Tagged: reliability

Used Oil Analysis Tips

“When should an oil sample really be taken?”

In used oil analysis, oil samples can be taken at any time, but one should always consider the insight that they are trying to gain before testing the sample. This is crucial in deciding the type of tests and the intervals at which they should be performed.

For instance, if we are testing the quality of the oil or we want to compare a fresh batch to a used one, then we can take a sample directly from the drum. 

If we are trying to decide the rate at which the additives are being depleted or wear being accumulated then we can take a sample at different operating hours to trend the data. This method can work if we are trying to determine the most appropriate run time for a lubricant in particular conditions.

However, if we are trying to track the health of the components on a regular basis as part of our PM program then taking a sample at the end of the scheduled maintenance interval is desired.

Taking an oil sample from a component is like performing a blood test by the doctor. It helps us to understand what’s really happening. It can show us if there is excessive wear, contamination or lubricant degradation which allows us to identify its “health”. However, the correct tests need to be carried out to determine these conditions.

There must be a reason behind taking the oil sample, not just a random act. When trying to establish a trend regarding a particular aspect of the oil, this should guide your choice of tests otherwise we can end up paying for tests that do not add value.

Always ensure sound reasoning behind testing rather than just checking the box!

While taking an oil sample at the end of the scheduled operating hours is very convenient, is it truly efficient?

When a piece of equipment is scheduled for maintenance, it is usually taken out of service for a couple of hours to perform the assigned maintenance tasks.

However, if an oil sample is taken a couple days in advance of the scheduled maintenance, then when the results return the maintenance team can be on the lookout for issues highlighted by the results.

For instance, if the value for iron was significant or rising then they can perform inspections for areas which may cause this type of wear and address this challenge while the equipment is offline.

Lubricant Deterioration Identifications

There’s a major difference between Shelf life and Service life especially when it concerns lubricants!

No one wants to put expired lubricants into their equipment! This can cause unexpected failures which can lead to unplanned downtime which can continue to spiral down the costly path of unproductivity!

The Shelf life is usually what is stamped by the Manufacturer indicating the length of time the product can remain in its current packaging before being deemed unsuitable for use. These can typically be found on the packaging.

The Service life however is determined by the application and conditions under which the lubricant is being used. Usually, estimated running hours / mileage are given by the equipment manufacturer in the maintenance section of the manual. (Condition monitoring can also be used to determine appropriate service intervals.)

However, how will someone know if the product has deteriorated while still in its original packaging?  What should someone typically look for?

Above are some tips for identification of deterioration in lubricants. Take a note of these for the next time you are unsure of the integrity of your lubricants.

Conditions that affect lubricants

How are your lubricants currently stored? Are you storing lubricants under the correct conditions? What conditions affect lubricants?

These questions have come up a dozen times during audits and countless warehouse meetings. To answer these questions, there are five main conditions that can affect lubricants. We have detailed them below along with the effects of these conditions on the lubricant.

  • Temperature – if incorrect can lead to oxidation. For every 10C rise in temperature above 40C the life of the lubricant is halved.
  • Light – too much can lead to oxidation especially for light sensitive lubricants such as transformer oils. Hence the reason that most packaging is opaque.
  • Water – this usually works with additives to cause their depletion or contamination of the product. Water in any lubricant is bad (especially for transformer oils as they are involved in the conduction of electricity.
  • Particulate contamination – contamination can occur by air borne particles if packaging is left open or if dirty containers/vessels are used to transfer the lubricant from its packaging to the component.
  • Atmospheric contamination – this affects viscosity and promotes oxidation and can occur if packaging is left open. For instance, if a drum is not properly resealed or capped after usage or the most common practice of leaving the drum open with the drum pump on the inside.

Different types of lubricant degradation

Why is it important to know the types of lubricant degradation? It’s important since it helps us to figure out why or in some instance how, the lubricant degraded! Usually degradation is the change that occurs when the lubricant can no longer execute its five main functions:

  • the reduction of friction
  • minimization of wear
  • distribution of heat
  • removal of contaminants and 
  • improvement of efficiency.

There are 6 main types of Lubricant Degradation as detailed below. Each type produces various by products which can enable us to understand the reason for the degradation and eliminate that / those reasons.

Here are the 6 main types of Lubricant Degradation:

1. Oxidation
2. Thermal Breakdown
3. Microdieseling
4. Additive Depletion
5. Electrostatic Spark Discharge
6. Contamination

As discussed above, each mechanism produces distinct results which help us in their identification! Check out our article on why lubricants fail for more info!

Thermal Degradation vs Oxidation

What’s the difference between Thermal Degradation as compared to Oxidation of a lubricant?

The two major differences are the contributory factors and the by products that are produced.

For oxidation, both oxygen and temperature are critical to the degradation of the lubricant however, in thermal degradation, the temperature of the lubricant exceeds its thermal stability (usually in excess of 200°C).

