Research & Best Practices

What is Oil Analysis for Predictive Maintenance?


Oil analysis is a set of monitoring and inspection steps and processes that provide insight into the condition and state of machinery lubricating oil. Machinery oil analysis is an established, yet still-developing, practice that is building on today’s industrial technology to become a key part of a predictive maintenance strategy.

What does an oil analysis tell you? Drawing on data about the condition of the oil, it provides information about the performance of the machine and whether or not maintenance may soon be required. With effective, technology- and data-driven analysis, predictive maintenance can become a money-saving part of your maintenance plan.

How is oil analysis conducted?

Oil analysis predictive maintenance methods can comprise numerous areas and tactics. Primary among these is the following:

  • Condition-based monitoring: As a form of condition-based maintenance, oil analysis is a critical element of keeping industrial equipment in optimal condition. Manufacturers depend on the information this process provides to keep an eye on the health of their machinery and identify potential problems before they have an opportunity to impact productivity.
  • Visual inspection for contamination and viscosity: To be most effective, visual oil checks should be conducted at least daily. These simple checks can reveal the presence of debris, large contaminants, viscosity irregularities and other issues that, if caught early, can be addressed relatively easily (often by simply changing out the oil). Visual inspection can also indicate larger problems with equipment wear.
  • Fluid property inspection for contamination and viscosity: A more advanced chemical lubricating oil analysis can provide even more detail about the condition of oil, detecting the presence of smaller contaminants and chemical signatures that indicate whether the oil is becoming worn. Fluid property inspections can be conducted less frequently than visual inspections but should still occur often enough to detect potential problems before they affect equipment operation and production.
  • Wear analysis: Since oil is in direct contact with moving parts, it is the place where debris — no matter how small — ends up as these parts undergo wear and tear. The presence of debris or contaminants indicates the rate of equipment wear and can alert maintenance personnel and equipment operators to premature wear issues that indicate abnormal operation — which can then be addressed.
  • Continuously monitoring trends: While oil analysis is not a new technology, collaboration with manufacturing technology such as connected predictive maintenance sensors and data analytics represents a new phase for this useful process. By continuously monitoring oil conditions and transmitting data to internal analytics repositories, equipment sensors facilitate a more informed and data-driven approach to equipment maintenance.

Oil analysis is a detailed process that requires expertise to be carried out effectively. In addition, data and analytics expertise are more important than ever for making sense of the vast amount of information that can be collected by continuously monitoring sensors. As part of a comprehensive predictive maintenance program, ATS provides the necessary expertise and personnel to effectively carry out this testing, while supporting your operations with surge support, technical workforce solutions and more.

Benefits of oil analysis

Oil analysis offers benefits that include:

  • Early detection of unexpected equipment wear, indicating the presence of potential issues in equipment functionality
  • An accurate picture of when oil should be replaced, so that oil does not remain in service once no longer effective, while also ensuring that oil is not unnecessarily changed based on rigid time schedules, thus reducing costs
  • A frontline look into equipment performance, since oil conditions are closely related to equipment efficiency, wear and effectiveness
  • An ongoing and ever-expanding set of data that allows for more informed maintenance scheduling and decision-making, ultimately improving maintenance efficiency and productivity, and lowering maintenance costs
  • Keeping machinery in good working order to prevent the possibility of sudden breakdowns that can jeopardize employee safety
  • Ensuring equipment runs at peak efficiency to reduce energy consumption and improve a manufacturer’s environmental sustainability

Example of oil analysis

Oil condition monitoring is much more involved than simply subjecting a sample to a single test. Lubricants can be subjected to a wide range of changes, including contamination by particulates and general deterioration. Any one of these can have a profound impact on the performance and lifespan of lubricants as well as the machinery they protect. This is why there are numerous metrics maintenance professionals look for when preparing an oil analysis report. These include:

  • Particle count — This determines the level of particulate contamination present within the lubricating oil.
  • Viscosity measurement — Professionals measure the lubricant’s ability to coat components properly and provide a protective layer against wear.
  • Spectroscopy — Oil is tested through this technique to find any molecules of metal or other elements that shouldn’t be present.
  • Water content measurement — The presence of water within lubricating oil can have a significantly negative impact on its performance and can even lead to rusting.
  • Neutralization numbers — This refers to any changes in the concentration of acids within the oil, which can be a sign of oxidation, rust or a reduction in the level of additives.
  • Oxidation levels — As lubricants age, they begin to lose their efficacy through the process of oxidation, which refers to the molecules in the oil combining with various catalysts to form free radicals.
  • Flash point — Determining the lowest temperature the oil will ignite is crucial for determining whether it has lost any of its effectiveness or if it has become contaminated with fuel or another volatile fluid.
  • Demulsibility — This type of testing measures the ability of oil and water to separate, which is important for determining whether oil contains enough moisture to lead to corrosion or other adverse effects.
  • Analytical ferrography — Using a specialized microscope, this test checks an oil sample for signs of particles in the fluid that could indicate advanced wear of the components.

When to use oil analysis

Industrial oil analysis is useful for any facility where equipment that requires oil is in use. Some of the prime scenarios for oil analysis include:

  • When tightening margins require innovative ways to reduce costs. Shifting from a time-based to a condition-based oil replacement plan is one such way to do this
  • When it is critical to reduce or eliminate equipment failures that shut down production
  • When the facility wishes to implement a more data-based approach to maintenance
  • When early detection of equipment wear is desired

Oil analysis cost and time savings

Cost savings

  • Reduce material costs by only replacing oil when it is necessary to do so
  • Identify premature equipment wear early, allowing you to remedy the issue rather than allowing equipment to become damaged or fail
  • Optimize inventory ordering and logistics with a data-based approach

Time savings

  • Reduce time spent unnecessarily replacing oil when not needed
  • Implement a scheduled visual and physical oil check strategy that reduces overall time spent on testing and maintenance
  • Reduce the occurrence of major maintenance events that could be avoided with early detection
  • Over time, make use of data to streamline operations

Helping manufacturers around the world

As part of our predictive maintenance solutions, ATS offers expertise in oil analysis services. Our technology-driven approach to maintenance and oil analysis helps you eliminate unplanned downtime and reduce costs. Contact us today to learn more.

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