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How debris analysis can help prevent equipment failure

Despite your best efforts, and your choice of high quality lubricants from Mobil UK stockists, it’s not unheard of for components to fail, usually for one of three reasons:

• Condition-based failure
• Random failure
• Early failure

A condition-based failure is most often caused by some sort of contamination. In addition to wear debris, dirt, liquid and gases can contaminate a lubricant from the outside. Depending on the nature of the contamination, it can accelerate component wear, compromise oil viscosity or cause metal oxidisation. While good lubricants like those from Mobil contain additives to mitigate these effects, all of these things can ultimately contribute to equipment failure.

Random failures, meanwhile, can manifest at any time. They are also referred to as event-dependent failures, which may be more accurate because they are likely to result from misuse, such as by overloading a particular part or running the machinery at an excessive speed. At such high loads, particulate can touch surfaces and surfaces can come into contact with each other, both of which lead to more wear occurring.

An event failure, finally, is often the result of inadequate lubrication practices, which in turn leads to premature wear and ultimately failure. For example, prior to start up, sliding surfaces may not be lubricated, so they remain in contact until a film forms between them. This, of course, leads to increased wear, and equipment frequently fails during this sensitive period. This can often be resolved by using a hydrostatic lubricant like Mobil DTE 25 to create a protective film prior to movement.

The good news here is that wear analysis can give some clues as to what’s happening within a machine. While it’s perhaps not appropriate to analyse every piece of equipment for wear, you can prioritise your most important assets and regularly analyse their lubrication. In addition, when starting an oil analysis programme, an initial thorough analysis of all equipment can help highlight the equipment that’s most at risk from excessive wear. Unusual behaviour like vibration, overly high pressure, and overheating can also be indications that a wear analysis may be warranted.

You can also look for warning signs in your regular oil analysis. If there is a rise in wear metals—such as copper, aluminium and iron—it may well indicate that there is an accelerated rate of wear going on. Another useful indication is the particle quantifier index (PQI), which quantifies the distortion to a magnetic field as it is applied to the sample bottle. This is used to measure ferrous particulate, and it is a useful supplement to the wear metal numbers. It is by no means a perfect indication, because it does not measure non-ferrous particulate, for example, but if the PQI has risen dramatically while the iron level remains stable or even drops, it probably means larger wear particles are being created. This is also a good reason to conduct wear analysis.
A wear analysis by a trained technician can then identify the nature of the wear particles, which in turn can help point at the source of the wear and suggest a suitable intervention.

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