MRO Magazine


Getting Started: Lay the groundwork for an oil analysis program

Laying the groundwork for an oil analysis program will ensure it runs with a minimum of problems and effort and will ensure the best return on investment. Review these recommendations prior to meeting with a current or proposed oil analysis vendor.

Set Program Targets and Goals
Setting program goals is paramount to a successful oil analysis program. All oil analysis programs are not created equal. Discussing goals with a vendor will allow the lab to select the appropriate tests for each type of equipment in a plant.

The two primary goals for oil analysis are predictive and proactive maintenance. Oil analysis allows maintenance personnel to act in a predictive manner by providing forewarning of a machine failure in time to schedule appropriate maintenance. It also provides the necessary data to allow companies to act more proactively. While the oil analysis provides the raw input data to the process, generally companies require consultants to assist them in understanding the overall trends in the data, and to assist in selecting appropriate lubrication-related solutions to prevent common lubrication-related issues from reoccurring.

Determine Responsibilities
Like any successful program, it is necessary to designate personnel to tasks and provide training to ensure tasks are performed properly. Tradespersons, oilers or lube technicians typically carry out oil sampling. Ensuring personnel who take oil samples are properly trained and have the correct sampling hardware is important to ensure the integrity of oil samples.

Maintenance managers, reliability engineers and technicians are typically responsible for reviewing the oil sample reports. It is important that they can interpret the oil analysis data and recommendations, and translate these into appropriate maintenance tasks.

In many cases the same people taking the samples will be carrying out the maintenance tasks that are recommended by the oil analysis reports. As a result, ensure that there are lines of communication between those personnel that take oil samples, review the oil analysis results, and those that affect the corrective actions.

Determine the Scope
Initially, it is neither necessary nor recommended to sample every lubricated machine within the plant. In many cases, this is impractical due to the sheer quantity of lubricated machinery. In other cases, equipment may not be well maintained, so the first round of oil samples inevitably creates a lot of emergent maintenance tasks that cannot reasonably be performed.

The best approach is to evolve the oil analysis program. Start with the most critical machines in the plant, or the bad actors, and then gradually add more machines to the program over subsequent sampling runs. Remember, if you don’t have adequate resources in place to take the samples, review the result and carry out the resultant maintenance tasks, then the program is going to stall.

Review Sampling Procedures
Sampling consistency is very important and should be as repeatable as possible. Samples should be taken from the same location, while the equipment is in operation, if possible, or soon after shutdown. Sample points should be clearly identified, and proper sampling ports should be installed.

Samples should be taken at regular frequencies. Most industrial machinery can be sampled every three months; however, critical components may require sampling every month, and non-critical components every six months.

Collect Machine Information
Before collecting the first oil sample, take the time to collect all the required equipment information in electronic format and forward it to the oil analysis vendor. Providing this information goes a long way to ensure accurate diagnosis and meaningful recommendations.

Integrate Digital Data
Most vendors provide oil analysis-based software, whether standalone or web based. At the very least, the software will provide quick notifications of critical reports. The software should work in conjunction with an existing reliability software platform. Most vendors provide data export capabilities for common reliability software packages — or standard CSV or XML data files at a minimum.

Take Corrective Action
In a typical oil analysis program, roughly 80 percent of sample results are normal, 15 percent are abnormal and five percent are critical. The largest return on investment comes from averting machinery failure in the critical five percent of instances. It is incumbent on the reliability and maintenance departments to ensure that appropriate maintenance activities are carried out based on the oil analysis recommendations.

In cases where machinery inspections are recommended, it is essential to take immediate action, consult with the operators and collect all the necessary information to make a decision on when to take a machine out of service for inspection and possible repairs. Consult the testing lab about additional advanced level testing that may assist in making the decision more clear.

Aside from critical samples, do not forget the 15 percent that show abnormal oil quality or contamination issues. Many plants fail to adequately address the underlying issues that lead to oil-related problems that shorten both machinery and lubricant life. These abnormal oil samples provide the input that experienced consultants can use to recommend proactive solutions.

Bill Quesnel ( is the vice-president of WearCheck Canada Ltd. and Lubrigard Ltd. For more information, visit or