Archive | January/February


2:16 pm
January 1, 2009
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From Our Perspective

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”
…Albert Einstein



Ken Bannister, Contributing Editor

At a recent international roundtable discussion, attendees were asked to define their version of a “World-Class” maintenance organization. Many rolled out the proverbial shopping list of “must haves.” These are attributes required by various maintenance award committees that have attempted to tangibly define “World-Class” status as a scorecard of the number of philosophies and policies followed over a defined time period. According to these committee definitions, “World Class” ostensibly is achieved by measuring a department’s scorecard against a set of subjective performance measures—set and contributed to by most of the people around the table.
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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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LMT News: News of people and events important to the Lubrication Management community

The National Lubricating Grease Institute (NLGI) recently honored ExxonMobil technical expert John P. Doner with its prestigious “Award for Achievement.” This award is reserved for individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the long-term growth and development of the institute and the field of lubricating grease technology. Currently an advanced research associate with ExxonMobil Research & Engineering in Paulsboro, NJ, Doner holds nearly 20 patents related to grease manufacturing and composition.

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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My Take: Whatever It Takes



Jane Alexander, Editor-In-Chief

Bright spots in these gloomy times have been few and far between. When I hear about them—even anecdotally—I can’t wait to share them. Here’s a couple.


Consider 3-ply toilet paper, which (forgive me), first rolled out last September. One of the most expensive bathroom tissues ever, its sales, apparently, have been booming. More good news closer to home (at least as far as this magazine is concerned) comes from Inpro/Seal. Sales of its bearing isolators reportedly are up by 14% over the same period last year. Just goes to show that some products are recession-proof. The right one at the right time always will find a market.

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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Bill Kiesel, Vice President/Publisher

I would have preferred to start out with a cheerier “Happy New Year” message. But, let’s face facts: we have a real challenge on our hands. Stock market turmoil, mortgage meltdowns, credit crises, plant closings, crooked investment advisors, you name it, the hits just keep coming.


Over the last few months, as the economic news has gone from incomprehensibly bad to incomprehensibly worse, you’ve probably wondered, more than once, if you can really trust anyone or anything anymore. I believe that you can, and I offer Applied Technology Publications (ATP) and its brands as examples.

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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Using Thermography to Monitor Motors and Gearboxes


It’s true. This predictive technology can be a powerful tool in an effective lube management program.

Predictive maintenance (PdM) programs monitor equipment condition, with the goal of identifying problems in advance and avoiding equipment failure. One powerful tool for monitoring rotating equipment is infrared thermal imaging.

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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Benchmarking and auditing…

Part I: Are you Best-of-Class? Consider Specific Auditing Steps

This publication is primarily devoted to upgrading the understanding and management of lubrication practices at industrial facilities. But upgrading lubrication practices is very rarely the only thing that a facility needs. Recognizing that fact, we also subscribe to the practice of “benchmarking.”

It may be reasoned that questions as to how the performance of one plant compares to that of another are answered by formal benchmarking studies. In general, benchmarking compares key performance indicators (KPIs) within an industry sector. Benchmarking studies also define how close a company is approaching a certain number or figure, or the quartile or percentile within which the company can be ranked.

Expectations and reality 
For many years, formal benchmarking studies performed by Hartford Steam Boiler Solomon Associates (HSBSA) have focused on a clearly definable business. The staff made it their goal to address all issues that affect profitability of the enterprise. To this day these studies examine historical facts, not plans.

When HSBSA first embarked on these studies decades ago, its experienced personnel had certain expectations: 

• Little variation in performance—after all, we live in the space age and everyone has access to modern technology

• Similar results for the affiliates of world-renowned companies

• Differences in performance due to such physical issues as size, age, location and unionization 

But, what they found surprised even those seasoned individuals: 

• There were wide variations in performance—despite access to modern technology. Profitability, expressed as Return on Investment (ROI) of pacesetter (Best-of-Class) companies, was typically in the vicinity of 16%, vastly exceeding that of the low performers, some of which reached only 4%.

• HSBSA found no affiliation synergism. Top quartile plants and bottom quartile plants sometimes had the same owners.

