Lead Particles Predict Bearing Failure

Lana Robin, PdMA Corporation


  • R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company had been performing lubricant condition monitoring on its equipment for 20 years.

  • A few years ago, the Predictive Maintenance Group in the Utilities Division implemented a routine oil analysis program to not only monitor the condition of the lubricant, but also to monitor the condition of its machinery.

  • This program was implemented to detect possible impending problems before a failure occurred. The goals were to increase reliability, minimize unexpected failures and decrease downtime.

Laboratory Lubricant Analysis:

  • A routine oil sample was collected from a reciprocating air compressor and sent to
    a lab for analysis.

  • Spectrometric analysis found an unusually high lead content.

  • The Predictive Maintenance department was immediately notified of the findings and quickly shutdown the system for visual inspection.


  • The lead contamination found in the oil sample was a direct result of the old and damaged rod bearing breaking apart due to age.


  • Replace three bearings.

  • The success of this catch reinforced their belief in regular routine oil analysis.


  • Downtime and costs associated with repair were minimal.

  • This catch saved R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s Utilities Division an estimated $50,000 to $75,000 on plant machinery had the corrective action not taken place when it did.

Submitted by Lana Robin, PdMA

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