Advanced Oil Analysis - A Peek at ExxonMobil's Paulsboro Technical Service Lab

A filter is clogged by a contaminant from a paper mill process; what is the contaminant and where did it come from? A sample of grease has an unusual odor; can you tell what is causing the odor and will it impact performance? A small amount of sediment is found at the bottom of a lube system sump; can you tell if it came from the lubricant additives? A customer couldn’t afford to completely change out a 6000-gallon oil system with a new and improved oil so he topped-up the machine with the new oil; were the two oils compatible? These are some of the issues and questions that are routinely presented to the ExxonMobil Lubricants & Petroleum Specialties (L&PS) Marketing Technical Services (MTS) Laboratory in Paulsboro, New Jersey.

These are easy questions to ask, but as any good analytical chemist knows, they are challenging to answer. Good answers often require a substantial investment in analytical equipment and a dedicated staff with the experience and knowledge to solve these complex questions.

Most oil analysis programs focus on trend analysis - determining the condition of used oil and if the oil is good enough for continued use. There are well-established methods that can answer these questions. On the other hand, using oil analysis methods to determine the cause of lubricant-related problems, or conducting investigative analysis to determine the nature and source of oil contamination is much more difficult. That’s because there are no standard test methods to measure these undefined contaminants and it often requires detailed lubrication and application expertise.

Not all suppliers or outside labs can provide these resources. Having access to deep analytical resources is increasingly one of the criteria driving a user’s decision to select a lubricant supplier. The ExxonMobil Lubricants and Specialties North American Investigative Lab, also known as the Paulsboro MTS Lab, is capable of executing the routine tests performed by a used oil analysis lab, but is equipped like a research facility. It has a sister lab in Kansas City that focuses on Mobil lubricant routine used-oil analysis, freeing the MTS lab to focus on the difficult, perplexing problems . . . mysteries that require intricate analytical investigation and more sophisticated testing.

This lab has the capability to support every Exxon and Mobil product manufactured by ExxonMobil in North America - oils, greases, base stocks, waxes and process oils. The MTS lab receives about 1,300 investigative inquires in a year. It employs an array of analytical techniques including liquid chromatography (LC), gel permeation chromatography (GPC), gas chromatography (GC), GC/mass spectroscopy (GC/MS), LC/MS, fourier transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR), FTIR/microscopy, GC/FTIR/MS, X-ray diffraction, DC-arc emission spectroscopy (solids), fluorescence spectroscopy, optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy/energy dispersive spectrometry (SEM/EDS). In addition, the lab has the capability to run many standard ASTM bench tests designed to measure properties and performance of petroleum products, but the advanced analytical capabilities are what really set Paulsboro MTS apart.

A Different Way of Doing Business
Two aspects immediately differentiate the MTS lab from the typical used oil analysis lab: (1) the ExxonMobil Research and Engineering Center is close by, and (2) it is solely focused on advanced analytical support for Exxon and Mobil lubricant customers.

The MTS lab is part of an overall technology support matrix at ExxonMobil. For example, in its day-to-day activities, MTS Laboratory chemists, technicians and product specialists may receive research analytical support and expert product formulation guidance from ExxonMobil Research and Engineering personnel at the Paulsboro Technology Center in Clinton, New Jersey.

On the other end of the spectrum, the MTS Laboratory relies on the Mobil Lubricant Monitoring Center (LMC) in Kansas City to perform more routine analysis work. The LMC processes several hundred thousand samples a year with rapid turnaround and high efficiency.

Typical Investigative Services
The MTS Lab employs degreed chemists and technicians, all of whom are trained and experienced in advanced analytical techniques and lubricant problem solving. Typical analyses that the lab handles include characterizations of deposits, identification of filter plugging materials and failed-parts analyses. The key to these investigations is linking the results of analyses with the field application.

To help ensure the results are user-friendly, the lab’s product specialists translate testing and analysis results into an interpretive report that is meaningful to field representatives and customers. The reports not only reveal the results, but also provide recommendations to resolve the issue and prevent future occurrences. The field engineer typically delivers the analysis summaries to the customer, then explains the problem and offers suggestions on how to correct it.

Another key activity is product compatibility testing. This tells new customers switching to Exxon or Mobil products whether there are compatibility issues when mixing the new and old products, and if flushing or other precautions are required to ensure flawless changeovers, thereby avoiding downtime and equipment problems.

Responsiveness to its customers is paramount to the MTS Laboratory. For requests that can be answered by a few relatively simple tests, the lab generally sends the results to customers within five working days. For more complex analyses, which could include gathering data from as many as 10 different test methods, the lab typically provides results within 10 days.

If a very complex problem is addressed, the lab estimates timing for the most advanced investigative analyses on a case-by-case basis. If it changes during the investigation, the lab communicates with the field representative who stays in contact with the customer with interim progress reports. An internal ExxonMobil intranet status board tracks all of this work. ExxonMobil field reps can log on to see the progress of their customers’ cases. This greatly improves communication between the lab, the representative and the customer.

Advanced lubricant analysis resources like those provided by the ExxonMobil Paulsboro MTS lab are a key for many customers in getting the most out of their lubricant budgets. Solving difficult analytical problems, identifying sources of lubricant contamination and establishing lubricant compatibility often make a world of difference in the overall effectiveness of a lubrication program, and the ExxonMobil Paulsboro MTS Lab has the tools to get the job done.

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