• There seemed to be weak correlation to physical factors, at best. Big plants were at the top and big plants were at the bottom. Small plants at the top, small plants at the bottom. Old plants at the top, old plants at the bottom, and the same with plants in this hemisphere or on that continent, unionized or non-unionized.

Statistics showed that the lowest (maintenance cost) quartile’s craftsmen had four times more pieces of rotating equipment per person than the highest cost quartile. Those in the highest-cost quartile are kept busy repairing failures and have no opportunity to examine the causes of these failures. Consequently, they cannot participate in the formulation and implementation of action plans to make permanent repairs or to devise preventive or predictive remedies.

It was further shown that the consistently high performers base management decisions on real data. They adhere to the plan and deal with all deviations. They always focus on economics, optimize revenue and expense, and take responsible risks. We know they record events and thoroughly investigate all causes. These profitable plants follow through by revising their planning to avoid repeat events. They understand that repeat failures are the precursors of extreme failures and that extreme failures culminate in disasters.

The uniqueness of pacesetters 
0109-equipment-realiabilitySolid performers seek sustainable excellence and most decidedly engage their employees. Solid performers are pacesetter companies. In pacesetter companies, there is unconditional acceptance of the fact that facilities, maintenance and organization are an interdependent continuum. This implies a commendable level of communication, cooperation and consideration among virtually all job functions in the plant. A good example would be a petrochemical company with not only a management committee, but also a steering committee that gives guidance and actively elicits employee feedback. This latter activity is structured to give visibility to the efforts of every competent worker. 

Facilities with first-quartile capability are almost certain to engage in lifecycle costing. They will view every maintenance event as an opportunity to upgrade and will base the decision on the findings of a rigorous root cause failure analysis. Combined with lifecycle costing of the various remedial options, these best-of-class companies have positioned themselves to capture financial credits from the chosen course of action.

“Best-of-class,” implying first-quartile companies, thus perform reliability-centered maintenance (RCM) in a thoughtful, results-oriented manner, quite unlike their fourth-quartile peers for whom RCM is often a laborious, costly, and largely procedural effort. Many of the low performers have at one time tackled RCM simply because it had been viewed as the cure-all, the magic panacea. Seeing their efforts frustrated, the low performers have since abandoned RCM and have gone back to their old and ineffective ways of doing things.

Best choice among pacesetters: “building reliability into the equipment” 
Among the typical KPIs are “percent work order backlog,” or “percent unplanned maintenance events,” or “fewest maintenance dollars spent per tons of production.” The different ways of calculating are truly endless—and for industry to be desirous of quantitative numbers is understandable. If it cannot be measured, it cannot become a goal toward which to strive, as the saying goes. Even reliability performance must be quantified; we will describe one quantification method under “periodic post-startup plant audits,” later in this article. However, the probable reliability performance must be assessed before the equipment is selected, and reliability can be designed into the equipment.

As if it needed repeating: reliable and efficient machinery is probably the most important factor in ensuring the profitable operation of process plants. This contention becomes law in the petrochemical industry, where economic considerations often mandate the use of single, non-spared machinery trains to support the entire operation of steam crackers producing in excess of one million metric tons (approximately 2.2 billion pounds) of ethylene per year. When plants in this size range experience emergency shutdowns of a few hours’ duration, flare losses alone can exceed one million dollars. Evidently, the incentives to build reliability into the machinery installation are very high. This is a fact generally recognized by the top design contractors and best plant owners. They allocate funds and personnel to conduct reliability audits and reviews before taking delivery of machinery, during its installation, or even after the plant goes on stream [Ref. 1]. This allocation of funds would reflect in the original budget.

Comparing “audits” with “reviews” 
Many texts have defined a “machinery reliability audit” as any rigorous analysis of a vendor’s overall design after issuance of the purchase order and before commencement of equipment fabrication. Reliability audits would tend to utilize outside resources for brief, concentrated efforts. On new equipment, audits would commence within two months of the purchase order being issued.

