Oil Analysis: Equipment’s Blood Test

Sept. 1, 1999
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Just as a doctor uses a blood test to diagnose disease in the human body, the same is true for oil analysis in analyzing destructive conditions in equipment. Lubricant analysis is also a proactive approach to maintenance. The main objective is to determine if the lubricant is still serviceable and to identify any unusual or abnormal wear patterns that might indicate that additional maintenance is needed. Analysis allows a contractor to keep the equipment operating, thus decreasing the cost per hour by reducing unnecessary downtime.

Torance, CA-based Analysts Inc. provides lubricant analysis services to the oil industry, maintenance companies, and large construction contractors through regional labs located in Oakland, CA,; Chicago, Houston; and Atlanta, as well as a joint venture in Tokyo, Japan. According to Charles Gay, senior data analyst at the Atlanta facility, the company works directly with the customer to establish an appropriate testing program based on the type of equipment and maintenance program in place. “Once we establish what his goals are, we recommend a testing package.”

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For most contractors, the process of developing a lubricant analysis program involves a learning curve. The contractor must become comfortable with the information generated by the program and understand how to apply it. To help simplify this process, Analysts provides a test package that includes sampling tools, shipping materials, and data collection forms. The company has the capability of building a database of a contractor’s equipment—a helpful tool that is used to further tailor the testing program and establish tend analysis on each piece of equipment.

“The simples method is to drain the oil,” states Gay. “Under certain testing testing programs, we want to take a sample without having to actually drain the oil. When we’re extending oil-drain intervals or taking hale normal interval-type samples, you use either the sample pump, the bellows, or our Quick Sampling System valve to obtain a sample. Once that’s established, the customer submits the samples to the laboratory.”

At the minimum level for nonengine components, the company tests for 21 elements that include contaminants, wear metals and oil additives, water content, and viscosity at either 40 or 100 degrees Celsius, depending on the type of oil. On engine samples, the company includes field dilution and a unique process for determining percent fuel soot. “It’s a little bit different a method than what’s normally available in the marketplace where infrared or total solids might be used,” states Gay.

If any abnormal conditions are noted, the company will contact the customer immediately, says Gay. “We’ll describe what we have found in their oil sample and tell them what we recommend for corrective action. At that point, we would fax the report, and then it would be up to the end user to act on our recommendations or not.”

This program changes the way lubricants and fluids can be managed, observes Gay. “I describe our services as added insurance. By the time you pick up a rattle or a noise, the damage has already started. Using an oil sample, you can determine if you have a problem and correct it well before your maintenance people would even know. Replacing a $40,000 engine would buy a lot of oil samples.”