Archive | Oil Analysis


1:39 am
March 18, 2016
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Implement an Oil-Analysis Program

Chemical Laboratory,Hand holding the tube with test flask

Chemical Laboratory,Hand holding the tube with test flask

Keeping a close eye on the life-blood of your lubricated equipment systems pays off in many ways, all of them crucial.

By Ken Bannister, MEch Eng (UK) CMRP, MLE, Contributing Editor

When a doctor wants to assess the condition of your health, he or she may order a blood test. Similarly, oil analysis, sometimes referred to as “wear-particle analysis,” is a mature condition-based maintenance approach used to determine the health of a machine and its lubricating oil. The process involves taking a small sample of oil from the equipment’s lubrication system, comparing it to a virgin stock sample through a series of laboratory tests, and examining the results to ascertain the “wellness” of machinery and oil.

Oil analysis reflects a highly effective and inexpensive means of deciding when to change lubricants based on condition; predicting incipient bearing failure so that appropriate action can be taken in a timely manner to avert failure; and diagnosing bearing failure should it occur. Yet, despite its availability and proven track record since the 1940s, oil analysis is still misunderstood and overlooked as a proactive strategy in many of today’s industrial plants. Relatively easy to set up, this type of program should be implemented in any facility that purchases, stores, dispenses, changes, uses, or recycles lubricants as part of its manufacturing or maintenance process.

Basic implementation steps

A successful oil-analysis program can pay for itself in a matter of weeks, given the fact that it delivers multiple benefits, including:

  • oil change intervals (often extended) that are optimized to the machine’s ambient conditions and operational use requirements
  • probable reduction in lubricant-inventory purchase costs and spent-lubricant disposal costs
  • enhanced understanding of how bearings can fail (or are failing) in their operating environment so that such incidents can be controlled or eliminated
  • increased asset reliability, availability, and production throughput.

(NOTE: The potential for program success is greater if a site already has a work-management approach in place, thereby assuring completion of corrective actions in a timely manner whenever oil-analysis reports recommend them.)

Similar to other successful change-management initiatives rolled out across the organization, an oil-analysis program will benefit from a piloted, phased implementation. Taking a stepped approach allows management and workforce alike to become accustomed to the new sampling and reporting processes and quickly iron out any problems prior to a full-scale launch.

Step 1: Appoint a program champion.

All programs require a “go to” decision-making person who advocates on the initiative’s behalf and is committed to making the implementation a success. The champion should be at a supervisor or manager level.

Step 2: Choose a suitable pilot area/machine.

Oil analysis begins with sampling the oil and can include lubricating and hydraulic fluids. Choosing a suitable program pilot will depend on the type of industry and business operation. Typical starting points to evaluate might include:

  • critical product, process, line, or major piece of equipment, i.e., criticality determined by constraint and/or lack of back up, downtime costs, and product quality
  • mechanical equipment with moving components that include lubricant reservoirs for re-circulating-oil-transmission systems that are mechanical and/or hydraulic in design.

Step 3: Conduct a lubricant audit.

A lubricant audit, required to identify what lubricants are currently employed in service at the plant, calls for the following:

  • Check work-order system PM (preventive maintenance) job plans for lubricant specification(s).
  • Check on or near the lubricant reservoir for lubricant identification labels or stickers.
  • Check for matching MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheets).

If a discrepancy is found at this stage, outside assistance from a lubrication expert or supplier may be needed to determine if the correct lubricants are being specified for particular applications.

Step 4: Choose a laboratory.

Not all oil-analysis laboratories are created equal, making your choice of one an important step. Most oil-analysis reports are divided into four major sections that provide:

  • sampling and virgin-oil specification data
  • spectral-analysis testing results for wear elements identified as lubricant additives or contaminants
  • additional physical test results for viscosity, water, glycol, fuel, soot, and acidity
  • associated conclusions and recommendations.

Some laboratories specialize in engine-oil analyses that focus more on physical testing for water, glycol, fuel, and soot. Others specialize in industrial-sample analyses that focus more on wear-particle evaluations and some physical tests for viscosity, water, and acidity, and post-mortem testing for root-failure causes using ferrographic techniques. Some laboratories have technicians that specialize in both areas.

The key to any testing program is receiving results in a timely and consistent manner, especially where critical equipment is involved. When interviewing laboratories, be sure to rate their sample “turnaround” time and how they can assure testing consistency (usually through use of dedicated technicians to test your samples). Working with a laboratory should be viewed as a long-term relationship. The chosen facility will build and analyze your complete data history and make conclusions and recommendations based not only on your current sample versus its virgin sample counterpart, but also on an understanding of your plant ambient conditions and overall trending history of each sample.