Again, and for new equipment, “reliability reviews” are similarly defined as a less formal, on-going assessment of component or subsystem selection, design, execution or testing [Ref. 2]. Reliability reviews would be assigned to one or more experienced machinery engineers who would start being involved in a project from the time specifications are written until the machinery leaves the vendor’s shop for shipment to the plant site.

Note that the primary purpose of the very first (and only pre-delivery) audit effort would be to flush out deep-seated or fundamental design problems on major compressors and drivers before these are shipped to the purchaser. A secondary purpose would be to determine which design parameters should be subjected to non-routine computer analysis and to assist in defining whether follow-up reviews should employ other than routine approaches.

In contrast, machinery reliability review efforts are aimed at ensuring compliance with all applicable specifications. These reviews also take place before equipment delivery and will concentrate more on judging the acceptability of certain deviations from applicable specificafitions. In the process of an ongoing review, an experienced reliability review engineer will provide guidance on a host of items that either could not, or simply had not, been specified in writing.

Staffing and timing of pre-delivery equipment audits and reviews 
If machinery audits and reviews are performed by experienced engineers, they can be a tremendously worthwhile investment. Of course, this presupposes that a perceptive project manager will see to it that the resulting recommendations are, in fact, implemented.

A petrochemical project in the $1,500,000,000 range optimally would staff machinery reliability audits with four engineers for a four-month period and machinery reliability reviews with two engineers for a period of two to three years. Using the 0.1% rule, the total cost of these efforts would be in the league of $1,500,000. If this sounds like a lot of money, the reader may wish to contrast it with the value of a single startup delay day, say $1,000,000, or the cost of two unforeseen days of downtime—perhaps accompanied by the thunder of two tall flare stacks for the better portion of two days.

Once the plant has been running for a while, however, it will be time to conduct the first of many periodic reliability assessments. So, while reliability assurance efforts made before delivery of the machinery are more cost-effective than post-delivery or post-startup endeavors aimed toward the same goals, each has its purpose and justification.

Periodic post-startup plant audits 
After the plant has been operating for a few years, it will be important to compare its reliability performance against that of a best-of-class facility. Note, though, that this comparison is not oil refinery vs. oil refinery, or steel mill against steel mill. Just as even the brightest scholar is not likely to be the top performer in all fields of human endeavor, a best-of-class facility may not be at the peak in every particular work process, operating and maintenance procedure, component reliability, and so forth. Collectively, however, a best-of-class facility will receive a very high ranking in effectively utilizing the best work processes and procedures, tools and components. At a best-of-class facility, very few machines will experience repeat failures and equipment will reach high uptimes. Such a facility will compare well against the majority of other contenders and the audit will spell out the difference in measurable terms. While the various contenders may actually represent completely different industries, they will expend much effort in successfully identifying and upgrading the weak links so as to achieve long equipment life and low maintenance expenditures. In other words, they will not only know that improvement is possible, but will know when and how and where and why to cost-justify improvement steps.

As an example, the use of machine condition monitoring at a Pulp & Paper (P&P) plant may be ranked close to the top 10% of plants, whereas the best practitioner of condition monitoring may perhaps be an aluminum producer. On a scale of zero to 10, the P&P plant may be given a “nine” while the aluminum plant might merit a “ten.” Or, in comparing lubrication practices, a certain bulk chemical plant may only be given a “four.” Conceivably, the smartest and best performer would be a pharmaceutical plant that doesn’t waste a drop, verifies oil cleanliness at the plant gate and uses superior lube application methods throughout.

Coming up 
In the second installment of this two-part article, the author will provide more information on post-startup audits, along with guidelines to help you audit your own operations.


1. Bloch, Heinz P., Machinery Reliability Improvement, Gulf Publishing Company, Houston, TX. Originally published in 1982. The revised 2nd & 3rd Editions (ISBN 0-88415-663-3) appeared in 1992 and 1998.

