Archive | Oil Analysis


8:17 pm
August 9, 2016
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Practical Oil Analysis: Why and What For?

Simply hoping your lubricants are operating  within their protective-specification limits doesn’t make it so.

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

Lubricants are designed and chosen to perform as finite and perishable, integral components of host machines. Rarely, if ever, will a lubricant be employed in identical application and environmental conditions. Enter oil-analysis testing.

Why we test

The uniqueness of lubricants reflects how and when they must be tested, maintained (filtered and temperature controlled), and changed out. Stresses and influences such as load-induced shear stress, thermal degradation, various types of contamination, and wear-metal-catalyzing alter and prematurely degrade lubricant properties.

Oil is made up of a base oil and an additive package that’s designed to combat ambient and working environmental stresses/influences and deliver reasonable lubricant life. Outside stresses produce an array of detrimental effects, including oxidation, polymerization, cracking hydrolysis, and evaporation that manifest as thickening or dilution of viscosity, acid buildup, and sludge. Additionally, when oil loses some of its protective ability, its host bearings can come into contact with one another and release metal-wear particles into the lubricant, which then act as a bearing-attacking abrasive material (three-body abrasion).

These effects and conditions are why we analyze oil. This testing is how we ensure lubricants are serviceable and bearing surfaces are protected.

Screen Shot 2016-08-09 at 3.15.01 PMWhat we test for

Oil analysis is analogous to a blood test wherein a single, properly extracted fluid sample is used for a variety of diagnostics that indicate machine and lubricant conditions. To ensure an accurate interpretation of results every time—reliable ones suitable for trending and historical analysis—samples must be collected in a consistent manner and sent to the same laboratory for testing on the same equipment.

The lab will also require a virgin sample of any lubricant to be tested. This sample is used to document baseline measurements of base-oil type, additive-package levels (metals and chemicals), cleanliness level (dirt-contamination level), and viscosity and acidity. A set of initial samples detailing how and where each was taken will also be required for each machine.

Good laboratories also document an operational profile for each machine tested. Based on it, they can recommend additional beneficial testing, e.g., a Karl Fischer water-contamination test for a food plant with daily machine wash downs; tests for soot and glycol in mobile equipment and generator engines; or ferrographic analysis of metal particulates to determine specifically how a bearing is failing.

Basic oil analysis concentrates primarily on fluid property and fluid contamination.

Fluid-property testing

In analyzing fluid properties, laboratories typically look at viscosity, acidity, and additive elements—the “big three” characteristics that make oils unique—and which, through their changes in service, can tell us how to better maintain our lubricants.

Viscosity. The viscosity rating of new oil is typically measured in centistokes (cSt), i.e., oil’s kinematic viscosity depicting measured resistance to flow and shear by the force of gravity. As oil thickens or dilutes over time, however, its specific gravity changes, leading to errors in gravity-based tests. A more consistent measurement is achieved by checking for the absolute viscosity rating depicting oil’s resistance to flow and shear through measurement of its internal friction. Because absolute viscosity is measured by multiplying kinematic viscosity by the actual specific gravity, it’s an accurate, error-free trending method of choice for most laboratories. To understand which tests your lab used, note the measurement scales: kinematic viscosity (good test) is measured in centistokes (cSt), absolute viscosity (best test) in centipoise (cPs).

Given oil’s many variables, it’s best to work with a laboratory that’s experienced in setting up caution and critical limits for your industry type. Most labs typically start with a clearly defined set of viscosity limits of –10% CL (critical lower), –5% CaL (caution lower), +5% CaU (caution upper), and +10% CU (critical upper) for industrial oils. In more severe environments, the CaU and CU limits can be reduced to +4% and +8%, respectively. For oils with viscosity improvers, the lower limits are usually doubled.

Thickened, more viscous oil points to oxidation (depleted additives), air entrainment, and/or contamination. Thinner, less viscous oil points to a wrong substitution or fuel dilution. 

Acidity. The acid number, or AN, is a measurement of the acid concentration in the oil, not the acid strength, and is greatly affected by the presence of water within the oil. Most oils start with an AN of less than 2.

Setting limits for acidity isn’t as easy as setting those for viscosity. The caution and critical limits are dependent on the type of additive package used in the oil. Most standard mineral oils are considered corrosive over AN 4, whereas AW (anti-wear) or R&O (rust-and-oxidation-inhibited) oils are considered critical well below AN 3. Working with your oil supplier’s engineering department and/or a reputable oil lab with experience in your industry is the best way to set up meaningful acceptable limits for your environment.

A change in oil’s acidity (TAN) points to base oil deterioration, oxidization, and contamination.