Step 5: Set up a pilot sampling program.

A good laboratory will work with you to set up your sampling program, supply (in some way) sampling-point hardware, extraction pumps, and quality sample bottles, as well as train your staff to consistently collect “clean” oil samples.

The best oil samples contain maximum data density with minimum data disturbance—meaning the sample should best represent the oil’s condition and particulate levels as it flows through the system or as it sits in a reservoir. For example, if you extract a sample from the bottom of a reservoir in a non-pressurized gearbox lubrication system, the particulate fallout will be dense due to large wear particles and/or sludge accumulation and not correctly represent the remaining 80% to 90% of reservoir lubricant that actually lubricates the gears.

In a pressurized re-circulating lubrication system, samples are best taken as the machine is running and at operating temperature, from a live fluid zone where the lubricant is flowing freely. Whenever possible, the sample should be extracted from an elbow, thereby taking advantage of the data density caused by fluid turbulence. Sample points are best located downstream of the lubricated areas to catch any wear elements before they’re filtered out by inline pressure or gravity filters.

Virgin samples of all lubricants in the pilot program will need to be collected and sent to the laboratory for checking. They’ll be used as a benchmark for the laboratory to measure and understand what additive ingredients and lubricant condition represents a normal state. This type of benchmarking will lead to easier identification of additive depletion and wear elements in subsequent samples. 

Outside assistance/training from a lubrication expert or oil-analysis laboratory is advisable when setting up the pilot sample points.

Step 6: Set up a work-management approach to sampling.

Lubricant sampling must be performed consistently, on a frequent basis—making it a suitable candidate for a maintenance/asset-management work-order system. Using the written sampling procedure as a job plan, the task can be set up effectively through PM scheduling software.

Extracting and sending a sample to the laboratory is only the first half of the oil-analysis process. Someone (usually the planner, if one exists) has to receive the results electronically by email, read the recommendations, and take any necessary corrective action and/or file the laboratory report electronically to history, usually as an attachment to the PM sampling work order. This will require development of a workflow procedure—and training all maintenance staff involved in the program on the procedure. 

Step 8: Commence sampling and program roll-out.

An oil-analysis program will identify major contamination and wear problems with the first sample set. Sample trending can begin with the third set, wherein the site starts identifying/predicting any negative trend toward potential failure and schedule corrective action before failure occurs. Ideally, a pilot program should be allowed to run for approximately three months or longer to show basic results before tweaking it and rolling out to the next area within a plant.

Once a program is working and providing results, larger-sized enterprises may wish to consider investing in an in-house staffed laboratory that will deliver faster results turnaround. MT

Contributing editor Ken Bannister is a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional and certified Machinery Lubrication Engineer (Canada). He is the author of Lubrication for Industry (Industrial Press, South Norwalk, CT) and the Lubrication Section of the 28th Ed. of Machinery’s Handbook (Industrial Press). Contact him at

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Take Oil Analysis to the Cloud

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5:54 pm
February 8, 2016
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Take Oil-Sample Analysis To the Cloud


Oil sample points should be clearly labeled. Photo: Acuren Group

Working together, an end user, an oil lab, and a reliability service provider improved an important predictive-maintenance technique and gained a wealth of reliability benefits.

By Jane Alexander, Managing Editor, with Kevin McGehee, Reliability Manager, Chemicals Div., Axiall Corp.

For years, the oil-sample analysis process was swimming in paper. Each sample was documented in its own analysis report, and all reports were emailed to the responsible plant employee. From a reliability perspective, questions remained: Was a work order generated? If not, why? What was found at the repair? Is this a repetitive problem? Did the corrective work order solve the problem?

Companies are finally starting to drop the spreadsheets and approach oil analysis from a more systematic, interactive perspective and, as a result, are increasing equipment reliability and performance.

U.S. chemicals manufacturer Axiall Corp., headquartered in Atlanta, is one example. Within just four years, the number of machines tested has tripled and is growing with help from cloud-based, automated systems for oil-analysis and reliability-information management.

Reliability-service providers and oil labs are also using browser-based systems to improve their oil-analysis processes. Acuren Group (Acuren), a Canadian-based supplier of asset reliability, nondestructive, and materials testing services in the U.S. and Canada, and Tampa-based R&G Laboratories (R&G), a full-service oil-analysis lab, are among those leveraging cloud technologies to better meet the needs of their customers. (Acuren is a division of Rockwood Service Corp., Greenwich, CT.)

