Integrated Management of Lubrication and Lubricant Analysis Information - Part I - the Case for an Integrated System

Steve Reilly, Design Maintenance Systems, Inc.

Note From Editor:
This paper was presented at the Practicing Oil Analysis 2000 Conference and Exhibition but not included in the Proceedings. This version has been modified from the original paper. And, due to the length of the paper, it has been divided into two parts, the second of which, dealing with the specifics of designing an integrated lubrication and oil analysis software program will be published in the next issue of Practicing Oil Analysis.

In the field of lubrication engineering, the use of software tools has traditionally been broken down into two major areas; lubrication management and lubricant analysis. The first provides tools to manage the lubrication process (i.e., top-ups, greasing routes, oil change intervals, etc.). Most lubricant manufacturers supply these tools to their customers. The second area contains the tools used to manage lubrication testing and analysis. This software is often supplied by the laboratory and provides the oil analysis service, or is included in a suite of condition monitoring systems.

Even in relatively small industrial or transportation organizations, it becomes apparent that there is a need for both types of systems. If an organization has more than a few hundred lubrication points, using a paper-based system to manage inventory and the scheduling of oiler routes rapidly becomes unwieldy. Similarly, if the organization is using an outside laboratory to test more than twenty or thirty samples a month, electronic data transfer to a software tool becomes preferable to receiving reports through the mail or by fax. Once the data is in the software, it is infinitely more usable than paper reports regardless of the firm’s sample load.

There is considerable overlap between lubrication and oil analysis information management systems. They both require details to be entered about the equipment, lubricants used and scheduling information. Both maintain histories about the lubricants. Upfront costs to purchase and set-up these programs are expensive, as are the ongoing costs associated with running the software and managing changes in two independent systems.

Another inconvenience to users is the inability of these programs to trigger an action in one software based upon information in the other. For example, a lubricant analysis result of “dangerously low viscosity” should automatically create a job request to change the oil; this type of automated interaction has not been available.

Finally, the lubricant analyst is handicapped by not having easy access to data in the lubricant scheduling system. The lubrication schedule within the plant, and the types of additions and changes made to the active lubricant within the machine will have a profound effect on lubricant analysis results. Unfortunately, this data is often not readily available to the lubricant analyst. A change to the lubrication schedule (i.e., oil changes, top-ups, addition of anti-oxidants or other “sweeteners”) or the operating state of the machine can result in erratic oil analysis trends. These “jumpy” trends seemingly defy explanation - unless the information from the lubricant scheduling program or other condition monitoring data can be viewed at the same time as the lubricant analysis results.

Before jumping into an analysis of what it takes to bring these two types of systems together, let’s review what and how these programs work as standalone systems.

Overview of Lubrication Management Systems
The purpose of the lubrication management system is to plan and schedule the deployment of lubrication to oil and grease lubricated machinery. It has been determined that inadequate or improper lubrication accounts for as much as 60% of all mechanical failures in industry. A lubrication management system should ensure that the correct grade of lubricant is delivered to the right place, in the right quantity, at the right time.

Plant Audit of Lubricant Usage
A plant audit of lubricant usage (also known as a lubrication survey or a lubrication chart) is designed to populate the database with a complete set of all oil and grease lubricated equipment in the plant. A database of the oils and greases used in the plant is also required to ensure that the equipment is linked to its appropriate lubricant. This is the first step in the development of a plant lubrication program. Figure 1 is a typical lubrication report.

Create Daily/Weekly/Monthly Lubrication Routes
Once the plant audit has been completed (or while it is being done), the entry of scheduled lubrication tasks is carried out. Each lubrication point on a machine train is identified, linked to its appropriate lubricant and given a lubrication schedule period (i.e., every day, every week, every 5000 miles, every 1500 hours of operation, etc.).

Many of the tasks can be gathered together into lubrication routes. A route is a set of lubrication points that are carried out in a sequence. A properly designed route can minimize the amount of time and effort needed to get to all of the lubrication points, and also minimize the amount of lubricant types needed to be used at any one time. This can help ensure that all points are lubricated correctly.

