Combine technologies for effective oil analysis

Vibration analysis, thermography, and ultrasound are more valuable together.

By Jeanna Van Rensselar, Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers (STLE) June 12, 2018
Cost-effective, comprehensive and proven, oil analysis is an extremely powerful condition monitoring tool. Those skeptical of its benefits are likely not fully or correctly leveraging its awesome range of capabilities.
Getting the most from oil analysis starts with setting up the program correctly and continues with thorough follow up. For some organizations, it makes sense to bring in expert help in the form of reliability consultants who will initiate and manage the program.
“Acquiring data without having a process to organize and follow up with the information can lead to confusion and frustration for users,” said David B. Doyle, CLS, OMA I, OMA II, general manager of ALS Tribology. “The challenge today is taking the data that historically has been generated and report it in such a way that it provides more value for the user. Reporting data without a process for follow up and ownership limits the value that is available from using these condition monitoring tools.”
Oil analysis benefits
According to RCL platform leader for Allied Reliability Matt Spurlock, oil analysis is the one technology that can actually monitor equipment health proactively—before damage occurs. This includes the ability to monitor the presence of solid contaminants, moisture, and lubricant health. “In addition to working in the proactive zone, oil analysis is an excellent tool to use within the predictive zone,” Spurlock said. “When sampled from the correct location, following best practice sampling procedures and utilizing a comprehensive approach to sample testing, oil analysis can determine the presence of wear debris very high on the P-F curve.”
One of the benefits that oil analysis has over most other condition monitoring tools is it detects problems in both the fluid and the machine. In addition, it may detect defects earlier than other technologies such as thermography and ultrasound. For this reason, oil analysis is usually the first line of defense.
Among the many benefits of oil analysis are: 
Longer equipment life. Oil analysis ensures machinery is being lubricated optimally while also monitoring issues such as wear and contamination. Wear particle analysis—the cornerstone of oil analysis—is amazingly effective at flagging and predicting problems before they start to negatively affect equipment life. 
Extended lubricant life. Oil analysis yields a clear picture of the condition of the lubricant so that it never has to be changed prematurely. This can, in some cases, more than double the filter change and drain intervals. Eliminating even one oil change a year saves money in material and labor time.
Reduced equipment downtime. Oil analysis gives maintenance personnel the opportunity to detect and correct issues before they cause equipment shutdown. On-the-road breakdowns, in particular, are expensive. The cost of oil analysis pales in comparison.
Monitoring of viscosity and acidity. Knowing the oil’s viscosity means knowing if it is adequately lubricating the parts. The Base Number (BN) and Acid Number (AN) on an oil analysis report will indicate if the oil is still protecting the machinery. 
Boosting resale value. Nothing says the equipment has been taken care of better than a series of reports demonstrating regular oil analysis.
Oil analysis is not just about saving money, it’s also about reducing headaches and having the assurance there will not be any serious disruptions in operations due to equipment failure. 
“Analysis of in-service lubricants detects a wide variety of failure modes,” Doyle said. “This can include damaged components, severe operating conditions, lack of proper maintenance, lack of proper lubrication, or lubricant degradation and contamination. Different types of equipment have specific failure modes that reflect equipment design and metallurgy that oil analysis diagnostics staff are trained to recognize. Test parameters can give indications as to the root cause. Other times the test data will pick up the symptom of the failure mode, which requires further inspection. Many times the value of the test data can be increased 10 fold after discussion between the end-user or asset manager and the testing laboratory.”
Instituting oil analysis
Most people don’t need convincing that oil analysis is beneficial. However, the prospect of setting up a comprehensive oil analysis program can seem daunting. Following are a few steps that, if sequentially adhered to, will ensure the program is set up and then functioning correctly.
1. Select an oil analysis lab. This is a good first step because the lab can provide advice on setting up the rest of the program. Look for an established lab with a demonstrable quality assurance program and industry accreditations such as ISO 17025 or 10CFR50. If possible, it’s always a good idea to visit the lab before committing. In fact, the laboratory’s proximity can itself be an advantage since it allows more timely delivery of samples—especially important in emergency situations—which the new oil analysis program hopefully will eliminate. 
2. Articulate goals. The program’s structure and foundation should be based on sound reliability engineering goals that create a roadmap for designing and implementing the program. The oil analysis lab can help here, but it is ultimately up to the end-user to align the program with the organization’s reliability needs. Following are a few suggestions for goals: 
  • Improve reliability by avoiding breakdowns and extending life (both the machinery and its parts)
  • Flag and eliminate recurring problems
  • Eliminate most unscheduled maintenance
  • Maximize lubricant life and performance
  • Support comprehensive proactive and predictive maintenance.
Once these goals are established, it’s time to choose a program champion/key contact. 
3. Create an equipment list. Establish a list of equipment to be sampled. Prioritize based on equipment criticality and allow for adjustment as the program continues. This list should include at least the following: 
  • Equipment identification (a generic description along with serial number) 
  • Component type, make, and model
  • Required lubricant brand and grade, often designated by the OEM
  • Oil reservoir capacity
  • Filter type and rating
  • Sampling frequency.
Equipment critical to plant operations should be identified first. Appropriate oil analysis for critical equipment includes wear metal analysis, moisture content, viscosity, acid number, particle count, and analytical ferrography. 
