eSource 133: How Lubricant Manufacturers and OEMs Use Oil Analysis

In-service oil analysis has been used to understand a lubricated assets operating condition for over 75 years. Identifying sources of wear and contaminants as well as determining the health of lubricant has been the objective of oil analysis.

Oil Analysis
12 NOV 2020 ALS Global
 

In-service oil analysis has been used to understand a lubricated assets operating condition for over 75 years.  Identifying sources of wear and contaminants as well as determining the health of lubricant has been the objective of oil analysis.  Companies involved in research, product development as well as quality assurance use in-service oil analysis for application and market intelligence.  Lubricant manufacturers, chemical additive companies, base oil suppliers, component manufacturers, and original equipment manufacturers all have gained insight for their respective markets using in-service oil analysis data. 

The development of a lubricant relies on understanding the position of an existing product and how it relates to the current application and performance desires.  Data on physical performance characteristics of how base oils and additives behave under stress is initially achieved in controlled laboratory experimentation.  When a product shows promise, it is manufactured, and samples are trialed in the field for application feedback.  Performance goals are focused on improved protection and stability.  Unfortunately for the research and product development departments, due to time and budget restraints only a limited number of applications are explored which represent a set number of variables that may or may not have an influence on the performance and longevity of the product. To truly get a representative assessment of the new (or reformulated) product, a large data set is sought to provide the best opportunity to make an impact on the market.  The data is achieved through in-service oil analysis.    

In-service oil analysis provides performance information on the base oils and additives in a wide variety of functions within lubricants.  The analysis will tell how the lubricant as well as the components behave accordingly. Additive companies can assess the viability of a new or improved chemistry. Lubricant blenders can determine if their formula is robust. Component and equipment manufacturers will have vital information on reliability of the parts and components.  This information is also used for warranty programs.   

Modifying the physical properties of the lubricant can be done with confidence when in-service oil analysis is used as a development tool.  Surface active agents such as anti-wear, rust and corrosion inhibitors can be assessed for longevity and wear as well as how various operating conditions and contaminants influence the performance.  The same is true for viscosity modifiers and pour point depressants are used in engine oils (and special hydraulic fluids) to maintain the desired flow properties. This ensures adequate flow and viscosity of the lubricant in various circumstances. Anti-oxidants as well as other fluid performance agents such as anti-foam additives and demulsifiers are examined and improved upon.

Another aspect that is of importance is how the lubricant can help with power demand reductions and increased fuel economy. Base oils and various additives with friction or viscosity modifying properties can have an influence on energy demand.  Reducing friction produces an increase in savings.  This savings is measurable and becomes valuable when it can transcend applications and markets.  The process begins with analysis of the viability of the lubricant achieved through in-service oil analysis. This is via the reduction of friction between moving surfaces or providing favorable viscosity profiles that can lead to improved efficiency.  For the past few decades, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has established engine oil classifications based on emissions reduction achieved through requirements of chemistry as well as physical properties. It is recognized that these characteristics have a direct and measurable influence on emissions and energy demands.

Equipment, component, chemical, and lubricant companies position their offerings according to an improvement on performance.  Improved performance is defined as increased convenience.  If an oil can stay in the sump for twice to 20 times longer than the previous offering and done so safely then a considerable advantage can be achieved.  Changing oil increases operating costs with materials, labor, waste, and downtime.  While it may seem counter intuitive to develop a product that will not need to be replaced, companies have no choice but to work towards that end; if they do not, their competition will. Extended life lubricants criteria are a moving target.  Many years ago, the definition of extended life was a fraction of what it is today.  Soon, the concept of ‘lube-for-life’ will take shape and in the foreseeable future it will be commonplace for lubricants to left in the asset for the operating life.  This goal can only be achieved through in-service oil analysis data and the analytics of the applications.  Functional data that is only available from in-service oil analysis will pave the way for such products.

Adjusting the physical properties of an oil through data interpretation has an influence on product longevity as well as energy conservation. Reduced lubricant consumption means reduced waste.  Reducing energy consumption also means reducing heat and eventual wear debris.  When energy consumption is economized, equipment operating costs are reduced. A reduced demand on nonrenewable fuel means cleaner air, reduced greenhouse gas emissions and a healthier environment.

In-service oil analysis is utilized by lubricant manufacturers, base oil and additive chemistry manufacturers, component and original equipment manufacturers for product development, refinement, as well a warranty claim establishment and determination.  In-service oil analysis has become a valuable tool for more than just keeping a healthy eye on your oil.  Contact ALS to find out more on how your company can utilize in-service data.

For further information about in-service oil analysis, contact ALS Tribology at reliability@alsglobal.com.