January 29, 2016

Four Things You Can Do to Improve Your Oil Analysis Program

“Excellent firms don’t believe in excellence – only in constant improvement and constant change.”
– Tom Peters, author and management consulting guru.

Regardless of whether you are just starting out or have had an oil analysis program in place for years, there are always opportunities to improve. Here are four suggestions you might consider to improve your oil analysis program.

1. Set SMART goals

“A goal properly set is halfway reached.”
– Zig Ziglar, author and motivational speaker.

Oil analysis can be a critical tool in improving reliability, reducing maintenance costs, and even reducing your company’s environmental impact. These are great goals, but broad to the point that they are meaningless.

Remember to set SMART goals:


For example, you might want to decrease your oil consumption compared to a previous year, using oil analysis to help. Or you might be performing a major preventative maintenance service on some piece of equipment based on run-time hours that you want to convert to condition-based to increase availability. Or you might be trouble-shooting a critical piece of equipment that has a history of repeated failures. Again, all laudable goals, but to make them SMART, you need to not only include the goal, but when you want it achieved and how you propose to achieve it. For example:

Increase the oil drain intervals on our haul truck engines from 250 hours to 500 hours, based on the analysis of viscosity change, base number, oxidation, nitration, sulfation, glycol contamination, fuel contamination and wear metals, by the end of the second quarter.

Increase the mean time between failures for paper machine bearings by improving lubricant cleanliness to an ISO particle count rating of 15/13/10 by the end of the first quarter by means of continuous kidney-loop filtration, and confirmed by regular ISO particle counts.

Determine the source of wear metal generation in a multi-bearing machine by analyzing samples taken from individual lubricant return lines. Begin taking samples immediately and at 250 hour intervals until the source of the wear metals is determined.

With specific goals in mind, it is far easier to determine what needs to be done and to measure your successes. Fluid Life’s Reliability Specialists can help you in determining what goals are appropriate for your equipment and industry through our Scorecard, Opportunity Assessment, Industry Benchmark and Criticality Analysis services.

2. Develop a Sampling Strategy

“Change is not a destination, just as hope is not a strategy.”
– Rudy Giuliani, former Mayor of New York.

Knowing where you want your oil analysis program to go is great, but now you need to consider how to get there. With your goals established, you can develop a strategy for achieving those goals. Sometimes the strategy will immediately present itself as part of the goal – improving fluid cleanliness to an ISO particle count of 15/13/10 requires doing ISO particle counts, for example. Safely extending oil drain intervals from 250 to 500 hours would indicate that there might not be much point in taking samples before 250 hours, but you could want to take samples relatively frequently after that, say at 350 hours, 450 hours and 500 hours. You would also want to ensure that the testing includes not only the basic tests but additional tests as well, such as base number, Fourier Transform Infra-Red (oxidation, nitration, sulfation) and Gas Chromatography (glycol and fuel contamination) depending upon the component. To improve failure analyses, look at Optical Particle Classification or Ferrography to better understand the mode of failure by examining the morphology of the wear particles. The more specific the goal, the more obvious the strategy becomes. With the awareness of what your lab offers, and what each test can reveal about your equipment, you can custom-tailor your program to meet the goals you have set.

Fluid Life Reliability Specialists can assist you in developing your sampling strategy by providing an Oil Analysis Audit which includes an onsite inspection of your lubrication program, your equipment to be tested, and your operating conditions. You will receive a comprehensive road map document along with a turnkey process to get you going on the right track.

3. Hone Your Tactics

“Tactics mean doing what you can with what you have.”
– Saul Alinsky, author and social activist.

The importance of obtaining a representative sample cannot be overstated. Essentially, a representative sample will provide you with the most accurate data about the system you are analyzing; it will provide you a sample with the greatest data density. Data density is simply the concept of the amount of information that can be gleaned about your equipment from the volume of oil sampled. Ensure that you have chosen you sampling points with care. Ensure that your workers who are taking samples know and use the proper sampling techniques. Document your sampling procedures so that they can be completed in a consistent manner. Provide complete information about your equipment (make, model, unit number, run time, etc.) and the lubricant in service (manufacturer, brand name, viscosity grade, run time on the lubricant, etc.). Ensure that samples are sent to the lab in a timely fashion and not just collected on a shelf. Get in the habit of reviewing your results as soon as they come in. And remember, no matter how good you are already, there is always room for improvement.

4. Never Stop Learning

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”
– Benjamin Franklin.

Anyone involved in a lubricant program should get at least some basic training on lubrication fundamentals, contamination control, sampling techniques and analysis interpretation. With this foundational knowledge it becomes possible to truly understand and improve your program. Whether you are an engineer, a manager, a seasoned maintenance tech or a new apprentice, you will benefit from a formal training program. Most labs will offer training programs, and industry organizations like the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers through their local chapters often provide the same. If none of these are immediately available, look online for some of the ever-increasing number of courses and seminars. Taking a course, however, is just the beginning.

The more you become involved in your lubricant analysis program, the more you will understand what is happening inside your equipment. When a piece of equipment fails, take the opportunity to examine the parts. Talk with the operators to find out what warning signs were present just before the failure. Listen to those making the repairs and ask questions. Make sure that those involved in your analysis program can be involved to expand their knowledge. Attend lubrication and maintenance meetings and conferences to hear how your peers are approaching and solving their problems. Learn all that you can so that improvements can be made. Understanding how a component fails will help tremendously in interpreting your analysis reports, and with integrating your oil analysis program with other condition-based monitoring techniques. The more you know, the better your program will become.

Time to empower your employees and enhance their skills? Want to transform your reliability program to new heights? Fluid Life’s education seminars on lubrication and oil analysis will get you on the road to lubrication and reliability excellence.