All three companies recognize the crucial role of oil analysis in a predictive-maintenance (PdM) program and have succeeded in using the potential of the cloud to make oil analysis more timely, accurate, scalable, and visible. Their experiences and recommendations can help others optimize oil analysis.

Why analyze oil

Oil analysis is like blood work from a doctor. Axiall takes samples and looks for problems before they manifest into an emergency situation. Oil samples are relatively cheap compared with the cost or value of the equipment. If a machine is worth $700,000/day in profit, then it’s well worth taking an occasional $30 sample to keep it running.

Leading performance indicators such as ISO particle count or the contamination level in the lubricant can be considered a measure of the performance of the lubrication tasks. Viscosity or mismatched additives can be an early indication of cross contamination of lubricants. Alternatively, lagging performance indicators, such as the acidity of the lubricant, signs of wear, or progressing failures, signify existing problems.

Oil analysis complements other PdM methods such as vibration analysis, infrared thermography, and ultrasound. Sharing oil-sample data with a cloud-based reliability information system that tracks all PdM techniques enables better decisions from a more complete picture of asset health. When the reliability information is integrated with an existing computerized maintenance management system (CMMS), it further simplifies the execution and tracking of recommended actions.

Left. Oil analysis is one of the simplest ways to start a PdM program. Photo: Acuren Group

Left. Oil analysis is one of the simplest ways to start a PdM program. Photo: Acuren Group

Upgrading the process

At Axiall’s plant in Plaquemine, LA (near Baton Rouge), some machines hold 3,000 gal. of oil while others hold just 2 qt. Those most important to the business are monitored with oil analysis, regardless of their size.

The site’s prior oil-analysis approach was manual and inefficient. Oil samples were sent to a free service for testing, and Axiall’s analysts would later log into the service-provider’s system to view the findings. There was no follow-through and no one to call when questions arose. The new approach is more automated, interactive, and effective.

Now, preventive-maintenance work orders in the CMMS tell the plant to take oil samples at predetermined frequencies—usually quarterly. A trained technician takes and labels the samples and has them shipped to the lab. For the plant, the rest of the process is automated.

The lab runs the samples and performs analysis using standard limits that determine whether they are good or bad. It automatically populates the information in Oilography, a web-based oil-sample management solution used by the lab and the plant. That system, in turn, automatically updates Tango, the reliability information-management system used by the plant. Both are products of Louisville, TN-based 24/7 Systems.

Next, a plant engineer reviews each sample using a web browser and determines what actions, if any, need to be taken. If there is a question about a sample, the lab is called to discuss the findings and interpretation. The engineer’s recommendations are then entered in the reliability information-management system where they are tracked to completion.

Between the Samples Waiting Review screen, Integrated Condition Report, and metrics that show the number of assets in the oil-sampling program and percentages of samples that are good or bad, Axiall has a good understanding of equipment health and also where to concentrate efforts for improvement.

“The beauty of it is not having to enter anything; the results show up in the oil sample-management system,” explained Forrest Pardue, president of 24/7 Systems. “Having that system connected to the plant’s reliability information-management solution is an almost seamless method to create and track action items, and to force them to completion.”

R&G Laboratories uses the cloud to help its clients perform timely and accurate oil analysis without cumbersome paperwork. According to Cheryl Huff, R&G’s customer-service coordinator, “When samples are received from the customer, sample points are set up in our database and the assessments are posted online in Oilography. From there, the customer can access their records and take appropriate maintenance actions.”

Results are provided in the customer’s format of choice, whether online or through email, an interface with their CMMS, or some other preferred export format. “The lab’s oil analysis results can potentially feed into the customer’s failure-mode assessments, improving the visibility and quality of actionable information,” added Huff.

Bridging knowledge and communication gaps

Program success comes from understanding the equipment, the results of the oil analysis, and what to do about it. Unfortunately, managing PdM programs entirely in-house is often an unsustainable goal. To counter the situation, Acuren Group provides fully trained and equipped PdM technicians who translate test results into meaningful maintenance actions to its clients across North America. Moving to the cloud has streamlined the company’s service delivery.

“Our recommendations are entered in Tango alongside the results from other technologies. They flow directly to the CMMS used by our clients in the form of work requests, which are then planned and executed,” noted Wesley Albert, senior reliability engineer at Acuren Group. “By interpreting the results of all PdM technologies in a holistic manner, we are able to pinpoint issues and their severity.”

