CEO of Carrollton, Texas-based Protective Packaging Corp. "They just bring it back to a yard, stack the equipment and walk away from it."

Leaving gear exposed can run up repair costs later, when production resumes. Rust eats metal parts. Oil breaks down. Rats chew electrical lines. Ultraviolet radiation eats hoses and tires. By placing machinery in airtight bags, equipment may sit for months or even years without harm. "We can protect it to the point where, when you are ready to start up, you can start up the next day," Hanna says.

The oil patch, where business has been slowing down lately, is taking advantage of this technology. Prices for West Texas Intermediate crude were a little more than $52 per barrel in early April, compared to $101 the same time last year. This 49% drop has prompted drillers to cut back and idle rigs. In February, the average number of oil and natural-gas rigs actively working in the U.S. dropped to 1,348 from 1,683, according to oil-field services company Baker Hughes.

"These rigs have been running for 24 hours a day for years, and now they need to be protected from idleness," Hanna says. PPC preserves idle equipment by enclosing parts and even whole machines in a moisture-barrier film. Other materials fight the elements: Vapor corrosion inhibitors impregnated in foam keep metal parts fresh. Additives mixed with fuel, engine oil and other fluids protect against deterioration. Giant desiccant bags weighing up to 5 lb are thrown inside the package to soak up moisture. "Once that's done, you can literally walk away from it for five years," Hanna says.

Mothballing equipment this way, he adds, is cheap insurance compared to repairing or replacing parts and machinery. For example, a $250,000 piece of heavy machinery can be wrapped up for as little as $50. "Relatively speaking to the cost of the part, the cost to protect it is nothing," Hanna says.