Oil Analysis Standards - What Are We Waiting For?

Jim Fitch, Noria Corporation

Most people actively engaged in our field know that there are very few test standards that relate to “used” oil analysis. Yet, at last count, there were more than 200 commercial laboratories performing used oil analysis in North America. And, the number of private, on-site labs may well be into the thousands. So too, there are perhaps around 3,000 people working full or part time in these oil analysis laboratories. In view of such numbers one could postulate that over 50 million used oil samples are being analyzed each year. To add one more statistic, the last issue of our magazine was distributed to about 15,000 people, just in North America.

Now, considering such a base of activity, in any other professional field one would likely find a large body of peer-reviewed standards and guidelines covering each quality and safety related process or procedure. Yet, in our field there seems to be no single standards organization charged with this responsibility. In fact, it’s very much to the contrary; there is instead a patchwork of standards and guidelines on used oil analysis published by assorted organizations including ANSI, ISO, ASTM, SAE, NFPA, and BSI. Nevertheless, it is probable that no more than two percent of all used oil tests are performed to procedures that conform to a published standard. There are dozens of instruments and routine tests for which there never has been a standard.

All of this is surprising considering the outcry by the user community for improving the quality and accuracy of laboratory services. One explanation has to do with the somewhat renegade way used oil analysis has evolved from its inception, more than a century ago. It may be that its identity has been oppressed by big-brother fields such as non-destructive testing and lubricant performance testing. Also, only a handful of commercial laboratories are owned by major public corporations. Most of these companies offer oil analysis only to support other high revenue / margin businesses.

With the arrival of the new millennium does it perhaps make sense to form a grass roots effort to advocate an organized standards development activity for used oil analysis? If such a coalition was formed it seems the first order of business might be a decision on which existing standards authority to approach: ASTM, ISO, ANSI, new organization? And, the landscape of standards development has also changed through electronic Internet communication. Now, organizations like ASTM are setting up interactive online committees to significantly speed up the standards development process and reduce the travel requirement.

I am interested in suggestions and comments from the readers on this
timely and important subject. Perhaps you would like to participate as a volunteer in the development of used oil analysis standards. Either way, I would appreciate hearing from you - email is preferred.

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About the Author

Jim Fitch, a founder and CEO of Noria Corporation, has a wealth of experience in lubrication, oil analysis, and machinery failure investigations. He has advise...