To successfully integrate oil analysis into your machine reliability practices, you must first understand how lubricants degrade. That point was made exceedingly clear by lubricant expert Sanya Mathura in a January 2021 webinar for Fluke Reliability.
Mathura, managing director of Trinidad-based Strategic Reliability Solutions, detailed the six ways lubricants degrade and offered advice on handling each scenario to prevent machine damage. Her presentation began with her list of why we use lubricants for machine maintenance:
From the time the lubricant enters a piece of equipment, it starts degrading as part of its function, Mathura says. “The question is: when has it degraded to the point where it can no longer protect the system?”
Also, did the degradation occur normally, or was it exacerbated by the machine operating conditions? To answer this, you must understand what is going on in your machine and the failure modes associated with lubrication degradation.
Oil analysis is one of five measurement methods on the P-F curve for determining premature asset failure. It consists of a laboratory analysis of a lubricant’s properties, suspended contaminants, and wear debris. It can provide meaningful and accurate information on lubricant and machine condition when performed as part of predictive maintenance.
Figure 1 illustrates the six primary lubrication degradation modes, according to Mathura. Several have associated environmental triggers. “If you know which mode is occurring,” she says, “then you can prevent [machine] damage and reduce how often it happens.”
Figure 1. Top six lubrication degradation modes
Engineers select different oil analysis lab tests depending on the lubricant degradation scenario. Mathura reviews each test in detail during the webinar. Here’s a summary:
|Oxidation||Acid number, color, FTIR, MPC, Ruler & RPVOT|
|Thermal degradation||Viscosity, color, FTIR|
|Microdieseling||Visual inspection of components, FTIR & QSA|
|ESD||Filter inspection, FTIR & QSA, Ruler, DGA|
|Additive depletion||FTIR & QSA, color, QSA, Ruler & RPVOT|
|Contamination||Color, presence of water/fuel/coolant, or any foreign material|
Start by evaluating the conditions observed: viscosity, color, acid number, presence, water, or fuel. Then try to determine the degradation mode: Oxidation, contamination, thermal degradation, microdieseling, ESD, or additive depletion? Conduct tests to verify the mode, which will, in turn, lead to the root cause.
The degree to which you must pursue root cause analysis depends on asset criticality. Like any other reliability engineering best practice, balance the machine’s criticalness against the effort required to determine the degradation’s root cause.
Mathura also discusses in the webinar what counter-measures to consider per degradation mode.
“The role and importance of lubrication degradation have changed over the last decade, following larger changes in the industry,” she says.
“Our machines have changed a lot, and when machines change, lubrication changes. You have different clearances, different OEM specs, new environmental regulations – all of that means practices have to evolve. We can’t apply procedures for a 20-year-old machine to newer models.”
For more information on the root causes of lubricant degradation and how it affects your machines, watch Mathura’s webinar, “Root causes of lubricant degradation and how to prevent it from harming your machines.” Consult her website for additional resources.
Lubrication Degradation Mechanisms: A Complete Guide by Sanya Mathura
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