The specific test slate is determined by the asset’s criticality and type, as well as the goal of the testing. Improvements to the lubrication systems include the addition of proper filtration, desiccant breathers, and external filtering to achieve particle count targets.

Systematic oil-sample management ensures that nothing is missed. (Source: 24/7 Systems)

Systematic oil-sample management ensures that nothing is missed. (Source: 24/7 Systems)

Steps to oil-analysis optimization

Integrating oil-sample management, reliability information management, and the CMMS puts plant professionals, oil labs, and reliability service providers on the same page. Online visibility, dynamic interactivity, and instant information updates improve the availability and quality of actionable information and assure completion of recommended actions. Combining that platform with the following recommendations optimizes program results:

Educate the masses. Companies beginning or improving an oil-analysis program should start with a fairly broad lubrication-training program for anyone who touches the oil and grease. Everyone needs to understand the importance of oil and oil analysis, that it’s worth a lot of money to the company, and that machines don’t run without proper lubrication.

Training should include how wear works, how particle contamination works, how important it is to keep it the oil clean and dry, and how all of that impacts the machine. It should also include the different places where someone can make a mistake or contaminate oil, and how that will lead to reduced machine life. Ultimately, it should encourage more attention to oil-related practices. For instance, an operator on shift may rethink storing an oil container outside near a machine if rainwater is getting into it.

Be selective and precise in sampling. Albert suggests beginning with a small number of the most critical assets and those with the largest volumes of oil, and aligning the test slates and sample frequencies with the asset-maintenance strategies. Label the sample location points with the equipment/component identifier, oil brand/type/viscosity, sample type, sample volume, and purge volume. Then, perfect the process on these assets before expanding the program to include others.

The most important thing is not to start “too big.” As R&G’s Huff put it, “A company that wants to begin oil analysis on 400 components might not have planned how to handle the lab’s analysis on 400 samples. “If it pulls too many samples at once and doesn’t have enough time to make the necessary system improvements,” she said, “we’ll repeatedly get samples rated critical and severe, and the client will be throwing its money out the window.” The better approach is to start out small in one section of the plant or in a problem area, make good decisions based on the analysis results, and grow from there.”

Fine-tune the sample frequency. Sampling frequency depends on the machine’s criticality. Quarterly is most common at Axiall, but samples are taken monthly on extremely important machines, such as those that could shut the entire complex down if they failed.

More-frequent sampling provides more resolution when trending the condition of the oil and detecting problems when they occur. For instance, if someone inadvertently adds the wrong oil to a machine, with monthly sampling, a step change in the properties will be visible so questions can be asked and actions can be taken before there is unintended machine wear. Quarterly sampling is probably too late to catch an issue such as this.

Optimal sampling regularity reduces the urgency of problems, i.e., being proactive vs. reactive. Don’t wait until a machine is behaving erratically and then take a sample to send to the lab. Companies should routinely take and send oil samples and monitor the trends to see when a problem is coming.

Focus on continuous improvement. Pardue stated that using web-based systems to integrate oil-sample analysis and other PdM technology is a best-practice type of approach. “Cloud systems allow labs, contractors, plant teams, planners, and managers to all have access to the reliability system and its centralized dashboards of condition problems and statuses, enabling continuous improvement.”

It’s important to review the status of work orders with plant production areas weekly—and to hold people accountable for completing the work. Get to the root cause of failure by aggregating all problems into equipment and fault types and looking for patterns that provide opportunities to improve the lubrication program.

For example, if consecutive oil samples indicate that water is getting into a machine during normal operations, then better seals or machine-cleaning procedures should be applied. If most oil samples sent to a lab come back either too wet or too dirty, then a persistent systemic problem with the facility’s lubrication process needs to be isolated and improved.

Finding and controlling contamination is probably the most important step in an oil-analysis program, but, too often, it lags in priority, according to Huff. She believes companies that look at contamination control on the front end will usually have a more successful oil program.

“A sample rated severe could have an equipment condition, such as a failed bearing,” she said, “but frequently it’s a water condition or high particle count that takes the life out of the component and contributes to premature failure.” The bottom line is that an operation can’t get the estimated life span out of a component without having clean oil running through the system.

Going forward

For Axiall, the overall oil-analysis program itself is also a candidate for continuous improvement. The site is working to achieve a higher level of maturity with its program.

