What is Oil Analysis?

In this article I’ll be running through the basic benefits of carrying out a regular oil sampling and analysis programme. looking at who needs it, who should be carrying out the work, what types of machines is it suitable for, why even small units will be suitable and the reasons why. 

Who needs oil analysis?

I suppose the first question that gets asked is “Who needs an Oil Sampling and Analysis Programme?” and a common thought is “Surely this is only applicable to those places where huge machines are involved.” 

So firstly, any company using machinery which contains components which are lubricated is a suitable candidate.  In this instance size isn’t really that important, providing a sample which is capable of being analysed can be obtained, in reality 60ml for most oil tests and a few grams for greases. 

rail oil analysis

Who should carry out the Sample collection? 

The actual sampling needs to be carried out by someone who has been trained in the correct procedures which should be observed and complied with.  This is necessary in order to prevent damaging the unit from which the sample is being taken or creating a non-representative sample during the collection phase of the process by failing to take the necessary precautions to prevent the ingress of external contamination. 

What sort of machines should we have Oil Analysis carried out on? 

In reality there is no reason to think that Oil Analysis is only suitable for a ‘specific’ range of industries or to those who only have assets which contain large volumes of oil. 

There’s also the train of thought that “It’s only a small gearbox, so we just change the oil each year” thereby negating the need to carry out Oil analysis. We’ll be looking at Why this isn’t always the best thing in the next section 

So, any machine containing rotating components which are lubricated with Oil or grease and which have the ability to physically access this lubricant, can be successfully sampled on a routine basis. Sealed for Life units being the usual exception.  

Oil samples generally only require 60ml to be collected for analysis, there are some exceptions. 

Why do you need oil analysis?

The arguments for not carrying out regular sampling and Oil Analysis usually contain reference to the “High Cost” whereas in fact the comprehensive test suites for most types of fluids can be obtained for less than £20. 

Even a one-off analysis will provide a snapshot of what is occurring within the unit from which the sample has been taken.  Identifying the chemical composition of the lubricant along with the levels of wear metals and the amount of contamination present in the sample is great; but to see and trend changes in these attributes regular samples must be collected. 

Why sample the small volume unit mentioned earlier when it’s a cheap option to just keep changing the oil on a calendar or running time basis?  The answer is simple, if you just dispose of the used lubricant, then the chance to determine the levels of wear to the bearings, gearshousings, or other internal components which may have occurred since the last change will be lost forever.  Thus, when a failure occurs on a machine which has always been maintained that way, it will come as a surprise to the company; because they will feel that they have carried out all the necessary maintenance actions needed to keep it running. Whereas in fact  the available wear history that could have been determined has simply been discarded. 

The costs involved in an unplanned production outage far outweigh the small cost of that one additional sample which could have identified the progression of a fault from an early stage which if trended would have shown increasing levels of wear metals that could have been used to identify the likely source/type of the problem component and allowing for timely intervention to be planned. 

More Information

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December 16, 2020 Chris Scrimshaw  Oil Analysis