"Would you recommend using an oil analysis laboratory for small oil volumes, such as for pump bearings, or large-volume oil reservoirs like in heavy equipment?"
This is a common concern in the industry, but the answer is not always clear. Lubricant manufacturers generally have specific guidelines for the type and amount of lubricants in your facility. On the other hand, a third-party laboratory may not be as familiar with your plant in terms of the failure modes, machine criticality, maintenance practices, etc.
Proper inspection routines can be valuable for all machines regardless of their size or volume. Detailed inspection protocols should be established according to the machine type. Inspections, as well as other predictive technologies, can be an excellent complement to an oil analysis program, but they should only replace oil analysis if the machines are non-critical.
Consider your organization's priorities when deciding whether a small machine should be included in your oil analysis program. This decision should also be based on the maturity of your maintenance and asset management programs, the availability of onsite guidelines for classifying equipment based on its criticality, the current improvement programs and reliability goals of your facility, and the resources allocated to the reliability program.
Identify the information you'd like to receive from oil analysis. Typical examples might include the lubricant contamination types and concentrations for improving contamination control, the lubricant degradation for optimizing change intervals, any abnormal machine conditions for detecting and correcting incipient equipment failures, and information on the possible root causes of failure for modifying the maintenance strategy.
Oil analysis is intended for machines that are important to the production process and maintenance program. An assumption should not be made based on the machine type, fluid type or sump size. If the machine is relevant and failure modes can be detected through laboratory work, it is a candidate for oil analysis.
For small machines, follow the same procedures used for larger ones. Select a test slate that provides the required information on the lubricant and machine. Determine the proper sampling location. If possible, install a sampling port in the ideal location. Establish the sampling frequency according to the machine, oil and operation criticality, not on the sump volume. Also, be sure to obtain the sample volume necessary for the test slate. If the sump is very small, you may need to replenish the oil immediately. In some cases, it may be necessary to stop the machine and drain it to collect an oil sample.
Finally, remember to take samples when the machine is in its normal operating conditions. If the machine must be stopped, extract the sample while the oil is still warm.