Let’s delve into the ongoing erosion of maintenance skills in the industry, a challenge exacerbated by the imminent wave of retirements. These trends are poised to persist well into the next decade, and while time and human resources might be perceived as limiting factors, they can be effectively managed.
Oil analysis, along with vibration, ultrasonic, infrared, and motion-detection analysis are untapped time resources in our industry. Oil analysis, like a simple blood test, can provide a wealth of information to a skilled maintenance professional. Getting good sample data, like a blood test, requires a few simple steps and tapping the active fluid that represents the entire system is critical.
Statistically, precision samples taken over time create patterns, sometimes complex, sometimes simple, that can point maintenance or reliability in the right direction. Keep in mind that the majority of samples, often over 90 per cent, do not require immediate action. Quick and easy periodic sampling is great insurance.
What we do want to focus on is using our time wisely.
Valve-based sampling is the answer, especially for those high-value or critical assets. Data-rich samples can show patterns to the analyst and provide the opportunity for the reliability specialist to make sound maintenance or acquisition decisions. The value to the organization of this team is often hard to calculate. The analyst capable of discerning fewer false positives plays a pivotal role in preventing unnecessary maintenance. Moreover, the ability to promptly raise the red flag when fluid or equipment conditions undergo changes takes precedence.
These reports based on historical data patterns, like AI, can save the reliability professional from the necessity of buying and storing expensive backup parts or equipment in the event of an emergency. Knowing oil condition can lead to extending drain intervals, if desired, or optimizing the oil selection. Improving on-going lubrication maintenance can extend equipment’s life expectancy. At a time when supply chain issues are not fully restored, the boost to profitability can’t be underestimated. The pattern of equipment performance can be a great tool for asset managers purchasing replacement equipment or trading in assets.
There is an excellent publication, D 8112 offered by ASTM, which highlights the best practices to obtain these samples.
The key is most lubricated systems can be sampled using a clean, dedicated sampling valve.
For pressurized systems like engines, transmissions, coolant, hydraulics, compressors, or fuel, often a valve can be used to take a sample while the equipment is running in less than a minute compared to getting down and using a vacuum pump to extract the sample, often taking up to 20 minutes.
In the case of non- or low-pressurized systems such as gearboxes, reservoirs, final drives, transformers, and chillers, optimal results can be achieved by employing a valve, often equipped with an extension tube, to access the active fluid.
A definite challenge in the industry is to avoid opening the system to outside contaminants, including moisture. Preventing contaminants is estimated to be only 10 per cent of the cost of removal. To help with this situation, combination adapters are now being used. You can combine sampling with level checking, air filtering, desiccant breathing, kidney loop filtering, bottom sediment and water inspection, incoming transfer oil, drum or tote inspection, and filtering. You can also twin sampling with gauge or sensor ports when needed.
Where valves are not readily available there is now a vacuum charged and cleaned bottle to quickly extract warm fluid from a dipstick.
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, it is difficult to manage which you cannot measure.
Industry resources exist on valve selection and placement, making it easier to tap into this opportunity to offset the loss of people and expertise in the industry.
Measuring improvements in lubrication performance can now be measured relating “saves” to savings. Valve-based oil analysis returns an investment often by over 20:1. Consider contacting your laboratory or sampling valve supplier to get started on the path to proven profitability, operational success, and most importantly, safety.