2. Bloch, Heinz P. and Fred Geitner, Machinery Uptime Improvement, (2006) Elsevier-Butterworth-Heinemann, Stoneham, MA (ISBN 0-7506-7725-2)

Heinz Bloch is the author of 17 comprehensive textbooks and over 340 other publications on machinery reliability and lubrication. He can be contacted

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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Utilities Manager: How Mixer Efficiency Protects a Municipality's Bottom Line

As statistics go, these certainly grab your attention. Energy consumption is expected to increase by 20% over the next 15 years, and its cost and availability will have a substantial impact on the economic health of U.S. manufacturers and municipalities. The industrial sector accounts for approximately one-third of the energy consumed annually in the United States—an estimated $116 billion. On the public side, the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that processing municipal drinking water and wastewater consumes more than $4 billion in taxpayer dollars per year[1]. Public utilities—which account for up to 35% of all municipal energy consumption—can put a real dent in state energy budgets.

0109-how-mixer-efficiencyIn addition to skyrocketing energy costs, manufacturers and municipalities face increasingly stringent energy and environmental regulations. Recent legislation has expanded the commitment of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct), calling for 25% reduction in energy use by 2017. The Energy Independence and Security Act President Bush signed in 2007 mandates motor efficiencies beyond the minimums of the 1992 Energy Policy Act. This bill goes into full effect in December 2010.

What does this mean for water and wastewater treatment (WWT) plants? By more efficiently using their energy resources, these operations could lower production costs while increasing productivity—with the potential for capturing millions of dollars in bottom-line savings. They also could decrease emissions of pollutants such as sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, particulates and other greenhouse gases.[2] This would help publicly owned treatment works (POTW) get ahead of the stricter regulations now looming on the horizon. For example, the Wisconsin Water Association[3] estimates that saving 100 horsepower in a water treatment facility can:

  • Save 657,000 kWh per year, enough to power 65-70 homes
  • Avoid 290 tons of carbon dioxide
  • Avoid 1971 pounds of sulfur dioxide
  • Avoid 986 pounds of nitrogen oxide

So, there is a proven corollary between energy efficiency and environmental output. When applied nationwide, these numbers become significant. In 2005, an estimated 25.4 and 8.0 Tg CO2-equivalent of CH4 and N2O, respectively, resulted from organic sludge degradation in wastewater treatment systems—more than 0.5% of America’s total greenhouse gas emissions.[4]

This is where capital equipment counts. Along with pumps, mixer drives are major energy consumers that directly affect throughput. While mixers represent significant capital investments, they are one of today’s most overlooked and misunderstood energy users. Accordingly, enhancing mixer performance reduces energy consumption, improves process flow, improves pump performance and directly impacts the bottom line at WWT facilities.

Yes, we know…but
Although plant operators are aware of the benefits of increased energy efficiency, they often resist implementing the changes necessary to achieve these goals because of the challenges involved. Increasing efficiency for substantial, measurable results requires both proper motivation and an engineer’s insight into the root causes of inefficiencies — which most commonly reside within the plant’s mixers and other capital equipment.

In spite of costlier production and new legislation, the country’s 15,000 municipal wastewater plants have little immediate incentive to improve energy use. This group measures success by basic compliance. Most POTW do not control their own budgets and ultimately have no responsibility for the bottom line. Regulatory compliance and continuous operation are the areas for which they are most accountable.

A second challenge to energy efficiency involves the identification of all of the root causes behind “phantom” inefficiencies. This is a complex task that applies to all operators, regardless of industry niche. Ferreting out the origins of inefficiencies provides measurable returns to the bottom line, and usually improves throughput and reduces by-products. For these reasons, improving the energy efficiency of wastewater processing is important to every operator.

That will be $1 trillion, please
Energy use—kilowatts and dollars—in wastewater processing varies widely, depending on an array of variables that include:

  • Regional energy costs
  • Type of wastewater being treated
  • Type of process used
  • Type and age of equipment
  • Regulations governing output quality

According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (, POTW use 2% to 35% of their operating budgets on energy, and more than 50% of that total energy use is in aeration treatment.[5] If nothing changes, these numbers are likely to increase considerably as America’s municipal infrastructure continues to age. (Most POTW are 30- to 50-years old, meaning they were designed and built when energy efficiency was not a national concern. [6]) Things, however, are changing. Experts predict that as new health regulations and population growth further stress public water systems, nearly $1 trillion in investments will be needed over the next 20 years to meet current environmental mandates.