Eventually, between 1,000 and 1,500 total machines will be on the oil-sampling route. The plant is also increasing utilization of its systems. As time permits, it is setting up customized high/low limits for individual machines in the oil sample-management system so it can automatically alert to problems. MT

Based in Plaquemine, LA, Kevin McGehee is reliability manager of the Chemicals Div. of Axiall Corp. He has spent 20 years in industry, working in the areas of capital-project management, maintenance, six sigma continuous improvement, and reliability.

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3:51 pm
September 29, 2014
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Save Time and Money with Visual Oil Analysis


Four products from Des-Case simplify the process of obtaining critical oil-level and –quality information, even for hard-to-access equipment. 

Time is money. And Des-Case knows that wasting either is not an option. According to the company, its line of Visual Oil Analysis products can save end-users time in monitoring the condition of their oil, as well as money wasted on unnecessary repairs.

Maintaining the correct level of oil is extremely important, but this process can be difficult. Many factors contribute to the challenge:

  • Not having an easy way to view the oil level
  • Machinery that is difficult to access
  • Not having enough time to closely examine each machine as you walk by.

By using the Visual Oil Analysis line of products, a quick glance is all you will need. Even if your equipment doesn’t have a viewing window to see the oil level, Des-Case has products that utilize the drain port on your equipment to get the job done.

3-D Bullseye

The 3-D BullsEye is an innovative product that replaces standard glass and metal sight windows. The 3-D BullsEye is precision machined out of one solid piece of high-strength acrylic, which will not only last substantially longer than its glass counterparts, but will make viewing the level of oil easier than ever. Once installed, it provides a magnified view of the oil level that is clearly seen from a distance. This makes it ideal for hard-to-access machinery.

Oil Level Indicator

If you don’t have a viewing window, Des-Case has products that utilize the drain port of your equipment. The Oil Level Indicator is a precision-machined acrylic column which shows an accurate level of fluid inside the reservoir. These can be vented or installed in a closed-loop to prevent contaminants from entering oil.

Oil Sight Glass Level Monitor

While maintaining the correct level of oil is extremely important, monitoring the oil’s condition is just as crucial to ensure your machinery operates at its full potential. Because water and oil don’t mix, the Oil Sight Glass Level Monitor not only shows the level of fluid in your reservoir, it collects and allows for drainage of any free-flowing water or sediment from your oil. The monitors come with breathers that filter down to 0.3 microns to prevent contaminants from entering the oil, but they can also be installed in a closed-loop for ideal contamination control.

Oil Sight Glass

Another tool for battling water contamination is the Oil Sight Glass. These acrylic chambers are installed on the drain port as well, so any water or sediment will migrate into them. This not only removes the water from circulation, but it also alerts the user that there is a problem. Once collected, the water can be easily removed by opening the drain valve.

Defeating water contamination is an ongoing battle, but with Des-Case’s arsenal of Visual Oil Analysis Products, you can win the war one fight at a time. For more information on this and related products, visit descase.comMT


8:47 pm
June 19, 2014
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Des-Case Acquires ESCO Oil Sight Glass Portfolio

3-D BullsEye Des-CaseNashville, TN-based Des-Case Corp. has purchased the visual-oil-analysis line of  ESCO Products, Inc., the well-known Texas manufacturer of oil sight glasses and level-monitoring technologies and distributor of Copaltite and Dow Corning products. The acquired portfolio includes ESCO’s 3-D BullsEye Viewport, oil sight glasses, indicators and level monitors.

Headquartered in Houston, family owned and operated ESCO has been in business for nearly 50 years. Its visual-oil-analysis product line began over 30 years ago with the introduction of the Esco Oil Sight Glass (OSG). In the years since, that first OSG design has been modified and the line expanded to include horizontal, high-temperature, large-volume and level-monitor models. The contamination-detection capabilities of these products appear to be an ideal fit with Des-Case’s breathers, filters and other fluid-handling solutions and services that protect and clean lubricants.

According to Des-Case CEO Brian Gleason, broadening his company’s offerings with visual-detection products strengthens its position as a convenient and dependable partner for operations that want to improve their reliability and extend oil and equipment life. “Through our global distribution network and OEM partnerships,” he said, “Des-Case will expand an already-trusted product line in the marketplace to broader geographic and industry reaches.”

Commenting on the recent transaction, ESCO’s President David Haught noted that a sight glass combined with a Des-Case desiccant breather and proper filtration provides “the ultimate protection” for lubricated equipment. “Aligning with Des-Case,” he said, “offers a way to take the product line to more customers and industries than we ever could on our own. We saw it as a natural step in the products’ and our company’s growth.”

ESCO will remain a distributor of Des-Case products and oil sight glasses and will continue to sell Dow Corning products.