Oil analysis dates back to the end of World War II when the US locomotive industry started the practice to successfully detect diesel engine problems via wear metal in the engine oil. It’s a tried and tested process that has stood the test of time and forms a permanent place in any condition monitoring plan.  In a time when there was less data to work with, oil samples were one of the primary, scientific means of identifying issues in components. Today, the amount of data that a Reliability Engineer has access to for condition monitoring is almost insurmountable thanks to the myriad of sensors, alarms, and live data streams.  

So why do we continue to use oil sampling for our fleet when we have so much data available?  There is an OEM obligation as well as a notion that it’s “a good way to see if something is wearing and could fail soon”.  If that is the case, it’s a very expensive alarm system and not the best use of the data!  

Here are five more reasons your investment in oil sampling is valuable for you and your team to maintain a reliable fleet.

1. You’ve Invested in Sampling, So You Should Use as Much of The Data as You Can.

Consider how much a typical site invests in oil sampling. An average size Australian coal mine may produce 6,000 samples per year, if they have an appropriate sampling regime.  Take into account the cost of the sample kit, fitter and admin time it equates to around AU$75 per sample (give or take $10).  That is around AU$450k per year.  Most sites only have the capacity to fully utilise about 20% of the reports they pay for and they are generally ‘urgent’ and ‘critical’ that are flagging an issue that may well be advanced and required immediate attention. The remaining 80% of the data is still valuable for condition monitoring and establishing base limits to identify even the smallest changes in oil condition.

2. Good Oil Condition Equals a Healthy Component

Gerard Wood of Bluefield Asset Management, always makes the point that one of the best ways to maintain a reliable fleet is that you need to focus on two things “Good oil condition and viscosity, viscosity, viscosity”.  The benefit of focusing on your oil condition is that you will be able to identify subtle changes to your oil early. It’s known that approximately 70% of hydraulic system failures are associated with solid particles oil contamination. It’s possible a similar percentage for other components and systems too. Proactive maintenance to address these changes early will get you well ahead of further degradation or wear that may result in a failure or at the very least, reduce the number of ‘critical’ and ‘urgent’ lab evaluations. Focusing on oil condition not only helps improve your asset’s health, you will also be getting value for your oil sampling investment.

3. It’s A Historian of Your Equipment’s Health

Inevitably, things fail on equipment and some of those failures are costly. It’s imperative to get to the root cause of the failures to ensure that it’s not a systemic issue or it may require some type of warranty claim with the OEM. Your oil sample history may hold the key to the root cause of the failure and provide you with a relatively quick answer on what happened and when. You will have access to the entire sample history of the oil sampling and it can be used to get an understanding of what it considered normal and if any subtle trends or rates of change can be identified and correlated to other oil sample data, you may have a very quick answer to your failure.

4. It's Reliable

If you have sampled and analysed the clean oil going into the compartment you know precisely what is in the system. After, say 500 hours, when you sample and analyse again, you can measure the quantity of elements and particles in the oil. Since that contamination wasn’t in the oil used to fill the compartment, it had to be generated in the compartment or introduced during operation. With the historical data available now, combinations of various elements in certain proportions indicated certain wear mechanisms in our equipment. Oil analysis is a reliable indicator of compartment condition.

5. It’s Insightful

An individual oil sample is a useful snapshot of compartment condition at any point in time. You get a breakdown of the quantity of elements, the physical condition of the oil and perhaps particle count. But even more insight is derived from trends and advanced data analysis. Larger data sets help establish baselines for specific machines and their ’normal‘ compartment performance. These data sets allow for highly tuned alarm limits to be set. This reduces ’false positive‘ alarms generated by generic laboratory limits. Reducing false positives, reduces the administrative burden to review, make decisions and create follow up action. Data analysis helps identify the ’bad actors‘ in a fleet, helping to focus limited resources on the biggest issues. 

Fully utilising your oil sample report investment requires a dedication to understanding and analysing all the available data. Relialytics is dedicated to helping our customers fully utilise their oil sample reports and improve their fleet reliability through the application of our data analytics tool called the ‘Equipment Condition Supervisor’ (ECS).