Generate/Manage Lubrication Schedules
On a periodic basis, the lubrication technician generates a listing of those lubrication tasks that are due for the next work period (next day, next week, etc.). Any tasks that are overdue have a warning message triggered to remind the technician of incomplete work. The lubrication schedule ensures that lubrication tasks are not forgotten or ignored. Some systems require bar code or memory disk confirmation at the component, to further ensure that the lubrication tasks are being carried out.

Management Reports of Lubricant Application/Usage
There are several types of management reports available from a typical lubrication management system. These reports include lists of overdue lubrication tasks, lists of machines or components that are using an excessive amount, lubricant inventory level reports, etc. Some lubrication systems give you the flexibility of a built-in query engine, which can be used to allow the generation of custom reports.

Overview of Lubricant Analysis Systems
The purpose of the lubricant analysis system is to administer the used oil analysis program. Used oil analysis is one of the most effective machine condition monitoring technologies available for rotating, reciprocating and hydraulic equipment. Lubricant analysis is used to monitor the wear rates of the machine itself, the level of contaminants in the lubricant and the condition of the physical properties of the lubricant.

Laboratories generally offer pre-determined sets of sample tests tailored for specific machine types (i.e., one set of tests for diesel engines, another for compressors, another for gearboxes, etc.). In addition to these tests, laboratories offer a wide variety of analytical tests, designed to isolate specific types of problems within the machine or the lubricant.

Software designed for managing oil analysis results (at the client site) should handle data produced by the most common oil analysis test types. This software should also be capable of retrieving oil analysis data in an electronic format, an option provided by most laboratories today. Some laboratories (and a few commercial software vendors) offer systems that generate sample bottle labels and other documents required for managing the collection and shipping of oil samples to the laboratory.

Lubricant analysis software programs commonly offer the following benefits:

Help to Set Up an Appropriate Lubricant Analysis Test Regimen
Pre-defined test sets within the software can make it easier to determine the appropriate package of lubricant tests needed for specific machine types (diesel engines, paper machine bearings, compressors etc.).

Generate/Manage Sampling Schedules (Print Labels)
The software can maintain lists (routes) of samples that are to be collected and sent to the laboratory at the same time. Some software can generate the appropriate labels for the laboratory, saving the operator the effort of filling out pre-printed labels by hand.

Acquire and Import Data Electronically from Lab
For most users, a primary reason for using lubricant analysis software is that it is preferable to receive laboratory data electronically instead of receiving paper reports. I think its safe to say that all lubricant analysis software grant some form of electronic access to lab data.

The first access method used by laboratories was built around interfaces to BBS (bulletin board systems). BBSs’ have been replaced by delivery of data by e-mail, or by FTP/HTTP access. Both of these methods can be used to build reliable delivery systems for analysis results.

Acquire/Enter Data from Onsite Oil Instruments
The use of onsite lubricant screening instruments is growing in popularity. These instruments range from simple but useful methods such as patch tests and hotplate water tests to viscometers, contamination/ wear particle monitors and lubricant physical properties testers. The results these instruments produce are easier to use when they can be stored in the same database as the results from external lubricant analysis laboratories.

The heart of most lubricant analysis software is the data display routines. Most of these packages give you the ability to generate trend graphs and/or data tables showing the results of spectrographic analysis, viscosity, particle count and TAN/TBN, etc. More advanced packages allow you to display non-numeric data such as analytical ferrography or photomicrography images. Figure 2 shows the type of data displayed by a typical
lubricant analysis package.

Manage Rejection Limits (Alarm Levels) for Machines/Lubricants
The end user can maintain a database of machine and/or lubricant alarm levels (rejection limits). These alarms can be used in conjunction with, or as a replacement for, the alarm levels that are used by the testing laboratory. Often users require more rigorous rejection limits than are applied by the laboratory - using a lubricant analysis software is an effective means of receiving notification both when the laboratory detects a rejection limit, and when your lubricant has crossed one of your own limits.

Management Reports of Machinery Condition Based on Lubricant Analysis
The final process for most lubricant analysis systems is the production of management reports. These reports come in two main categories - summary reports that cover the overall condition of many machines (usually all the machines that have recently been analyzed), and detailed reports that show trend graphs, tables of data and microscope images. These detail reports are nearly always focused on the results of one or more tests that have been carried out on a single sample of oil. Figure 3 shows a typical detail report produced for a single sample.

