More and more engineers are recognising the problem of lubrication-related equipment failures, yet many managers still underestimate the importance of adequate lubrication. You can of course take steps to improve your lubrication practices, such as by consulting your Mobil stockist to check you are using the most suitable lubricants for your equipment. You may even be able to consolidate some lubricants to simplify the process. You can also establish good practices like a dedicated lube room with suitable equipment for your highly trained lube technicians.
Despite all this, though, any oil will eventually need to be drained and filled, leading to downtime and maintenance costs, but failing to do it in a timely fashion will result in even more unscheduled downtime from equipment failure. So, when can you decide when oil needs changing? Oil analysis can help detect when an oil change is needed, but it can also detect a number of other lubrication issues.
What is oil analysis?
Oil analysis is basically a laboratory analysis of the oil currently being used by equipment. This will typically include details about the condition of the oil in the form of viscosity, foreign bodies, and the levels of the various additives that enable the oil to work effectively. Interpreting this data enables lube technicians to make informed decisions about when an oil change is needed for a piece of equipment. This can help save considerable sums, especially in cases where the cost of an oil change can run into the thousands.
What other problems can oil analysis detect?
Oil analysis can also help detect various other lubrication problems. For example, it can help detect if excessive wear is occurring in a piece of machinery and help you identify the source of the problem. Common problems can be moisture and dirt getting into the oil. In addition, while incorrect oil top-ups should be minimised through good practices, mistakes may still occur. These can cause problems, especially when the new oil has a drastically different viscosity or an additive mix that is insufficient or maybe even harmful to your equipment.
How do you perform an oil analysis?
There are two basic forms of oil analysis, namely onsite and offsite testing. With onsite testing, you invest in the equipment and staff needed to analyse lubricants at your facility, potentially in a very timely fashion. With offsite testing, you bottle lubricant samples and send them to a commercial laboratory for testing. This may increase the lead time for the analysis results. Commercial labs, however, will typically have invested in much more specialised and expensive machinery and will be able to offer a wider range of tests than the average onsite lab, so even when you invest in your own machinery, you may still need to send some samples to an external lab.
When you source your lubricants through a Mobil stockist, you can take advantage of the Mobil Serv lubricant analysis programme. While Mobil has been helping customers with oil analysis for years already, this new programme uses a “Scan and Go” system to drastically streamline the oil analysis process. Firstly, the need for labelling is removed by using bottles with a pre-printed QR bar code and unique numeric identifier. Similar labels are also attached to each piece of equipment. When a lube technician extracts an oil sample, he or she simply uses a provided mobile app to scan the QR codes on the bottle and the equipment. This information will then be available to the Mobil laboratory when it receives the physical sample. Once Mobil completes its analysis, lube technicians can access the results and personalised recommendations from a connected mobile device or computer.
Mobil claims this revolutionary approach can drastically reduce the labour requirement for an oil analysis program. The company points to a Texas-based alumina production company that reduced the time spent on oil analysis by 66%. As part of its preventative maintenance programme, this company collected more than 150 samples a month and submitted them for analysis. This process typically took 24 hours a month to perform, with filling and printing out sample labels taking up much of this time. After switching to Mobil Serv, the whole process took up only eight hours a month.
How do you correct problems?
If an oil analysis identifies any issues in your equipment lubrication, there may be some simple interventions you can make that will generate a good return on investment.
For example, switching the OEM breather cap or dust cap on a piece of equipment to a rated desiccant air breather can help reduce excessive water levels. This uses desiccant beads to remove harmful moisture from air as it is drawn into the machinery during use. The beads also draw moisture out of the reservoir, even when the equipment is out of use. This leads to drier oil, which in turn helps improve equipment reliability. In addition, rated desiccant air breathers can also offer superior protection against small particulates, leading to cleaner oil.
More severe water contamination may require a bit more effort, but a good place to start is by checking the seals on hatches and inspection ports, upgrading them when warranted. An offline filter cart with a filter capable of water adsorption may also be an option.
If incorrect oil tops-ups are proving to be a common problem, look at enhancing your procedures to minimise mistakes. One idea is to attach tags to lubrication ports that use symbols or colours that are matched on the dispensing equipment. Assuming that your lube room ensures the correct lubricants in different dispensing devices, your technicians will easily be able to check they are performing a suitable top-up.
Finally, when it comes to poor oil condition, a timely oil change at a convenient time will usually be required. For particularly expensive oil changes, however, you may want to take advantage of more advanced tests to see if this can be delayed a few months.
Once you implement any changes, you should then monitor subsequent analyses to confirm there is a decreasing trend in the original problem.