Industrial wastewater processing also is subject to tightening environmental regulations. Commercial manufacturers, though, have enormous motivation to improve energy efficiency as it directly impacts the bottom line. This takes on an even larger role at a time when raw material and transportation costs are skyrocketing and the world struggles with an economic recession.

Interestingly, in the industrial sector, the proportion of investments in energy efficiency (25%) is lower than the proportion of energy use (34%). According to one report, even when they were under-achieving, industrial manufacturers saved $5.6 billion by improving energy efficiency.[7]

That means there is still a long way for industrial operations to go—but good reason for going there.

The industrial sector, however, invests in energy efficiency differently than other wastewater operations. Retrofit opportunities are limited, project cycles can be substantially longer and efficiency upgrades are generally undertaken only when they can be coordinated with overall capital expenditures for facility upgrades. Investment is further slowed because ROI can take three to five years, depending on the industry and the nature of the improvements.[8]

In the United States, 80% of all the energy used in manufacturing is consumed in the following industries*, listed in order of kWh used:

  • Coal, metal ore and nonmetallic mineral mining
  • Food and beverage 
  • Textiles 
  • Wood products and paper 
  • Petroleum refining 
  • Chemicals 
  • Plastics and rubber products 
  • Glass and glass products 
  • Cement 
  • Iron and steel mills 
  • Alumina and aluminum 
  • Foundries 
  • Fabricated metals 
  • Heavy machinery 
  • Computers, electronics, appliances, electrical equipment 
  • Transportation equipment

*All other manufacturing industries account for the remaining 20% of energy used.

Mixer performance and opportunities
Mixers play a major role in virtually every wastewater process, including aeration, flocculation, froth flotation, activated sludge and trickling filters. They also are used in primary, secondary and tertiary sewage treatment. Mixer inefficiency can originate in any number of areas, from inaccurate pre-purchase specification to changes in the process requirements to improper repair to simply running the mixer in the wrong direction.

Improper equipment specification…
Although wastewater plant design is a sophisticated feat of engineering, equipment frequently is specified improperly in the final plan. Engineers, consultants, operators—in other words, every vested party—seem to want to “leave room for error.” This often yields a plant with equipment that exceeds needs by 25% or more before it is even commissioned. Conversely, budget constraints can cause specifiers to choose underpowered mixers. In this case, the equipment operates at more than 100% of spec from day one.

Both mistakes kill energy efficiency.While energy usage is based on horsepower, mixer performance is best measured by torque, and should be selected via load modeling based on this criteria.

Universal application/change in application…
In an effort to conserve money, operators often specify one model of mixer for all of the wastewater applications in their facility. These bulk-purchase savings turn into huge deficits as soon as the electric meter starts running. To maximize efficiency, operators should evaluate every individual application and select equipment based on:

  • Vessel size and shape
  • Depth or volume of liquid 
  • Velocity gradient
  • Specific gravity 
  • Viscosity 
  • Mixing intensity

In a related situation, operators sometimes change applications without updating their mixing equipment. Wastewater streams may be moved or altered for any number of reasons, including:

  • Change in scale/scope of production (scale down/scale up) 
  • Elimination of products from product line 
  • Change in regulations 
  • Change in upstream processes 
  • Change in raw materials or production process 
  • Change in basin size or configuration

Any of these changes can drastically impact a mixer’s load and energy efficiency. It is unrealistic to assume that a mixer will continue to provide peak performance in an environment that is different from the one for which it was specified. Thus, any of these changes require a re-evaluation of the entire system, including pipe diameters, pipe networks, ducts and flow control devices such as valves, regulators and dampers.

Mixers use drives designed for the loads being applied to them. If the load exceeds the specification it will reduce the mixer’s efficiency—this often occurs when operators increase process volume in an attempt to maximize throughput. Some operators try to circumvent the problem by over-specifying the gear drive. But this isn’t energy efficient, either. A larger than-needed drive develops additional friction, which needlessly increases energy consumption.

