Interpreting an Oil Analysis Report - The Top 10 Tips

The final laboratory Report - whether received in an electronic form or as hardcopy - is the axle upon which any oil Analysis program turns. Without a solid grasp of the underlying principles of reading and understanding the Analysis report, the inexperienced reader is likely to quickly grow frustrated with trying to make sense of the seemingly unintelligible test data. However, with just a few basic rules and a modicum of understanding, any oil Analysis neophyte can quickly come to grips with reading and understanding an oil Analysis report. The following 10 tips are provided to allow anyone new to the oil Analysis game to come to terms with his or her reports. Tip No. 1: Know the Sampling Point Before Reviewing Its Report When the moment comes to review your latest set of sample results, it is unlikely that you will have the time to look up each piece of supporting data for each sampling point as you read. Familiarity with the machines you monitor, in all senses of the term - operational, mechanical, maintenance and servicing - is essential for relating mechanical, operational and documentary machine information to the oil Analysis results. Recording supporting information, like filter changes and oil top-offs as they happen can also help correlate changes and problems highlighted by the Report to maintenance activities. Tip No. 2: Provide Feedback to the Lab Regarding Your Findings If you are working with a commercial laboratory, the Report interpretation process should be a collaborative process between you and the professional analyst. Lab analysts specialize in the chemical and physical oil Analysis tests and how they relate to diagnosing mechanical and lubricant-related problems in the sampled system. You, on the other hand,

06 quarts) of oil. and the total volume of oil in which the wear metal is suspended. To put this into understandable terms.the result should come back close to 500 parts per million by weight (the standard reporting scale for elemental analysis). but the lock requires two keys to open. in a particular geared drive with a five-liter oil capacity. send it to the lab and have it analyzed. When looking at the change in wear metal concentrations from sample to sample. If the lab has perfect calibration on a perfect spectrometer . One of the more challenging aspects of learning how to interpret oil Analysis data is reaching a reasonable conclusion on whether wear is being generated from the entire oil-wetted area of the part(s) composed of a given metal. The room will never be opened without timely. and without your input. try this: find a standard-size (not jumbo) paper clip composed of iron and dissolve it in one liter (1. only to find that the lab did not flag the data as significant. One key to resolving this situation is to grasp how vanishingly small one part per million (ppm) is. This illustrates how a large numerical value may be associated with a small actual quantity of material. iron has increased from 115 to . 3: Learn About Magnitudes of Change for Common Test Results Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a wear metal result change from two to four (a 100 percent increase). you may never learn in depth how problems on the horizon create changes in certain results. This can often leave you wondering if something was missed. the analyst may never learn the operational details that are sometimes necessary for a set of results to make sense. it is important to consider:   the total area of oil-wetted surface in the system that is made of the metal whose level changed.have the field experience on the sampled system’s operation and application. or just a small portion of it. Take a sample of this oil. Consider the Report as a locked room full of treasure. Without the analyst’s input. Tip No. For example. You have one key and the analyst has the other. You know the actual result of any actions you took and damage you discovered based on the data from a given report.one able to pick up all the iron in the sample . routine communication and cooperation.

it is essential to provide the lab with accurate names. As a part of this step. monitor. In the case of larger accounts with multiple areas of responsibility. etc.). maintenance personnel and clerical staff at both . or is the sample completely misrouted or mismailed? Laboratory clerical mistakes can be easily corrected by faxing the laboratory a corrected hard copy of the report. glance at the sampling point ID and determine if the systems are misidentified when compared with the most recent Analysis samples.281 ppm from one sample to the next. It provides the Report reader with a rapid way to tell if the latest sample from a given sampling point requires immediate review or action. alert. It is important to sort the samples with the highest priority (critical. for example due to corrosion.hopefully the majority of your sampled machines. Tip No. alarm. The severity/condition status statement or code is the lab’s capsule summary that characterizes the overall seriousness of the conditions revealed by the analysis. then the next highest (abnormal. or does it represent two square inches of one side of a flaking gear tooth? Tip No. etc.) should be grouped with the normal sample reports . addresses.). Verify the Customer-provided Information The content of an oil Analysis Report can provide information about the effectiveness of samplers. Once the critical and abnormal samples have been identified. etc. Does this represent wear generated over the entire two square feet of iron alloy gear surface. 4: Locate the Worst Reports and Address Them First You should start by sorting multiple reports by severity/condition status. phone numbers and e-mail contact points. 5: Proof the Report’s Clerical Data before Examining the Numerical Data Verify the Report’s Routing Are you the report’s intended recipient? If not. is it because of a simple clerical error such as a misspelled or incomplete address. the reports that indicate minor result changes but do not require immediate action (marginal.

