This lab analysis provides a quantitative evaluation of a fluid’s composition and condition, including viscosity, total sludge content, particle count, glycol contamination, fuel dilution, fuel soot level, grime and additive package depletion, says Ron McElroy, president and chief technology officer of Fluid Rx, a company that does instant lubricant diagnostics.
More specialized tests can be performed on an oil sample, as well. There are oil analysis services that offer upgrades or additional testing depending on the application, operating conditions and maintenance goals, says Betner.
Additional tests, or premium used oil analysis, can help in determining the optimum oil drain intervals or identify specific problems, Arcy adds.
Fluid analysis programs differ in many aspects, including tests available, interpretations and reports, turnaround time, price and more. So adequate time and effort needs to be invested in order to choose the program that best serves your needs.
For example, some fluid suppliers offer their own analysis programs with the ability to gauge your fleet’s performance against industry benchmarks.
Take Citgo’s LubeAlert Oil Analysis Program, an electronic analysis program for heavy-duty oils, gas engine oils and special products, including water-based hydraulic fluids. (Tests can also be customized for oils not falling into standard categories.) The program monitors more than 160,000 engines and 1,700 fleets of all makes and models, and has a database documenting trends on virtually all types of diesel engines. The Summary Analysis feature creates a “maintenance report card” that allows management to rate maintenance facilities, target problem areas and evaluate engine makes and models.
The Shell LubeAnalyst program offers easy-to-use software that enables users to view and track test results and view offline management information. Late last year, Shell Lubricants revamped the program to better help customers improve equipment and vehicle reliability, while reducing maintenance costs. This includes an online user interface that offers a worldwide sample historic database and failure trends on various types of equipment and engine types.
Reports generated from oil analysis show results from previous tests, graphs on oil properties, wear and contamination. Comments about any possible trouble areas and any recommended actions that may need to be taken are also provided.
Once results from an oil analysis are received, it’s important that the report be fully understood. Consult with the oil analysis provider if you’re unsure of anything.
“Newer engines tend to have some anomalies that can produce false critical reports,” Betner says. “Knowing when and why these situations occur can avoid loss of confidence in the reporting and, more importantly, when and how to react to the data. Generally, oil contamination is the No. 1 cause of lubrication-related failures, so critical reports involving coolant, dirt, fuel and, in some cases, soot contamination, should get the full attention of the user.”
If a sample indicates a critical issue, the customer is contacted by phone or fax by the laboratory to communicate the sample results, says Arcy.
Opportunity for Instant Feedback
An inconvenience of lab analysis is the turnaround time required from the time a sample is taken until results are available for evaluation.
“For instance, glycol contamination and/or fuel dilution, which are two of the main killers of diesel engines, can begin to manifest shortly after sampling cycles,” McElroy says. “Component damage or catastrophic failure may occur before the next sampling cycle and lab analysis is performed. Instant lubricant diagnostics is the stopgap between lab analysis cycles to catch these problems and prevent costly repairs and equipment downtime.”
Compared to the lab process, instant analysis offers a low-cost, quick and simple to understand method for determining a fluid’s condition at regular intervals on the spot, says Wohlwend.
Instant analysis kits are simple to use, and no tools or special knowledge is needed. Simply follow the instructions included with each kit, says McElroy.
All modern lubricants contain additives that inhibit breakdown, he explains. As these additives are depleted, sludge forms. Instant analysis kits utilize a chromatographic process to provide a measure of additive depletion and the level of sludge or debris in a lubricant.