Oil analysis is not new, yet many contractors under utilize it. "I would say 25% of our customers are using oil analysis," estimates George Wacaser, product support manager for Martin Equipment, a John Deere dealership headquartered in Goodfield, IL, and serving Central Illinois, Eastern Iowa and Central Missouri.
While numerous customers are starting to use oil analysis, most are not yet getting the maximum benefit out of these programs. "I think the future is going to be extending out oil intervals and using oil analysis to really maximize your maintenance," says Wacaser. "That's when you have everything else under control and know exactly what you are doing. Then you can go to the next step."
To get the full benefit of fluid analysis, you need to get beyond thinking of just engine oil. Dave Nycz, Caterpillar, points out, "Oil analysis gives you an idea if there is anything abnormal going on with any of the fluids. We look at engines, transmissions, axles, final drives and cooling systems. It is like a blood sample at a doctor's office. It gives you a general idea of the health of all of those compartments."
Walt Silveira, North American technical manager for Shell Lubricants, adds, "We always talk about oil analysis, but the other key to this is a coolant analysis program, especially in large pieces of equipment where the cooling system is critical to the operation of the engine." Combining the use of extended-life coolants with coolant analysis can dramatically reduce the maintenance of managing these systems.
Get more ROI from your program
An effective fluid analysis program can deliver numerous benefits. "Fluid analysis ? including analysis of engine and hydraulic oil ? aims to drastically reduce catastrophic downtime, optimize drain intervals and save the construction contractor money," says Diego Navarro, John Deere service marketing manager. "Oil analysis is a very powerful tool for contractors because it lets them know in advance what maintenance problems might be on the horizon, giving time to fix the problems before they translate to downtime."
He continues, "Through oil analysis, we can discover that parts are wearing abnormally on a piece of equipment; the contractor is using the wrong types of fluids or mixing fluid types; there are environmental factors at play, such as temperature, water or dirt; or there are abnormal amounts of contaminants, both externally (such as water and dirt) and internally (such as glycol or sulfur from fuel). Oil analysis goes to finding the root causes of problems. So oil analysis helps to avoid larger maintenance problems."
The benefit is reduced equipment downtime. "If you can catch things like coolant leaks or dirt entry early, you can make the repair and get the machine back in service," says Nycz. "There is no permanent damage."
However, the return you realize on oil analysis really depends on what you put into it. It starts with the oil sample. According to Wacaser, a good portion of "bad" samples are the result of improper sampling. "A good share of the time, we take a sample a second time and find there really is no problem," he notes.
This is where an investment in oil sampling ports can pay a huge dividend. "The more devices those machines have to simplify the oil collection, the quality of the samples will go up dramatically," says Wacaser. "Taking a good sample without a sample valve is a pretty good art. It is difficult to do in the dirty environment those machines run in."
Maximizing the value of the results means accurately tracking the history. "The key to oil analysis is trending," says Silveira. "A good oil analysis software program really helps."
It also helps to know the metallurgical makeup of the engine. "Many engines are similar, but some are different," Silveira comments. "As we go to newer technology engines, [it helps to know] if it is babbit or bearing wear vs. liner wear vs. ring wear... In many cases, the OEM can provide you with [the information] to assess where those metallurgical families line up with the engine. You may be able to diagnose something sooner than later."