because it underlies all serviceability assessments of viscosity and additive content. brand and grade. you should look for missing or obviously incorrect lubricant-inservice data . you should review the system supporting information .machine and lubricant information used for interpretation of the test results. If the time on the oil is not provided. It is also important for the make-up oil . Missing. First. incomplete or unacceptable entries may reflect either a failure of plant personnel to provide the data to the laboratory or a failure of the lab to record it. results simply cannot be trended accurately. By definition. oil change. This information is usually found in a block near the top of the form.ends of the oil Analysis process. An extended time between the sampling date and the day it was received at the lab may reveal turnaround issues that may not be related to lab performance. This customerprovided information is vital to the proper interpretation of the test results. yet one of the most vitally important. Finally. look at the difference between the date the sample was taken and the date the lab received it. overhaul. Next. the specific purpose for the analyst’s comments is to interpret . such as storing the samples for an extended time before mailing them or using an inherently slow mail service.the oil manufacturer. in the industrial setting.fresh oil added during the sampling interval to maintain a correct oil fill level . Tip No. etc. Make-up oil additions tend to drive all test values toward normal as the fresh oil replenishes additives.to be reported and properly recorded. Almost all wear elements and many contaminants are evaluated on a rate of change basis. dilutes contamination and lowers wear metal concentrations. Next. be sure to review the operating data-records of periodic usage or servicing of machine and lubricant since a specified time-based service point (startup.) Unfortunately. the oil time in-service data is often one of the most omitted pieces of supporting data. Either places a limit on the laboratory’s ability to select and apply appropriate guidelines. Note any reports that have missing or obviously erroneous data for later correction and forwarding of updates to the lab. 6: Read and Interpret the Report in a Logical Order Review the Analyst’s Comments First This step comes before “read the test results” for a good reason.

First. review the summary statement. The condition summary statement will generally be followed by a series of informative statements which detail each problem. look over these statements to see if they make sense from a servicing or engineering standpoint for the system being sampled. mark the Report for later follow-up with the lab analyst. Having read the analyst’s comments first.). etc. when you do reach the test results you are already sensitized to the information that the laboratory professional considers of primary importance. it merely increases the reader’s dependence on the analyst’s comments and his or her on-the-spot knowledge and experience in reviewing data. but which will beg explanation. test values that have diagnostic significance will be flagged or highlighted in some way (underline. you will often encounter minor sample-tosample variations which have no diagnostic significance. You should begin your review with these flagged results. which in most cases begins the analyst’s comments. If control limits are printed on the Report along with the as-tested values. oil degradation or abnormal wear. If the analyst’s comments pass this “reasonability test. it may simply mean the laboratory chose not to try to condense its evaluation for each result into a set of numbers. quickly review the supporting data for any errors that might have led the analyst to make such statements.any significant changes in machine condition as indicated by significant values or trends in the data. Review the Test Data On any quality report. in a sense. It is. letter code. It should give you a concise overview of whether the conditions detected fall into the realm of contamination. you have a convenient way to judge the severity of the current test results. The Report presents a great deal of numerical data and text in a small space.” then move on to a closer examination of their content from a machine condition and diagnostics standpoint. such as “drain and flush” on a high oil capacity system or “shut down immediately” on a nuclear reactor feed pump. Once you overcome your understandable desire to jump directly to the numbers on your report. laboratory or operational experience. and a recommended course of diagnostic or corrective action. it is easy for the eye to be . causative factors as supported by data. This choice certainly does not render the Report useless. boldface type. It is best to focus initially on one test at a time. like reading the answers before taking the test. To drive your decision on what actions need to be scheduled. If you attempt to review the test results before reading the recommendations. If you encounter statements that are incomplete or erroneous for the sampled system. If limits are not printed on the report.

