Maintenance is a key priority when it comes to fleet operations. Of course, preserving the bottom line through cost-efficient decisions should always a priority, but reliability, performance and safety are of equal importance. A vital part of fleet maintenance, which takes into account all these factors, is an effective oil analysis program.
A well-structured program can provide information about machine wear, lubricant condition and contamination. It can also reduce unscheduled downtime, improve equipment reliability, extend equipment life, optimize oil change intervals and reduce maintenance costs. In short, it enables maintenance engineers to make decisions based on the results that will allow fleets to operate at optimal performance levels. As a result, fleet owners save on outgoing costs—such as fuel, maintenance or replacing hardware—and boost their bottom line.
It is imperative fleet owners understand how oil analysis testing works and how it fits into the maintenance requirements of their vehicles.
Benefits of an Oil Analysis Program
A good used oil analysis program is a cost-effective way to monitor and measure oil and lubricant conditions in various engine types, automotive transmissions, final drives and industrial compressors and gearboxes, as well as hydraulic fluid and circulating oil systems. By evaluating the condition of the lubricant and equipment on a routine basis, minor mechanical problems are discovered before they become serious and expensive to fix.
In truck fleets, oil analysis testing can help identify ingested contaminants such as dust, dirt and water, as well as system contaminants including fuel, glycol (coolant) and soot—all of which can lead to increased wear or, in some cases, catastrophic equipment failure. Regular testing will help detect impurities and measure contamination levels, providing a clear picture of the oil’s condition and how it’s performing.
With an accurate diagnosis, fleet owners may be able to adjust drain intervals accordingly, which can have tangible benefits for construction businesses. Oil that is in good condition can reduce downtime—an essential performance metric for the construction industry.
3 Steps to oil analysis testing
Oil analysis typically involves three steps: taking a representative sample from the equipment in question, sending the sample to a qualified used oil analysis lab and interpreting and acting on the recommendations of the results.
An explanation of each step is provided below:
1. Taking a Representative Sample
This is the most important step in the process, as improper sampling can lead to inaccurate interpretation of the results and potential equipment damage or failure. Use a clean, dry container suitable for holding used oil. A label must be affixed to the container that has all the necessary information for the lab to put into their database (fluid name, equipment type, hours and miles of operation, etc.). The laboratory will normally have sample bottles and labels to order, and even online registration of samples. When taking a sample, the sampling point should be wiped with a rag and a small amount of oil should be flushed first to ensure no foreign contamination make their way into the bottle.
2. Qualified Used Oil Analysis Laboratories
Once the sample has been taken, it should be sent as soon as possible to an oil analysis lab certified to perform the testing required. In some cases, delays can mean the difference in being able to diagnose and correct a serious condition or losing a critical piece of equipment due to failure. The lab will test the oil using standard test regimes, providing accurate results and diagnosis in a report that can be sent to you by email or accessed online. Acting quickly on a properly diagnosed coolant leak before an engine fails catastrophically often pays for the testing program for the entire fleet for an entire year.
3. Interpreting Used Oil Analysis Results
While results will still be sent by email if requested, many oil analysis labs also supply online software for storing, trending and assisting in interpreting the oil sample results. To interpret the results for equipment, it is key to have guidelines for what levels are normal for the type of machine and how it operates. Looking at the trends over time for each parameter can offer more information than absolute single values. In addition, the component OEMs have general guidelines for maximum values for the safe operation of their equipment. As a starting point, the lab software can identify results that fall outside these guidelines.
Testing is most effective when performed at regular intervals, as it will help generate a performance database to measure trends over time. A detailed breakdown of fleet performance levels allows equipment owners to adjust as necessary and plan maintenance in advance. Consistent sampling and testing can provide a valuable layer of knowledge to help form a lubrication management strategy.