In other cases, operators try to increase throughput by changing an impeller to a larger size or remove tank baffles. Retrofitting the wetted parts without consulting a mixing expert not only threatens energy efficiency, it also can reduce mixing efficiency. What’s more, it can damage the mixer drive by creating loads beyond the equipment’s capacity. This will lead to mixer breakdown and unplanned— and costly—downtime.

A comprehensive process change, though, can enhance energy consumption. Some POTW, for example, could reduce sludge recirculation during low influent conditions, thus reducing energy demand. Denitrification of lower nitrate loads in the anoxic zone typically remains stable during low influent periods since less oxygen is produced from the denitrification process.

Installation, service and upkeep…
Improper mixer installation can rob even a well-designed system of its designed efficiency. Planners, working with a mixing expert, must consider mixer placement and impeller technology when building or upgrading. A side-entry mixer, for example, may provide better mixing using a smaller drive motor (less energy consumption) than a top-mount mixer, depending on basin size, configuration and process materials. Just because an operator used a top-mounted mixer in the past doesn’t mean it’s still the best solution; many mixing technologies are available today that didn’t exist when plants were originally built.

Assuming that the set-up is correctly executed, staying on scheduled maintenance timetables is one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to maintain peak performance. Stretching or missing scheduled maintenance causes excessive wear—which contributes to suboptimal energy usage.

Working toward efficiency
Research by the Industrial Electric Motor Systems Efficiency Workshop for the G8 Plan of Action indicates that up to 7% of global electricity demand could be saved by optimizing motor-driven equipment in industrial processes.[9] Energy consumption accounts for approximately 97% of the cost for motor-driven equipment over its lifetime.

Wastewater handlers employ multiple mixers and aerafltors in their processes, and thus have several opportunities to up their throughput while improving energy efficiency. They can accomplish this by being mindful of the guidelines contained in this article and consulting with a mixing expert for specific action items. UM

Karen Lee Nafzinger is vice president of Philadelphia Mixing Solutions, a leader in equipment and process optimization for chemical processing, wastewater biological treatment, industrial wastewater treatment, tank storage, special application mixing, flue-gas desulfurization (FGD), water treatment and other fluid-mixing applications. The company offers a complete range of gearboxes, mixer drives, shafts, aerators and specially designed impellers to measurably reduce energy and maintenance costs while improving operational efficiency. Its custom-built, state-of-the-art test lab facility simulates full-scale operations and offers quick-turnaround testing and modeling of alternative mixing designs. All of Philadelphia Mixing Solutions test and manufacturing facilities are certified NQA-1 Standards and ISO 9001:2000. For more information, telephone: (800) 956-4937.

Additional Resources

There are numerous resources available to operators. Don’t hesistate to check them out, including the following:

  1. Energy Star program fact sheet, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 2008
  2. “Energy Use, Loss and Opportunities Analysis: U.S. Manufacturing and Mining,” December 2004, prepared by Energetics Inc. and E3M Inc. for the U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Industrial Technologies Program
  3. “Focus on Energy,” Joseph Cantwell, P.E., SAIC, Wisconsin Water Association, April 17, 2008
  4. “Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2005,” U.S. EPA, 2007
  5. “Energy-Saving Opportunities at Water/Wastewater Plants,” Lory E. Larson, Southern California Edison Co., May 15, 2002
  6. Ibid
  7. “The Size of the U.S. Energy Efficiency Market: Generating a More Complete Picture,” Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez and John A. “Skip” Laitner, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), May 2008
  8. “Trends in Industrial Investment Decision Making,” R. Neal Elliott, Ph. D., P.E., Anna Monis Shipley, and Vanessa McKinney, ACEEE Report #IE081, September 2008
  9. “Industrial motor systems energy efficiency: Towards a plan of action,” Industrial Electric Motor Systems Efficiency Workshop, May 15-16, 2006

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6:00 am
January 1, 2009
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Part V… How Clean is the New Oil in Your Equipment? Key Take-Aways & Best Practices

Regardless of where contaminants enter the distribution chain, the cleanliness of the lubricants in your facility is ultimately in your hands.

The last four articles involved an investigation into oil cleanliness from the perspective of the three major links in the cleanliness chain:


Oil cleanliness data was collected from each of the major links in the chain and analyzed by an accredited oil analysis laboratory. Each of these links has a responsibility to assure that the oil it provides to the next link in the chain is clean enough for your equipment. Although the focus in these articles was primarily on hydraulic and turbine oils—which have the most stringent cleanliness standards—cleanliness principles should be practiced on all lubricants. This concluding installment recaps the findings of this study and recommends Best Practices for reliability-focused end users.

Key take-aways

  • Oil cleanliness is a key factor in equipment reliability. Ten years ago, a large Gulf Coast refiner implemented a stringent oil cleanliness program that required an ISO Cleanliness of 15/13/11 and <50 ppm water on all delivered low viscosity oils for compressors and pumps. Since the program’s inception, Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) for pump bearings has increased an average of four times.
  • Most end users don’t realize the importance of clean and dry oil and are not aware of the cleanliness of the lubricants they purchase. As more information is made available more end users are starting to recognize the importance of clean oil.
  • Controlling low moisture levels is easier than controlling particles. Most of the lubricants evaluated from the manufacturer to the end user, even those with a high ISO Cleanliness number, were low in moisture.
  • Turbine, hydraulic and low-viscosity circulating oils supplied by major lubricant manufacturers in bulk were cleaner than expected.As an example, two suppliers, one on the West Coast and one in the Southwest, provided the following lubricants to their distributors in bulk: 


Both the turbine and hydraulic oils listed in Table I are clean enough for an end user. Handling and storage by distributors will probably introduce contaminants and lead to a higher ISO Cleanliness Code without implementation of a contamination control program.

Generally, packaged goods supplied by the lubricant manufacturer are cleaner than those supplied by a distributor because of less handling and the use of new versus reconditioned drums. There can be as much as a two- to three-number increase in ISO Cleanliness when packaged by a distributor. This, of course, is dependent on the contamination control practices of the distributor.

  • Oil cleanliness is a group effort—meaning that the manufacturer, distributor and end user share in the responsibility for cleanliness. Each entity has to do its part for a program to be economical and effective. Some programs only include final filtration into an end-user tank without any monitoring of the oil cleanliness through the chain from manufacturer to distributor to end user. This, in fact, is typical of what is occurring in the marketplace. In some cases, the final fluid is not measured for cleanliness. Rather, it is just assumed (incorrectly) to be clean because it has been filtered and that’s what filtration is all about.
  • The most critical link in the cleanliness chain is the distributor. Most distributors/marketers have no idea of the cleanliness of the lubricants they receive from their supplier nor do they know the cleanliness of the lubricants they supply to the end user.
    • Growing numbers of end users are coming to the realization that the level of fluid cleanliness can significantly impact the reliability of their equipment. In turn, more manufacturers and distributors are using their ability to provide clean oil as an effective marketing tool. 
    • Most distributors that filter oil into the end-user tank charge for this service. However, some of the more innovative distributors that monitor cleanliness in their facility provide clean oil to their customers—oil that meets those customers’ cleanliness standards without requiring final filtration—at no extra charge. 
    • Providing clean turbine and hydraulic oils, once the proper equipment has been installed, can be economical if done properly and only requires one filtration step. 
  • One Midwestern distributor supplies hydraulic oil that consistently exceeds customer requirements of 17/15/12 by installing offline filtration in the storage tank. This distributor also uses clean, dedicated trucks to deliver the fluid without need for additional filtration, directly to the customer site, which saves time and money.
  • A Gulf Coast distributor is installing a system to filter all turbine and hydraulic oils to a cleanliness level of 15/13/10. In most cases, though, it will supply cleaner oil than this. Doing so involves filtration into the tank and from the tank to the bulk truck and packaging line. The distributor expects this system to be very economical and that it will be able to provide the clean oil at no additional charge.
  • Oil cleanliness needs to be monitored frequently by the manufacturer, distributor and end user with the assistance of an outside oil analysis laboratory and onsite particle counters. 
    • Good sampling techniques—which are consistent and representative—are vital in monitoring oil cleanliness. Remember, bad data is worse than no data. Portable particle counters can be installed where the sample is collected directly from the system, without collecting a bottle sample. This will minimize outside particle ingression.
    • Portable particle counters can be purchased from a number of suppliers for a cost of $13,000 to $20,000. In this study, looking at different types of counters and correlating the results with outside laboratory data showed that results were usually within one to two ISO codes. In most cases, the portable counter numbers were higher than the oil analysis numbers when bottle samples were evaluated by both methods. 

Best practices for the lubricant manufacturer

  • Target to supply turbine and hydraulic oil at a minimum ISO Cleanliness Code of 19/17/15, monitor all shipments leaving the manufacturing facility and report the cleanliness number to the distributor. 

Best practices for the distributor/marketer

  • Develop a plan with specific written procedures to implement a comprehensive oil cleanliness program.
  • Measure particle counts on all incoming turbine and hydraulic bulk deliveries.
  • Utilize a portable particle counter and correlate results with an outside oil analysis laboratory.
  • Install desiccant breathers on all bulk tanks that maintain low moisture levels and filter ingressed particles down to 2µ.
  • Periodically monitor tank cleanliness at various levels. Drain and clean when required. A well-developed cleanliness program will minimize tank cleaning.
  • Based on customer requirements, develop a minimum cleanliness standard for all turbine and hydraulic oil bulk deliveries. Work with a filter company to install a system to achieve the target cleanliness levels.
  • Develop truck-cleaning procedures along with proper hose storing and capping guidelines.
  • Monitor bulk delivery cleanliness by measuring particle counts into and out of truck. Large discrepancies will necessitate reevaluation of truck-cleaning and hose-handling procedures.
  • Collect two 4-ounce retains of the delivered oil; leave one with the customer and keep the other for an agreed period.
  • Assist the end user in developing a plan to maintain delivered oil cleanliness.
  • Evaluate procedures for improving oil cleanliness — particularly for turbine and hydraulic oils and goods packaged in drums and pails—by evaluating filling and storage practices.
  • Measure cleanliness of reconditioned drums by collecting samples of oil in and out of them and measuring particle counts. Work with drum supplier to improve process if drums are significantly affecting oil cleanliness.
  • Continuously look to improve overall program.

Best practices for the end user

  • Develop ISO Cleanliness Code standards for your bulk turbine and hydraulic oils.
  • Work with your lubricant supplier in implementing best-practice procedures.
  • Develop written procedures for your cleanliness program.
  • Evaluate your bulk shipments for oil cleanliness by conducting particle counts and maintain retain samples.
  • Minimize your drum usage by utilizing tote tanks and five-gallon pails.
  • Utilize plastic versus steel tanks, if possible.
  • Install desiccant breathers on all of your bulk tanks.
  • Use sealed plastic containers for adding oil to small sumps.
  • Minimize oil handling and transfer as much as possible by locating bulk tanks near equipment and pumping directly to reservoirs.
  • Install proper filtration for equipment, when required, and utilize filter carts to maintain oil cleanliness standards. Using clean oil will minimize filtration replacement cost.
  • Properly train your personnel on the importance of clean oil and best practices for storage and handling.
  • Monitor your program closely and look for continuous improvement.

This concludes the five-part series on oil cleanliness. From this study, we verified that increasing numbers of companies are realizing that oil cleanliness provides a high return on investment relating to equipment reliability. If your company is one of these, remember that an effective cleanliness program is a team effort, with lubricant manufacturers, distributors and the end users all working together. Whether you’ve been at it for a long time or just getting started, application of the principles discussed in these articles will be a good way to move your operations a long way toward enhanced equipment reliability. LMT

The authors wish to thank the many people and organizations that provided valuable, real-world information for these articles, including: MRT Laboratories, John Gobert, Mark Kavanaugh, Jimmy Thomson, Bill Tummins and Russell Aucoin.

Contributing Editor Ray Thibault is based in Cypress (Houston), TX. An STLE-Certified Lubrication Specialist and Oil Monitoring Analyst, he conducts extensive training in a number of industries. Telephone: (281) 257-1526; e-mail:

Mark Graham is technical services manager for O’Rourke Petroleum in Houston, TX. Telephone (713) 672-4500; e-mail:

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