"What are the best ways to get data from your oil without expensive analytical instruments or offsite laboratories?"
When most people think of oil analysis, they imagine collecting an oil sample and then sending it to a laboratory for detailed testing. While this method can tell you a lot about the health of both the oil and the machine, multiple inspections can be performed with little to no cost involved.
Once a sample has been collected, one of the simplest tests that can be conducted is the color and clarity test. As oil ages, it transitions from a lighter, clearer color to a darker color. The color change generally is caused by oxidation of the oil, but it could also be the result of two oils mixing.
If a sample has a sludgy, milkshake color, it likely has been contaminated with water and should be changed or dehydrated. If this is occurring, you should also check for water ingression sources on the machine.
Another easy test that can be conducted is a particle test. For this test, you will need your oil sample and a laser light. With the sample in one hand, shine the laser through the sample bottle. If you see floating particles in the oil, the presence of contamination is confirmed.
You can take this test further by using a magnet. Simply hold a magnet to the side of the sample bottle for a few seconds. Any ferrous particles will attach to the magnet. If nothing attaches, the particles are non-ferrous. This test can help identify where the contamination is coming from. To get a better look at the size and shape of the particles, hold the magnet firmly along the side of the sample bottle and dump the oil out of the bottle, leaving only the contamination particles.
A few other tests that use relatively inexpensive instruments can also be performed onsite. For example, a Visgage is a handheld unit that can identify an oil’s viscosity. Typically, this device is employed for new incoming oils to determine if the lubricant in the drum has the correct viscosity. However, it can be used with in-process lubricants as long as they are not highly contaminated.
Particle counters are also becoming more affordable and are being found in more onsite laboratories. These instruments can provide a quick report on the concentration of contaminants in an oil sample.