To Integrate or Not to Integrate
That is the question. While the focus of this paper is on integrated lubrication and oil analysis information management software, there are some benefits associated with standalone systems. These benefits are outlined below.

Complete System Focus on Specific Task
When you are working with software that does one thing and one thing only, the setup and configuration of that system is probably as simple as it can be made. Integrated systems that do several tasks will necessitate a more complex database setup.

Less Need for Networked Solutions
When systems are used to perform single, specific tasks, the number of people who need to interact with the system is fewer. Therefore, you may be able to get away without setting up a networked system. However, given the number of people who need to work with both lubricant analysis software and lubricant scheduling software, it’s unlikely that an integrated solution could be managed without having some form of network capability.

“Loose” Integration is a Possibility
Two systems made by different vendors can be made to transfer data (using ASCII or XML data transfers), giving the user of these two systems some of the benefits of integration. However, this does require cooperation on the part of the two firms that produce the systems (which may be difficult to achieve) and can also require substantial effort.

Much Better Than Nothing
Even without integrating your lubrication scheduling system and your lubricant analysis system, using any of the available quality software solutions for these two functions is substantially better than using nothing at all.

While standalone systems offer some benefits, in the world of software engineering, when two systems have substantial overlap in both data elements and functionality, the solution of choice is a “tightly” integrated system. Tight integration generally implies the ability of the two systems to share data objects (through a common database access method) or to share modules (through a unified object system such as Component Object Model (COM) or Common Object Request Broker Architecture (CORBA), or, preferably both. When two systems are built with this tight integration as part of their basic design, some very tangible benefits are generated.

Eliminate Redundant Effort
If you have two separate software packages, one for lubrication scheduling and the other for lubricant analysis, you will have a lot of redundant effort in setup. You will need to enter plant equipment, lubricant master list and supplier information twice. Also, you will need to tailor the structure of this data differently, to match the database requirements of the two systems. In a tightly integrated system, everything is entered and maintained once.

Insure Information Integrity
With two separate software packages made by different vendors, you can guarantee that they will have (at best) a very limited ability to share information. There will certainly be no methodology to ensure that the data in the two systems is consistent and correct. This means that any change made to the database in the lubrication scheduling system will need to be immediately replicated in the lubricant analysis system, or the two systems will become inconsistent. When the data is updated in a tightly integrated system, all shared data elements are kept consistent automatically.

Over the life of the system, automatic information integrity is a feature that produces significant reductions in both effort and cost to the end user, as it eliminates the need to audit the databases of the two systems to ensure that they haven’t drifted apart.

Immediate Access to Information
When information is updated in either the lubricant management part or the lubricant analysis part of the tightly integrated system, the information is immediately available to the users of the other part of the system - for example, when the addition of new oil to a system is registered in the lubricant management part of the system, this information is immediately available to the lubricant analyst attempting to determine the reason for an across-the-board drop on spectrometric readings.

Ability to Automate Actions Across the Two Systems
Whenever companies that use both PM (preventive maintenance) and PdM (predictive maintenance) technologies express an interest in linking the two systems together, the primary requirement is nearly always “to allow the results of the PdM system to automatically flow into the work management system, so that any decision to act on PdM results can take place within the overall maintenance planning structure.” In other words, it is desirable that PdM-generated requests for maintenance show up in the maintenance planner’s PM work schedule just like calendar, operating hour or mileage-based work orders.

This same requirement exists in the lubrication management world. The tightly integrated system is able to take advantage of the common database architecture to allow diagnostics generated by the lubricant analysis system to generate lubrication tasks in the scheduling system. It is not as easy, however, as simply saying, “do this if Iron (Fe) is greater than X ppm.” Effective management of lubricant analysis results either requires a capable automated diagnostic module, or an easy-to-use tool to allow the analyst to enter their own condition assessments in a manner that is understandable by an automated system.

While standalone lubrication management and oil analysis software programs have some merit, there is an overwhelming argument in favor of an integrated approach. In part II of this series, we will dig into the details of creating an integrated lubrication and oil analysis information management program.

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