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1 September 2018

There are basically two different ways of using the information gained from used oil analysis.

The traditional and common use of used oil analysis is to watch for problems or imminent failures that may be developing in an individual component (engine, transmission, pump, etc.) so that corrective action may be taken to prevent a complete failure. The savings in reduced part costs and reduced downtime resulting from planned versus emergency repairs can easily pay for the cost of an oil analysis program.

Comparing the costs of a before-failure repair to an after-failure repair can show dramatic savings. When you add in the savings from reduced downtime (aka increased equipment availability), the economic benefit of using an oil analysis program is usually quite evident. This is so apparent that the major equipment manufacturers, such as Caterpillar and Komatsu, endorse oil sampling or may even require it as a condition of warranty.

Even if an equipment manager never takes oil analysis beyond this point, it can still be a valuable tool for reducing a company’s operating costs.

However, an oil analysis program can be taken to a much higher level. Gathering together all of the used oil analysis data from a fleet of equipment and compiling it so that it can be sorted and mined for information can lead to a powerful tool for an equipment manager.

To clarify, data by itself may have the potential to be helpful, but data by itself is not information. What is needed is a way to sort through all of the data in order to find the information within. A world-class oil analysis system can not only catch the danger signals and warn the user of an impending catastrophic failure, but it can also sort through all of the data to indicate patterns in the used oil analysis data. The goal is to identify problem areas, which can help a wise equipment manager to address the cause of the problems. Used this way, used oil analysis can become a far more powerful tool than many users ever imagined.

As an example, one of the first things you should look at after gathering used oil sample data is the percentage of acceptable samples versus unacceptable samples. You should then focus on the unacceptable samples and begin to investigate the situations surrounding them.

In the example above, 52% of all sample results are “Acceptable.” Nationally, we see about 66% as an average acceptability rate, so this example is significantly below average, which means there is opportunity for improvement. 21% of all samples were flaged for “Low Viscosity” and 8% of all samples were flagged for elevated “Dirt” (Silicon) levels.

When an equipment manager starts to address these problems, the health of the fleet can be greatly impacted and that will be reflected in future reports as the acceptability rate improves. This is exactly the kind of thing that helps put an end to the “fire fighter” mode of equipment maintenance, where the focus is on constantly putting out fires. This allows you to get ahead of the problems, which frees up time and reduces costs.

Another area to measure is compliance… as in how well your maintenance staff complies with the procedures you put in place. One area to check is the “Turnaround” rate, or how long it takes to get your samples to the lab once they’ve been drawn. The sooner the samples get to the lab, the sooner you will get the results back. Achieving quick turnaround times is an important best practice.

Below is an example of a Turnaround Report:

In this case, the customer (fictional) had an average time of 5.6 days from the time the sample was drawn until it was received at the lab. The lab averaged 1.7 days from the time the samples were received until the time they were completed and ready to be viewed by the customer, which resulted in a total turnaround time of 7.3 days.

This may seem excessive to you, but in our experience, it’s actually very good. If you do not track your turnaround times, you will likely be surprised with how long they actually are. One sample that is allowed to sit around on a mechanic’s tool box or on a clerk’s desk for a couple of weeks can wreak havoc on your average turnaround time. You simply won’t know about it unless you are monitoring it.

To achieve a total turnaround time averaging under 10 days for a large amount of samples (>50 samples per month) takes diligence and dedication. How you do in this area is a key indicator of how well your maintenance staff follows procedures. Frankly, if your staff is struggling with sample turnaround time, it is likely that they are struggling with compliance in other areas of your maintenance program as well. And conversely, if they are achieving a good average turnaround time, it is a good bet that they are on top of other facets of your maintenance program.

These are just two examples of areas that can be monitored using an oil sampling program with management reporting features. There are many other reports that also provide good management information. Some, like the “Acceptability” report, take a very high level view of the operation. Others drill down much more specifically to certain areas, such as a report on “Fuel Dilution” or “Coolant Contamination.” Again, these are just a few of the possible reports that can be used to extract meaningful information out of a mass of data.

Now, with good information in-hand, changes can be made to your maintenance program to address concerns that have been brought to light. Often this is just a matter of educating personnel on correct procedures. For example, training maintenance personnel on the proper way to fill out an oil sample label is an ongoing task. New workers need to be taught and experienced workers may become complacent and need to be re-trained… this is why we highly recommend electronic sample labels over hand-written labels!

This is an ongoing process. You monitor the data, you set goals, and you make plans to achieve those goals… then you monitor the results to evaluate the successes and the misses and set new goals with new plans. And don’t forget to celebrate successes. When goals are met or exceeded, the staff involved in making it happen should be praised for a job well done. Over time, you will move forward and will likely lower your costs, extend the life of your equipment, and become more proficient and effective in your maintenance programs.

Castrol® has a team of experienced, field-based lubrication engineers who are available to help you maximize the reporting features within Castrol Labcheck. This will allow you to mine the valuable information that resides within your oil analysis database. They can also assist with any other questions you may have regarding your used oil analysis or fleet maintenance programs. Please contact your Castrol sales representative to request assistance.