4. Devise the sampling strategy. While the oil analysis lab can advise, the end-user is the ultimate decider on sampling strategy. This strategy will include sampling locations, method, and procedure. 
The procedure component of the strategy is where most programs fall apart. Oil analysis labs receive the vast majority of samples with information that is incomplete—making it very difficult for end-users to get the most from the report. This is where the program champion comes in. It is this person’s job to ensure that each sample is labeled correctly when it arrives at the laboratory.
“A key to achieving maximum ROI from oil analysis is to ensure the laboratory has all the required information regarding the equipment being sampled,” Spurlock says. “When going to the doctor for a blood test, we are asked questions such as age and health history in order to assure the correct test state. Just as in misdiagnosing a human, failure to provide the needed information for a machine also will result in a misdiagnosis.”
5. Establish performance metrics. Metrics always lead to accountability, so create metrics tied to the program’s original goals. For example, are there fewer breakdowns? Is there a reduction in recurring problems? Is there less unscheduled maintenance? Are drain intervals being extended? Be sure to account for anomalies and other factors that will affect the accuracy of the metrics.
If all of this seems a little overwhelming, there are reliability service providers that are more than qualified to set up and administer the program. More about this later. The bottom line is that setting up an oil analysis program requires careful consideration, planning, and—perhaps most important—consistency and thorough follow through in order to be successful.
KapStone Paper: A success story
KapStone Paper, located in Longview, Wash., produces a wide spectrum of kraft and recycled products ranging from containerboard to kraft papers, saturating kraft, and folding carton board. It is an example of a company that makes full and effective use of integrated condition monitoring technologies. KapStone leverages oil analysis, microscopic analysis, vibration analysis, and ultrasonic and thermal imaging.
“At KapStone Paper, we have integrated several different technologies into our predictive maintenance program to help increase our uptime and reduce the number of failures we have,” said Jeffrey H. DesArmo, KapStone’s lubrication manager. “The benefits of oil analysis are many, and the ability to integrate other predictive maintenance technologies throughout our mill benefits us a great deal and provides for a more thorough and accurate diagnosis of equipment issues. We work with our vibration department on a daily basis sharing equipment-related concerns as they are identified.”
Out-of-spec oil reports are shared between the two crews, which review the historical oil and vibration data. The equipment may be re-sampled as needed and closely monitored for change. When the vibration group reports a motor that is noisy or has a high frequency event on a bearing and asks for lubrication, a lubrication specialist uses the UE Systems ultrasonic meter to ensure that the right amount of grease is inserted to the bearing. Thermal imaging helps find hot spots and allows for the location of potential problems in larger, more complex systems.
“Microscopic analysis is an effective method of identifying wear debris, as it allows us to see what type of particles are being generated in the oil, accurately count the particle numbers, and examine their size and shape, which allows us to more accurately assess the machinery and the condition of the oil,” DesArmo said. “We can have results as quickly as an hour after a sample is brought in.” 
A good example of the benefits of integrated analysis at KapStone was an oil sample that came back fine—but the vibration department subsequently picked up a high gear mesh on a roll-mounted gearbox. Temperatures were up on the gearbox, and the motor was drawing high amps to keep running. 
“After performing a microscopic analysis of the oil, I noticed there was wear material in the oil going to the gearbox,” DesArmo said. “The wear material was coming from the pump that was feeding the gearbox from a larger oil reservoir and was not pumping properly. The pump was failing, and with the finding we were able to switch over to a backup pump and replace the failing pump on our time. The cost of the possible failure of a gearbox and downtime associated would have been in excess of $300,000.”
In situations where an oil sample cannot be taken during normal operating conditions, thermography and vibration analysis provide data without requiring downtime or interruption to operations. They also provide a picture of what is happening during actual operating conditions.
According to Doyle, in situations where an oil sample cannot be taken during normal operating conditions, thermography and vibration analysis provide data without requiring downtime or interruption to operations. They also provide a picture of what is happening during actual operating conditions. In addition to thermography and vibration analysis, ultrasonic analysis provides information on structural deficiencies before larger problems occur, which would not necessarily be picked up by oil analysis. The composition of gases generated in emission and effluent processing also can provide unique information regarding asset operating health. 
Allied Reliability’s Spurlock has been working with KapStone. He explains that in addition to sending samples to an outside laboratory on a regular basis, KapStone purchased equipment to make patches and view them through a microscope onsite. 
“This gives KapStone a very early indication of any potential severe condition,” Spurlock says. “Through this process, the lubrication supervisor prepares patches from oiled and greased components for review. On more than one occasion, they noted abnormal wear particles on the patch and were able to notify the vibration group for further review. In each instance, the vibration group confirmed the presence of a problem, although the vibration data had yet to reach a level of alarm. This allows the facility ample time to plan and schedule needed corrective action or overall component replacement.” 
DesArmo said KapStone chooses to integrate predictive technologies for several reasons but primarily because of the amount of uptime and reliability they gain. 
“Then there is the understanding of other disciplines and how they work,” he says. “Tying all of the technologies together, we find that we work better together than if each department is on its own trying to increase reliability, not knowing what the other is up to.”
Jeanna Van Rensselar is a writer to TLT, the official publication for the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers, a CFE Media content partner.