Additive Elements. The table on p. 38 lists the typical standard elements for which oil analysis tests. Since some perform in multiple functions, they must be checked against a virgin sample and operational profile to determine if they are beneficial or detrimental when their values are compared with known values.

Fluid-contamination testing

Dirt, water, and chemical contaminants are highly destructive to lubricants. For the most part, however, they’re easily avoidable.

Solids contamination. Testing for solid contaminants involves particle counting based on ISO Cleanliness Code ISO 4406:1999. One method requires a technician to use a light microscope and manually count the number of particulates in a 100-ml oil sample that are >4 microns, >6 microns, and >14 microns in size. The total is then compared with the ISO 4406 cleanliness chart to derive a three-number ISO cleanliness rating. An alternative, automated approach leverages sensors and light-absorption principles to detect and count particles. With this method, ISO 4406 calls for three sample size counts at >4 microns, >6 microns, and >14 microns.

Water contamination. Water in oil promotes rust and corrosion—and, in a dissolved state, will accelerate oxidation. Water can be introduced as contamination through wash downs of equipment or leakage. Prevention measures include coalescing filters/breathers and physical waterproof protection around areas susceptible to moisture ingression.

Testing for water contamination typically involves the Karl Fischer moisture titration method: A vaporized oil sample is carried by oxygen-free nitrogen into a reaction-vessel containing methanol. Trapped moisture is titrated to an end point with a reagent to establish the presence of water in parts per million.

Beyond why and what

The procedures discussed here represent the major components in standard, inexpensive oil-analysis testing. In most cases, they’ll indicate when to change oil, based on condition. Unusual or inconclusive findings should generate more-specific testing that can lead to positive outcomes for both lubricant and machine. MT

Ken Bannister is managing partner and principal consultant for EngTech Industries Inc., Innerkip, Ontario, an asset management-consulting firm now specializing in the implementation of certifiable ISO 55001 lubrication-management programs and asset-management systems. For further details, telephone 519-469-9173, or email



8:03 pm
July 7, 2016
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Industrial Growth Partners Acquires Des-Case Parent

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.15.47 PMIndustrial Growth Partners (IGP), a San Francisco-based private equity firm, has acquired the parent company of  lubricant-contamination-control leader Des-Case Corp. (Goodlettesville, TN).

With a 20-yr. history in the industrial sector, and $2.2 billion in capital raised since inception, IGP has extensive experience building global manufacturing businesses. According to the company, it concentrates  on leading niche manufacturers of engineered products used in critical applications, and partners with their management teams to pursue strategic initiatives focused on achieving long-term shareholder value.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.19.40 PMFounded in 1983 when it brought the first desiccant breather to market, Des-Case now provides an array of  fluid-cleanliness products, services, and training that improve equipment reliability and extend lubricant life in industrial plants around the globe. It, in fact, has enjoyed the growth-opportunity benefits of private-equity investments since 2013, when it was acquired by Pfingsten Partners L.L.C.

Screen Shot 2016-07-07 at 2.20.35 PMIn 2014, Des-Case announced its own acquisition of the visual-oil-analysis line of ESCO Products Inc., the well-known, family-owned, Houston-based manufacturer of various  fluid-monitoring technologies and distributor of Copaltite and Dow Corning products. The acquired portfolio included ESCO’s 3-D BullsEye Viewport, oil sight glasses, indicators and level monitors.

“I am honored and excited to be a part of writing the next chapter in the Des-Case growth story alongside our valued customers, partners and investors,” noted company president and CEO Brian Gleason. “IGP has over two decades of experience investing in the industrial sector with a proven track record of building world-class global businesses. We are looking forward to the partnership.”

Other than the report that Des-Case’s management team has retained a substantial ownership stake in the company, terms of the July 6, 2016 transaction haven’t been disclosed.

For more information on Des-Case, CLICK HERE.

To learn more about Industrial Growth Partners, CLICK HERE.


9:00 am
June 28, 2016
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Net-Oil Measurement

Foxboro NOCT60A net-oil Coriolis transmitter is an all-in-one meter and flow computer that provides a single-box solution for net-oil measurement applications. Consisting of a CFT51 Coriolis transmitter and a CFS10, CFS20, or CFS25 mass flow tube, the unit integrates digital technology with a built-in flow computer equipped with Realflo software to measure net-oil volumes on the liquid leg of two-phase separators or the oil leg of three-phase separators. The transmitter is said to solve common problems associated with the measurement of production fluids, including incomplete separation and gas carry-under, and of detecting adverse conditions such as fluid erosion, corrosion, and flowtube coating.
Schneider Electric
Foxboro, MA


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

Oil Analysis Data Evaluation


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.

For more information, visit: