January 31, 2016

Are You Falling Victim to the “One Size Fits All” Trap?

You’ve decided that an oil analysis program is a good idea in your efforts to better manage your organization’s assets.  You’ve attended seminars, read papers, done your homework, and understand that samples need to be taken regularly and consistently in order to provide you with reliable information on which you can base your corrective actions.  You decide to sample all of your critical equipment on a monthly basis, and to perform the basic oil analysis tests (ICP spectrometry, viscosity, crackle water test) on each sample.  You’re getting some good results, seeing some trends, and even identified a problem or two early enough to have saved yourself some serious money.  You’ve made a great start, but is it possible to do even better?

The truth of the matter is that your equipment is not all the same.  You have internal combustion engines, steam turbines, gas turbines, reciprocating compressors, screw compressors, ore crushers, electric motors, gearboxes, hydraulic systems, process pumps, transmissions, final drives, conveyors, and / or dozens or even hundreds of other pieces of lubricated equipment.  They all use different lubricants and have different duty cycles.  Is monthly, basic testing the right approach for everything?

Criticality Analysis

“For the want of a nail the shoe was lost,
For the want of a shoe the horse was lost,
For the want of a horse the rider was lost,
For the want of a rider the battle was lost,
For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail.” – Benjamin Franklin

From the quote above, one might believe that the nail was the critical component in the chain of events that led to the loss of the kingdom.  If that were truly the progression of events, it was.  The probability, however, of a specific nail causing the loss of a kingdom is very small – with 6 to 10 nails per shoe, 4 hooves per horse, one horse per rider and 2500 soldiers in a regiment, the odds that a single nail could topple the kingdom are about 80,000 to 1, even assuming the soldier was critical to the battlefield victory.  Further, there are steps that can be taken to mitigate the risk at every level – having spare horses, for example.  But if the soldier in question is the regimental commander, the odds change.  The commander is unique, and his leadership is central to success in battle.  The odds that a missing nail in the regimental commander’s horseshoe could topple the kingdom fall to a mere 32 to 1, and the commander’s absence from the battlefield makes losing the battle more likely.  As a result, the commander will have a number of spare horses on hand, and a farrier to keep them well-shod.  This is the essence of a criticality analysis.  The more central the element is to the success of the system, and the more likely a failure could occur, the more critical the element becomes.

When doing this for a mine, a petroleum gathering system, a processing plant, a pipeline, or any other complex system, a more formalized approach is called for.  FMECA, or Failure Modes, Effects, and Criticality Analysis, was originally developed in the 1940s by the US military, and formalized with the publication of MIL-P-1628 in 1949.  It extended the concept of a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) by including a criticality analysis to determine the probability of failures and the severity of their consequences.  The full process of doing an organization-wide criticality analysis is beyond the scope of this article, but the basic principles are easy enough to understand.  For each element of the system, it is necessary to determine what impact the failure of the element would have on the overall organization, and the probability of the failure occurring.  The elements are then compared with each other to determine which are the most critical, and thus which would demand more care and attention.  Simple, right?  In practice, the complexity of a criticality analysis expands exponentially with the size of the system, but doing it is necessary in order to optimize your maintenance budget; to ensure you are spending your money where it does the most good.

Optimizing Your Oil Analysis

“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” – Unknown

With criticality analysis, it becomes obvious that some pieces of equipment are more important than others.  Some equipment may, then, benefit from more frequent oil analysis, while some may need less. Your original plan to sample all of your equipment once a month can be adjusted based on facts gleaned from the analysis of hard data, but what about the kind of analysis you are doing?  The basic tests of viscosity, spectrometry, and water content are good for identifying problems, but are there tests available that are better suited to specific types of equipment?  Tests that reveal more than just how things are, but how they can be better?

Different tests produce different information that can be used for different purposes.  In addition to the basic tests, engine oil testing would include an FTIR (Fourier Transform Infra-Red) test to reveal how the oil is degrading over time due to oxidation from high temperatures and contamination from combustion by-products, allowing you  to change engine oil based on actual operating conditions, not just a conservative estimate from the manufacturer.  A Gas Chromatography test identifies and quantifies glycol contamination and fuel dilution in the oil, giving you a picture of the condition of different systems.  A hydraulic system using valves with extremely close tolerances will require a higher level of fluid cleanliness than other pieces of equipment, so an ISO particle count test makes sense.  An industrial gearbox generates internal wear particles over its entire life, but knowing how it is wearing is important.  An Optical Particle Classification (OPC) test is useful.  A large steam turbine in a thermal generating plant has a huge lubricant reservoir, is expected to run 24/7 for months or years at a time, and requires an accurate estimate of the remaining life of the oil so that maintenance downtime can be properly scheduled. A Rotating Pressure Vessel Oxidation Test (RPVOT) serves this purpose well.  These are just a few of your options.  A very wide range of tests are available to match your needs precisely.

These additional tests, of course, come at an additional cost over and above the basic testing, but many can be selected as “triggered” tests; tests that only occur if certain basic test results are exceeded.  Others are parts of testing packages that are specifically set up to address the specific needs of specific industries.  Your oil analysis lab should not only be able to perform all of the tests you require, accurately and reliably, but should also be able to provide you with the guidance you need to choose the right tests, the right frequency of testing, and provide meaningful interpretation assistance.

Reliability Solutions

“Facts from paper are not the same as facts from people.  The reliability of the people giving you the facts is as important as the facts themselves.” – Hal Geneen, CEO of ITT Corporation, 1959-1977. 

Traditional oil analysis has worked well for 50 years. But as the market continues to evolve, so do the needs of our clients. Demands are higher and industries require more support than ever before.  Fluid Life has responded to changing customer needs by becoming much more than a traditional lab. Our expanded offering now delivers a much higher level of reliability for our customers.  Whether you need basic analysis, advanced testing, interpretation assistance, training, or any number of other services, we’re here to help.  We can help you Identify where there might be inefficiencies in your oil analysis and lubrication processes; help you devise and implement plans for specific improvement projects as required; and provide sustainable solutions to put you back in control of your oil analysis program & ensure its long-term success.

Fluid Life is accredited to ISO/IEC 17025:2005 limited to tests on the laboratory scope of testing. This includes the same quality management requirements as ISO 9001:2008, while at the same time demonstrating competence in analytical testing. Conformance to ISO/IEC 17025 ensures that Fluid Life operates a quality management system, is technically competent and is able to generate technically valid, reliable results.