Oxidation usually occurs through the release of free radicals which deplete the antioxidants however, Thermal Degradation consists of polymerization of the lubricant.

Oxidation produces aldehydes, ketones, hydroperoxides, carboxylic acids varnish and sludge. On the other hand, Thermal Degradation produces coke as the final deposit.


Do you know the stages of Microdieseling?

Microdieseling is also called Compressive Heating and is a form of pressure induced thermal degradation.

The oil goes through 4 stages in this degradation process:

1. There is a transition of entrained air from a low pressure to a high pressure zone

2. This produces localized temperatures in excess of 1000°C

3. The Bubble interface becomes carbonized

4. The oil darkens rapidly and produces carbon deposits due to oxidation

The conditions required for microdieseling can be either:

  • Low flashpoint with LOW implosion pressure
  • Low flashpoint with HIGH implosion pressure

For a low flashpoint with a HIGH implosion pressure, this constitutes to ignition products of incomplete combustion such as soots, tars and sludge

However, for a low flashpoint with a LOW implosion pressure, adiabatic compressive thermal heating degradation occurs to produce varnish from carbon insolubles such as coke, tars and resin.

Grease compatibility

We recently touched on greases being available in a wide variety based on application but the real question is, “Are all greases compatible?” The short answer is, “No”.

All greases contain a thickener (which helps with its physical state). Thickeners vary depending on application (such as temperature, water resistance etc). As such, to verify whether two greases are compatible or not, Machinery Lubrication developed a Compatibility Chart based on thickener type.

You can determine the thickener type by looking at your Data Sheet or talking to your OEM. Not all greases are compatible, so be careful when mixing greases!

Grease Thickener Types

We keep speaking about each grease being different based on their thickener type. However, what are the properties that these thickeners give to the grease? For instance, if I wanted to use a grease for a roller bearing in a very high temperature environment which should I choose? Can a multipurpose grease work for that application?

Each area of application may be different and while multipurpose greases are widely used there are some areas where it doesn’t add much value. For example, if a heavy equipment operator uses a backhoe to dig into a river, the multipurpose grease can be easily washed off.

When the grease washes off quickly, the pins holding the bucket can become damaged. (The costs to repair or replace one of these pins are ridiculously high!) However, if he used a Calcium based grease, then there wouldn’t be an issue of water washout and the pins could have a longer life.

Above is a table indicating the various uses of greases based on the thickener types. Know your applications and their environments when choosing the right grease!

Base oil viscosity of greases

While we’ve focused on the variances in greases due to thickener types, we haven’t touched much on the differences in base oil viscosity.

With gear oils, we need the correct viscosity to allow the gears to turn at the required rate while still being lubricated. If the oil is too thick and the gears are high speed, then the gears will not be lubricated quickly enough and they can become damaged. Similarly, greases are made up of base oil with different viscosities.

Most greases use a viscosity of 220cSt (these are the multipurpose greases). However, greases for electric motors use a base oil viscosity of 100cSt. What’s the difference?

Well, if a multipurpose grease was used for an electric motor the energy used for that motor can be 100W however, if a grease with a base oil viscosity of 100cSt was used, the energy used could be reduced to 70W. Is this significant? Definitely YES!!!

On any manufacturing plant, there are at least 5 – 10 electric motors, in some cases there are 70 or more! If at least 25W were saved per motor per month then the company can a significantly reduced power bill at the end of the year!

Understand your applications before applying “any” grease!

Grease Thickener Temperatures

The grease thickener has a crucial role in deciding the environment in which a grease should be applied. One of the major environmental conditions revolves around the operating temperatures that greases have to endure. If the grease goes past its dropping point then it can turn into a liquid, leak out of its designated area and cause the element to be starved for lubrication. Not to mention the mess on the outside of the component after it has leaked out.

Each thickener has a range of operating temperatures. However, some consideration should be applied when designating areas for the application of the grease. As indicated above, a good rule of thumb is to ensure that the application range of the grease does not exceed the Dropping point – 50C. For example, a good operating range for a simple Lithium grease can be 175-50C = 125C. This still falls within the maximum service temperature for a grease with this thickener.

Pay careful attention to your operating temperatures when selecting your grease!

Understanding NLGI

Does the NLGI grade matter? Of course it does! That’s why it was invented and classed into different categories for various applications! NLGI stands for National Lubricating Grease Institute, they are composed of companies that manufacture and market all types of lubricating grease.

An NLGI grade can start at 000 (very fluid) to 6 (block like). However, there are different grades for different applications.

For instance, most trucks have a centralized lubrication system. As such, the grease needs to be almost fluid like to get to all the areas. In these cases, a “00” or even “000” grease may be used. However, the most common grade is a “2” grade which is seen frequently in cartridges, pails etc.  Some electric motors require a “3” grade grease instead of a “2”.

Here is a table that describes each of the grades, their applications and consistency.

Always check with your OEM to ensure that the correct NLGI grade is being used! Here is another graphic that likens these grades to more easily identifiable consistencies.