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What do you get when you combine the detective skills of Sherlock Holmes with the excellent customer service of a family owned and operated laboratory? The Oil Analysis Lab in Spokane, Wash.
The Oil Analysis Lab, Inc. was started in 1984 and purchased by the Crandall Family in 1990. OAL has grown to serve customers across the nation. The Crandall family has been in construction, wood products, manufacturing and engineering for over 50 years. (They still own, operate and maintain their own heavy equipment.) The lab was purchased with the goal of combining their knowledge of engineering, equipment and maintenance with laboratory science. OAL employs chemists, engineers and maintenance professionals that understand and respect the specific needs of a diverse customer base.
“We are detectives for our customers,” says Lane Crandall the President of OAL. “We provide in-depth information that is immediately useful to the customer. We employ many of the same technologies that forensic scientists use.”
Among the tests OAL performs are Spectroanalysis, Particle Analysis and Quantification, Filter Residue Analysis, Viscosity, Water Content, Chemical Titrations, Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM) and Energy Dispersive Spectroscopy (EDS). Each of these tests reveals clues to solve or predict a specific problem. “Customers tell us the problem and we choose the right tools to give them the right information,” says Crandall.
Analysis vs. Particle Counting
According to Mr. Crandall, their philosophy is “the information is always there, it is just a matter of finding it.” The customer gets two independent counts on one sample of oil. For each sample scheduled for particle analysis, OAL performs an automatic laser particle count, and counts the particles manually using optical microscopy. The optical analysis provides information a particle counter can’t. Over the years they’ve found that the laser/microscopic dual count is the best way to provide repeatable particle counts on a wide variety of oils and conditions.
OAL can tell the customer about the quantity and distribution of particles, as well as what those particles are. This dual method eliminates chasing data from automated counters.
Years ago the Crandall family was trained by Allied Signal to perform oil and filter analysis on jet engines. They learned that oil analysis only revealed part of the picture; further testing on the filter was equally important.
The filter is one of the best data collectors available. Systematic evaluation of the residue can detect failures six to eight months sooner than other methods. They have found this is the only method to predict a failure on some equipment. OAL can evaluate filters as small as servo strainers and as large hydraulic filters. OAL’s dual method saved one customer $8 million in downtime from a single filter analysis.
“We take the raw data and convert it into information that is used by our customers to make maintenance decisions,” says Mr. Crandall. To effectively operate a proactive maintenance system, the customer must be able to manipulate the data to their specific needs. OAL has designed a data management system called OILDATA. Using this system, customers can receive oil sample information via e-mail and arrange the data in their own company’s style. OAL data can also be downloaded into Lube Explorer - FleetOil (Dingo), LubriScan (Design Maintenance Systems), Excel or ASCII.
the Customer First
OAL knows the importance of working with the customers’ problems face-to-face. They believe that personal relationships are the key to success. When someone has a problem there is always a live person at OAL who can assist. They also employ a team of professionals who will go onsite to meet with customers and solve specific problems.
Creating a successful proactive maintenance organization takes desire. The customer should be willing to push the envelope of best maintenance practices. They must find ways to make equipment last longer and cost less to operate.
In successful programs a few key people have drawn the line and said “this is our goal, what do we need to do to accomplish it.” OAL has worked with companies like Smokey Canyon Mine, National Steel Pellet, Kaiser Aluminum, Mercer Trucking Company, BHP Minerals and Conoco, Inc. who have drawn that line.
People are always looking for a single test that tells all. This “miracle test” simply does not exist. It’s like trying to rebuild an engine with a screwdriver. Each tool has a specific job, just as each lab test provides specific maintenance information. Knowing the functions and limitations of each tool will help ensure successful testing. OAL feels that a laboratory should assist the customer in converting raw data into useful information.
OAL has and will continue to expand the resources available to allow customers to push the limits. Over the years they have introduced new technologies into their toolbox like: Filter Residue Analysis, SEM Bearing Cross Section Analysis, Thermal Analysis, Root Cause Failure Analysis, Filter Design and Evaluation, Particle Analysis and Quantification, and ISO Particle Specifications for Diesel Fuel.
OAL’s mission is to give their customers the tools to solve maintenance problems.