Learn what these abbreviations mean. Tip No. The system operator may also have noticed poor or . rising operating temperatures or surface hot spots near critical parts can all help to support or confirm oil Analysis data interpretation. look on the back of the Report for a key to the test codes. or ask for a diagnostic chart from the lab to explain what each one means.The Second Opinion The medical analogy often used to explain the role of oil and oil Analysis as the lifeblood of mechanical equipment is appropriate here. Presently. you may feel a little lost. Most labs provide such charts free of charge to their customers. When viewing a large number of reports. how the test data pertains to diagnosing certain problem conditions. if the lab Report prints out the chemical symbol for each wear metal instead of the full element name. use the embedded shadings and lines between vertical and horizontal columns. Similarly. If you were diagnosed with a serious condition and your doctor recommended surgery. take note of the abbreviations used by the lab for different tests. if your Report format has them. it would be perfectly reasonable to seek another doctor’s advice on whether that surgery was necessary.when your eyes are tired it is easy to overlook a small. when oil Analysis results come back indicating problems. contact your laboratory for a test code key. there is no generally accepted inter-laboratory set of abbreviations for the wide range of physical and chemical properties tests. other test data may be listed under an abbreviated heading like FTIR-Ox (Fourier transform infrared oxidation data) or RPVOT (rotating pressure vessel oxidation test). remember to take breaks . Likewise. Try to learn each element’s chemical symbol. take the time to see if other condition-monitoring technologies being used on that system are also showing alert indications increases in vibration readings. not knowing what test a given abbreviation stands for is one of the major sources of reader frustration when scanning a report. When reading the numerical data. 7: Look for Confirming Diagnostics/Symptoms .overloaded by all the data. If coded abbreviations appear instead of full text headings and they are not immediately understandable. important detail. To guide your eyes. For example. If no key is given. and most importantly. and you are not familiar with all of the abbreviations.

That’s a good approach to reading your oil Analysis reports. However. the correct response to a single elevated reading is to immediately resample and retest to confirm the initial data. excessive noise or an inability of the system to reach fullrated load or speed.Don’t Under. it will become a habit. take it for what it usually represents . oil analysis. . It’s best to read reports before scheduling the next day’s activities and well in advanced of scheduled downtime so that any investigation of detected conditions can be factored into the production timetable.an early warning. and if necessary. also be wary of the most common. 9: Get Into a Report Reading Routine It has often been said that if you do something every day for six weeks. Ailing equipment rarely cures itself! Tip No. Previous successes in diagnosing problems may also give you management support to take quick action where necessary. a specific place to review your reports. usually incorrect response to a bad sample Report . With a well-planned oil Analysis test program. More often than not. remember that although sharp up or down shifts may indicate a serious problem. but particularly wear and additive element data. vibration Analysis and thermography operate on different diagnostic principles and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. but multiple alert indications signal that it’s time to act. you often have time to plan your next step. Production and maintenance scheduling for the affected system may allow you to group other actions together with those directly related to the oil Analysis findings. a little time and another sample will cure the problem.an oil change. Tip No 8: Gauge Your Response . performance observations. Sensory evaluations. one sample is not a trend. Set up a specific time.or Over-React When faced with a confirmed abnormal oil Analysis report.erratic response. In reviewing all data.

while assisting in root cause Analysis on the failure of a routinely sampled system. In addition. .it’s up to you to take it the rest of the way. For a complete full-length version of this article and others on lubrication fundamentals and strategies. if you do not act on the report. Much time and effort is spent in creating your lab reports. when resamples are needed there is generally a small window for taking them. the effective resample window may close.Tip No. is one of the most valuable tools in the condition-monitoring toolbox. 10: Read Your Reports Today After Tip No. Labs work hard to place critical machine condition data at your fingertips . 9. oil Analysis and contamination control best practices. Editor’s Note This article is an excerpt from a conference paper presented at Noria’s Lubrication Excellence 2003 conference held in Houston April 1-3. it became obvious that the oil Analysis Report was ignored completely or simply not read until it was too late. supported by qualified chemists and engineers in the lab. you might be asking why belabor the point? Every year there are cases where. 2003. High-quality oil analysis.

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