Oil condition is a key consideration in maintaining machine health and reliability. From heavy duty fleets to manufacturing machinery to industrial plant equipment, oil condition monitoring can identify the onset of small problems developing inside a piece of equipment long before they result in failures causing costly downtime.
As an integral part of any machinery maintenance program, laboratory oil analysis identifies trends, or changes, in lubricant condition and provides timely maintenance recommendations for addressing any issues. Clear evidence of component wear and contamination allows maintenance managers the opportunity to adjust maintenance schedules accordingly to avoid unnecessary breakdowns and losses in production, as well as reduce equipment repair and replacement costs.
In heavy duty applications, regularly scheduled preventive maintenance tasks, such as filter and belt replacements and fluid level checks, are invaluable to avoiding unnecessary equipment failures. Additionally, “condition-based” maintenance practices, such as routinely sampling and analyzing the lubricants in use, can save time and money.
For example, operating conditions can often have a significant effect on oil change intervals. A standard change interval of 15,000 miles could be too long for a unit that operates 24/7 in a heavily contaminated environment. Or, it could be extended beyond 15,000 if the unit operates only a few days a week or the exposure to environmental contaminants is much lower.
Oil analysis can monitor changes in the lubricant’s physical properties and the rate of wear to internal components caused by the ingression of dust and dirt to determine the optimum change interval. Shortening the change interval could minimize component wear and increase equipment life and reliability. Extending the change interval could achieve significant savings in labor costs and oil consumption.
Oil analysis can provided the same cost-saving benefits in industrial applications. Complete oil drains are not typically feasible for the turbines used in power generation and utility plants which would require replacing thousands of gallons of oil. At the same time, their extreme operating tolerances demand extremely clean lubricants. Oil analysis can pinpoint the most subtle changes in lubricant properties or the presence of even the smallest particles so the appropriate measures can be taken immediately to maintain optimum oil condition and prevent failure while avoiding the staggering costs of a complete oil change.
Continually monitoring oil condition allows maintenance managers to plan for a machine’s time out of service so that the necessary maintenance doesn’t adversely affect work flow, production schedules or budget. Analysis laboratories will assign a severity level to each oil sample and provide recommendations for the type of maintenance action required. Considering the unit’s current condition, its criticality to production and the costs and labor required to correct the problem, the maintenance manager can make an informed decision as to when the unit can be scheduled for repairs and adjust other production responsibilities accordingly.
Finding problems in their earliest stages can not only prevent eventual failure but extend the life of the equipment. Monitoring trends in oil analysis results can alert maintenance managers in any industry to impending equipment failures. Changes in lubricant properties and fluctuations in wear metal concentrations are signals that internal components and, ultimately, the life of the machine are at risk. If timely maintenance action is taken to correct these situations, equipment life and reliability can be extended significantly. The more reliable a piece of equipment is, the longer it can be expected to be in service, reducing both overall maintenance, repair and replacement costs.
Routine oil analysis across an entire fleet or plant can provide invaluable information about equipment performance and can help in identifying a unit’s strengths and weaknesses in specific operating environments under varying workloads. Comparing trends in oil analysis results and documenting maintenance events identified by oil analysis can be instrumental in helping managers control capital expenditures and reduce maintenance costs.
A well-documented history of routine oil analysis can also boost resale values. Providing buyers with proof of routine maintenance and a history of normal oil analysis reports is evidence of good, comprehensive maintenance practices so they can be confident they are purchasing well-maintained equipment for a good price.
Routine oil analysis should be an integral part of the maintenance plan in both heavy duty and industrial equipment applications. Effective trend analysis is only possible when representative samples are taken from the same sample points and by the same method at regularly scheduled intervals. These trends or changes in lubricant condition provide a roadmap to extending the life and improving the reliability of equipment in any industry – oil analysis is simply the vehicle that can get you there.