Common Mistakes to Avoid in Interpreting Oil Analysis Reports

Mohammad Naseer Uddin, Petroleum Development Oman

Recently I received a request to review an oil analysis report for a critical compressor. Based on the results of some basic tests conducted by the laboratory, the report indicated that the compressor was normal and fit for continued use.

However, while going through the report, I discovered that some key tests were missing and that the interpretation was made on the basis of tests that were unable to define the actual condition of the oil.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence for those in production facilities who are responsible for making decisions related to the fate of critical machines. The question that must be answered is what action should be taken based on the latest oil analysis results.

Unfortunately, nine out of 10 times oil analysis reports are filed in the records without any proactive/predictive action being taken. Why does this happen?

Although most oil analysis laboratories are able to conduct tests for various forms and states of fluids, gases and chemicals, including lube oils, they often do not have any expertise in lubricant oil analysis and interpretation.

Rarely will you find anyone in these labs who is certified as a Laboratory Lubricant Analyst (LLA) by the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML).       

Oil analysis reports also frequently lack important test information relating to the machine application and the type of oil, which is essential for proper interpretation. Other common challenges include:

  • The same test package is used for different types of machines.

  • The individual reading the oil analysis report lacks the appropriate knowledge/understanding.

  • The laboratory analyst has no knowledge of the basics of machinery lubrication and tribology.

  • The oil analysis report is received several months after oil sampling.

  • The lab does not follow strict procedures as per ASTM/ISO standards.

  • There is no quality assurance for meeting the required standards.

  • The report contains insufficient information to make any decisions.

  • No interpretation or recommendation by the oil analysis lab is included in the results.

  • Cross-contamination between various oil samples leads to inaccurate results. 

To close the gaps and achieve the maximum benefits from used oil analysis, a holistic approach is essential. Oil analysis is considered the second most important predictive maintenance technique (after vibration analysis), but it is also one of the most neglected condition-based maintenance (CBM) technologies.

Do not allow this to happen at your plant. Remember, if implemented correctly, oil analysis can potentially save your company millions of dollars.

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