German engineers in Saarbrücken recently announced that they have devised a sensor system that makes it possible to monitor the oil in industrial equipment without halting operations.
The chemical constituents of the oil are inspected using optical techniques and, as well as preventing unnecessary lubricant changes, this also enables workers to estimate when the next oil replacement might be required. The new system could be used in a variety of machinery, including wind turbines and industrial plants.
One of the engineers, Professor Andreas Schütze, explained that the importance of their invention revolves around the fact that it can be hard to tell exactly when oil needs changing. It is also vital to replace lubricating oil at the correct time because, gradually, it will oxidise, useful additives will expire, and the oil will become contaminated with particles and metal dust. This means that the solution can no longer lubricate effectively and equipment may be damaged.
Until now, either oil samples had to be taken from equipment and analysed, which is a costly process, or oil was simply changed regularly before it failed, which led to waste.
The new system works by shining light through the lubricant and analysing the way that it is scattered by any particles found there. The type of particles and their concentration in the oil can then be deduced.
It is thought that the new sensor system will be particularly useful in monitoring oils, such as Mobil SHC Gear 220, which is found in the gearboxes of machines used by the steel, paper, lumber and textile industries.