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Nine Reasons Why Oil Analysis

Programs Fail

Ashley Mayer
Tags: oil analysis
Many oil analysis programs are failures. Maybe not total failures, but they are
almost certainly not delivering the results they could be and should be. Here are
some of the most common reasons why oil analysis programs do not live up to their
1) Poor Analysis Strategies
A commonly beholden oil analysis strategy is to take samples only when the
machine is suspected of having a problem, or when some other condition
monitoring (CM techni!ue, such as vibration, triggers an exception. "il analysis,
like most other CM tools, is a trending game. #f the only samples that are ever
analy$ed are problems, then without a background of the known%normal situation,
the diagnosis is likely to be unreliable. &o, don't only take samples when problems
are suspected( make sure to sample regularly and fre!uently.
This pie chart provides a comparison of vibration and
oil analysis and initial problem detection.
2) Analysis Intervals are too Infrequent
Another common pitfall is performing analysis too infre!uently. )his is often for cost
reasons, but this is usually a short%sighted *ustification. +ust look at the cost of an
oil analysis program using correct analysis fre!uencies and compare it to the
potential savings. #t will !uickly become obvious that taking shortcuts here is not
#f cost is still an issue, then consider either reducing the test scope on alternate
samples or perhaps consider some on%site oil testing. )here are basic, cheap tests
which are easily and inexpensively performed, yet are considerably powerful.
)ools exist to determine re!uired analysis fre!uencies, and a good rule of thumb is,
critical e!uipment on a monthly basis and less critical e!uipment on a three%
monthly basis.
3) Poor Sampling Techniques
"il analysis is like a sausage machine, -hat you get out is what you put in. An oil
analysis program is only as good as the oil sampling program. .xtracting the
sample is probably the weakest link in the oil analysis chain, so it's worth taking
some time and effort to make sure that representative samples with a minimum of
data disturbances (i.e. sample contamination are being extracted.
)here are basically three ways to take a sample, from the drain port( using a drop%
tube and vacuum pump( or from a dedicated sample valve, possibly with a vacuum
pump. )he first two methods are the most likely to produce a contaminated
sample, and it is fair to say that between them they account for more than /0
percent of samples extracted.
As a matter of priority, try to install dedicated sample valves in the correct
locations. .nsure that sampling procedures are documented for consistency
reasons, and make certain that the staff entrusted with this vital task is properly
trained on how to accomplish it.
4) Delay in etting the Samples to the !a"oratory
1asically, the information contained in your sample becomes obsolete almost as
soon as the sample has been taken. &o waiting for days, or even weeks or months,
to dispatch the samples to the laboratory is not going to help in limiting the degree
of obsolescence. 2on't wait until you have a full box of samples before you send
them off to the lab 3 and don't try to skimp by using ground, rather than overnight,
delivery service.
#) Delays in etting $esults %ac&
2elays in getting the results back can be caused by the laboratory or by results
being received but not disseminated to the correct party internally. 4ou should
expect to have a report in your hand within 56 to 67 hours of the sample reaching
the laboratory, assuming no speciali$ed testing is necessary. #f this is not the case,
then check to see where the bottleneck is located. 4ou might need to consider
changing laboratories, or you might need to improve the speed of internal
communication within your organi$ation.
') Poor Information Su"mitte( to the !a"
As mentioned previously, oil analysis is a trend game. And if you cannot maintain
the trend, then the usefulness of the techni!ue is compromised. )here should be a
consistent means in place to describe machines and components during sample
submission. #f this is not done, then what occurs is known in the trade as a 8split
history9, two or more instances of the component exist in the database with
samples split between them. #t might be a good idea to ask your laboratory to
supply you with a list of all machines and components that they have on record for
you. &tudy it and ask them to merge any split histories you find.
)he analogy of an oil sample being to a machine what a blood sample is to a human
being is often used. "il analysis is mechanical pathology. .xtending the analogy a
bit further, when you give a blood sample to your doctor, you also impart to him or
her other useful information by talking to them. )he same goes for machines. 4ou
should let your laboratory know about any unusual operating characteristics or
recent maintenance carried out. #t will help with the interpretation.
)) !ac& of *orrect Tests
-hen a sample is analy$ed by the laboratory, typically a test slate appropriate to
the type of component is applied. &ome of these test slates are more
comprehensive than others( but in almost all cases, there are many more tests
available that could usefully be employed, particularly when abnormal operation is
observed or suspected.
:nfortunately, correct test selection is something that you will likely need to drive
yourself rather than relying on it *ust getting done automatically. 1uild up a good
contact at your laboratory, someone with whom you can call and discuss results
and, possibly, alternate testing. )he other option is to make yourself familiar with
all of the tests available so you know what to ask for and when to ask for it.
+) Poor Interpretation of the Tests
)here are many reasons for poor interpretation of the results. )hey include,
unfamiliarity with the e!uipment in !uestion by the diagnostician( decisions made
on the basis of poor or inaccurate supplied information( incorrect test slate
selection( and conservative or vague interpretations, possibly fueled by litigation
concerns. ;ike test slate selection, result interpretation is something for which you
will have to be the final arbitrator.
Having someone in the organi$ation who can pick up a report and interpret it in the
context of the environment is absolutely essential. )his is a skill which can easily be
developed with a minimal investment in training and certification.
,) -ailure to Integrate .ith /ther *0 Technologies
"il analysis does overlap with other condition monitoring technologies such as
vibration analysis and infrared thermography, but the overlap is small. A study at
the <alo =erde >uclear ?enerating &tation some years ago showed that oil analysis
and vibration analysis only agreed with each other 5@ percent of the time when
monitoring bearing failures. #t's not surprising that there is such divergence
between the tests given that they are monitoring very different phenomena.
"il analysis will most successfully be used when it is integrated with other CM
technologies. )o do so re!uires someone with a good knowledge of the sub*ect and
who knows its strengths and weaknesses.
Maybe it's time to look at your oil analysis program and check to see if it's giving
you the value you expect. #n the current economic climate, there is little tolerance
for waste, and turning an asset with current mediocre performance into a star with
*ust a little effort may be *ust what the mechanical pathologist ordered.

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